What a pleasure to have him back! Just got my copy of Surfaces and Essences (which he wrote with Emmanuel Sander), which promises to be a fascinating read. (Sorry for the irritating image.)
The title of this post is a zeugma—remember Ryle's "She came home in a flood of tears and a sedan chair"—and the book begins by considering them. "Although the zeugmas we've exhibited above are mostly quite amusing," the authors write, "it's not for entertainment but for enlightenment that we've brought up the topic."
Now, how many philosophers need to make that clear?
Brian Leiter says it is, and he links to this blog post, by Robert T. Gonzalez, who says wine-tasting is "bullshit."
OK, so first let's separate taste and flavour. Taste comes from the receptors on the tongue, and is restricted to the familiar five—sweet, sour, . . . , umami (plus maybe fat, maybe "metallic"). But we all know that cherry is a different flavour from, say, blackberry and apple from lemon. These differences are not captured by the tongue. They are captured in part by "retronasal" olfaction: the qualities delivered to consciousness from the smell receptors in the nose reacting to vapours rising from the mouth. (These pass over the smell receptors in the direction opposite to vapours taken in from the nose—hence retro as opposed to orthonasal.)
Flavour is a more complex quality than taste, and it is delivered by the tongue working together with the nose (which operates here in a characteristically gustatory manner) and also the trigeminal nerve (which is the main sensorimotor organ in the face).
So point 0. No: wine is not a matter of taste; it is a matter of flavour. (OK, I know Brian meant 'taste' in a different sense, but let's get it straight, since the "bullshit" guy makes a mistake about this right from the start.)
Barry Smith (Institute of Philosophy, University of London) provides eight more critiques of Gonzalez:
The disastrous fire in Savar, Bangladesh has prompted some of the wrong kinds of response from western media. The discussion revolves around the correct idea that western consumers are crazy to buy cheap clothes, and that retailers like Walmart, Gap, Benetton, and, here in Canada, Joe Fresh provide these by manufacturing the clothes with almost-slave labour working in unsafe Bangladeshi facilities. The proposed solution that I have heard again and again is that in the absence of more information, western consumers should simply buy western made goods.
Is this the right solution? Surely, we want the Bangladeshi economy to prosper, provided workers are safe, well-protected against labour abuses, and well-paid, relative to the local standard of living. We do not want to support people who become rich in Bangladesh by using slave labout.
Recently, Gildan Activewear (a large Canadian manufacturer of casual clothing) publicized its ethical investment in a Bangladeshi factory. The Globe and Mail reports that Gildan bought Shahriyar Fabrics in Savar for $15 million:
About 18 months ago, I did a meta-post on Diederik Stapel, of Tilburg, and before that of Groningen. In that post, I linked to Retraction Watch, which recounted Stapel's misdeeds, a social psychologist who didn't falsify, but outright manufactured, data-sets in numerous scientific papers, 54 of which have now been retracted. Stapel, now known as the Lying Dutchman (see this post by Catarina) was an international star and rose to be Dean of Social and Behavioural Sciences at Tilburg before he was fired for academic fraud.
The New York Times Magazine has now published (28th April) a fascinating story by Yudhijit Bhattacharjee on the man and his career. Here is some of what we learn:
A leak to the press led Harvard College and the Harvard Faculty of Arts and Sciences to search private email accounts of resident deans. (According to the Harvard College website, there is one resident dean in each "House", and s/he "contributes to the House as a scholar and participates fully in the life of the community.")
The Deans of FAS and Harvard College state that "the specific document made public may be deemed by some as not particularly consequential." Nevertheless, they say, the public disclosure "led to concerns that other information – especially student information we have a duty to protect as private – was at risk." A subject line search of all resident deans' private emails was authorized; the source of the leak was found; the leak was judged to be inadvertant.
Draconian over-reaction? Breach of privacy? Right-thinking concern for students?
I suppose smaller and less powerful countries can't help revelling in international exposure when it happens. Even so, overheated Canadian excitement over Cardinal Marc Ouellet's possible election as Pope has been egregiously silly and embarrassing. Ouellet was for seven years Archbishop of Québec City and is now head of the Congregation of Bishops in Rome. In early betting at Paddy Power, he had the lead, but he is now in fifth place at 10-1, with Scola, Archbishop of Milan, leading (2-1) and Turkson of Ghana second (4-1).
Fortunately, the Canadian press has started to flirt with the facts. Last week, the Globe and Mail reported that Ouellet had had at best mixed success in his role as Archbishop. And in an article today, it noted that his extreme social conservatism has been strongly derided in progressive Québec. In fact, Québec's association of bishops took him to task for saying that not even rape could justify abortion. Cardinals are, one and all, the propagators of crazy views, but one should especially beware of those who are fond of over-the-top pronouncements in public. (Ratzinger was one of these.) In the meanwhile SNAP (the Survivors' Network of those Abused by Priests) have named Ouellet as one of a Dirty Dozen who should not become Pope—in his case, because he was aware of the Edinburgh scandal and did nothing much, and because he refuses to meet with the Canadian abused. (Paddy Power's top two, Scola and Turkson, are also on this list.)
But, as so often, the last word should go to Stephen Colbert who points out that Canadians are uniquely unqualified to be Pope: "The pope cannot be polite. 'Sorry, but I think God might not want you to use a condom, eh,' won't work."
Paul Horwich’s essay “Was
Wittgenstein Right?” has just appeared in The Stone. It is a
disappointingly light piece from a philosopher whose byline promises a good deal
First, it contains a “diagnosis” of why
many professional philosophers think poorly of Wittgenstein:
Given this extreme pessimism about the potential of philosophy — perhaps
tantamount to a denial that there is such a subject — it is hardly surprising
that “Wittgenstein” is uttered with a curl of the lip in most philosophical
circles. For who likes to be told that his or her life’s work is confused and
There isn’t much merit in this accusation.
Most analytic philosophers reject Wittgenstein because his doctrines were
fashioned in opposition to the sorts of views they hold. Nor is their attitude some kind of automatic
defensive reflex: most of them were taught about Wittgenstein and then went on
to take up views that he would have mocked and derided. Their views may or may
not be “confused and pointless” by Wittgenstein’s lights, but they were taken
up in full knowledge of Wittgenstein’s objections. What does this say about
Wittgenstein’s posthumous powers of persuasion?
Tom Flanagan is a famous professor of politics at the University of Calgary. He was an advisor to the Reform Party, a Western regional party which later merged with the Progressive Conservative party to form the Conservative Party, which governs Canada today. He was also a member of a group of faculty members who mentored Stephen Harper, the Prime Minister of Canada, and was a close advisor until recently. A very well-known man.
Imagine my surprise therefore upon reading that he is in a firestorm for remarks made about child pornography. Flanagan made these remarks in response to a question, roughly to the effect that the consumers of child pornography should not be jailed, only the producers. He was immediately dumped on by the Prime Minister's Office and Alberta's right wing opposition Wildrose Party. Which is understandable, and right.
I was more worried by a comment by the University of Calgary's President Elizabeth Cannon, who said that Flanagan's statements “absolutely do not represent the views” of the institution. She also announced that Flanagan would retire from the University. Is this right? Should a University President take or deny responsibility for the statements of faculty members? Should she announce a faculty member's retirement?
There is a curious anonymous document being circulated at the APA Central Division, and posted even on its official notice-board (where I found it). It is entitled "The Report of the APA Committee on the Status of the Profession in 2042." In a footnote, it states: "The Committee was not created by the APA in 2013."
Here are some of the Committee's findings:
"In the US, there will be 15-20 Ph. D. programs, each producing 5 Ph. D.s per year."
"There will be 30-50 three year graduate programs, producing MAPhT (MA in Philosophy Teaching) students. The programs will integrate two years of course work of the familiar kind with a year of training in teaching with practice."
The New York Times (Feb 17, 2013) reports that out of 188 countries with known laws, only eight have no paid maternity leave. The other seven are Suriname, Liberia, Palau, Papua New Guinea, Nauru, Western Samoa, and Tonga.
Just got through working on a grant application to the Social Sciences and Humanities Research Council of Canada (or SSHRC, as it is known). SSHRC is famous for its horrible on-line application process, and even more so for the fervour with which they defend it. I won't go in to all of that now, but here's an example of one of the many irritations you face when you apply:
It will perhaps be of some interest that as of yesterday, the four largest Canadian provinces, as well as Newfoundland and Labrador, have women as Heads of Government. (One territory too.) The most impressive, at least to my mind, is Kathleen Wynne, who was sworn in yesterday as Premier of Ontario.
Looking around at the press, I find some people hoping for a liberal to succeed Benedict. After 35 years of a conservative Papacy and correspondingly conservative appointments, this is wildly unrealistic. Here's one of the leading candidates, Marc Ouellet, head of the office of bishops in the Vatican:
In 2005, Cardinal Ouellet, who was then the archbishop of Quebec and primate of Canada’s Catholic Church, warned that legalizing gay marriage “threatens to unleash nothing less than cultural upheaval whose negative consequences are still impossible to predict."
This attitude more or less follows the present Pope:
Although the particular inclination of the homosexual person is not a sin, it is more or less strong tendency ordered to an intrinsic moral evil, and thus the inclination itself must be seen as an objective disorder.
In two earlier posts, I summarized John
Hawthorne and Daniel Nolan’s analysis of teleological causation (here),
and examined the question of what kind of evidence would persuade us that
single particles were teleologically directed (here),
as, in Aristotle’s system, where heavy particles are teleologically caused to
travel to and rest at the centre of the Earth. My conclusion was that unless
the dynamics of such a particle’s movement was different from that predicted by
contemporary mechanics, there would be no reason to adopt teleology.
What about systems and wholes? Under what
circumstances should we say that the Universe or Earth’s ecosystem is
teleologically directed, or that an organic system is?
We should note first of all that this
question is (as H&N fully realize) completely distinct from that of
analysing the meaning of the words ‘function’ and ‘goal’, as scientists use
these terms today.
There is a certain lack of clarity in
Judith Butler’s remarks at Brooklyn College, not so much in her words, but in
what actions they may license or lead to. I have been discussing this with
Sergio Tenenbaum, and here is what we do not understand. (Thanks to Mark Lance for helping clarify the
Butler says, first:
academic and cultural boycott seeks to put pressure on all those cultural
institutions that have failed to oppose the occupation and struggle for equal
rights and the rights of the dispossessed . . . When those cultural
institutions (universities, art centers, festivals) were to take such a stand,
that would be the beginning of the end of the boycott
I take it that universities rarely take a stand about
such matters, and especially not publicly funded universities. Who has ever
demanded, for example, that the University of Texas should take a stand on the
death penalty in Texas? (Very few people, if any, advocated sanctions against
Witwatersrand University or the University of Cape Town during apartheid,
though they may have been fairly adamant about not consuming South African
products or attending sports events involving South Africa.)
In an earlier
post, I began to write about John Hawthorne and Daniel Nolan’s analysis of teleological
causation. (Eric has written about related topics too.) My aim there was
primarily to summarize H&N’s analysis. Here I have some critical thoughts—I
have only been thinking about this for a couple of weeks, so my opinions are
far from final. H&N ask two questions:
Is teleology coherent? Is teleology consistent with contemporary physics? Can it be added on? In my
opinion, their analysis demonstrates coherence. (That's not a very high bar, but they clear it with ease.) I am less clear about
consistency with physics.
Let’s start by considering the motion of a
single particle. (I’ll consider ensembles of particles in a further post.) H&N
distinguish three types of process (all more fully described in my earlier
post): mechanical (for simplicity’s sake, Newtonian), retrotemporally mechanical (like
Newton’s, but moving backward in time), and teleological or goal-directed. Since Newtonian
trajectories are reversible—the temporal reversal of a trajectory is possible
if the trajectory is possible—the paths of single particles do not distinguish
between the first two options. If they are consistent with Newtonian mechanics,
they are also consistent with time-reversed Newtonian mechanics. (See Eric Winsberg's comments on my earlier post.)
Now, Hawthorne and Nolan open the door to
two ways of distinguishing goal-direction or teleological causation from both
mechanical and retro-mechanical causation at the level of single particles.
Very sad to learn of RIG's passing. In 1980, when I was at UBC, I would hang out with him and hear his stories and discuss all kinds of philosophy. Just about then, he wrote a wonderful piece in the Scientific American on quantum logic.
Tamar Gendler writes that he graduated from Cambridge University, did his National Service with the Royal Artillery, moved to Canada to teach at the Shawnigan Lake School, and then found himself at the University of British Columbia, where he worked with my friend and co-author, Ed Levy. RIG (his nickname for his initials) taught at Toronto, Princeton, Yale, and the University of South Carolina. He was loved and will be missed.
Evolutionary naturalism provides an account of our capacities that undermines their reliability, and in doing so undermines itself...I agree with Alvin Plantinga that...the application of evolutionary theory to the understanding of our own cognitive capacities should undermine, though it need not completely destroy, our confidence in them. Mechanisms of belief formation that have selective advantage in the everyday struggle for existence do not warrant our confidence in the construction of theoretical accounts of the world as a whole. I think the evolutionary hypothesis would imply that though our cognitive capacities could be reliable, we do not have the kind of reason to rely on them that we ordinarily take ourselves to have using in them directly--as we do in science. Thomas Nagel, Mind and Cosmos, 27-28 (emphasis in original)
A non-trivial (albeit not the most fundamental) feature of Nagel's book (recall my here, here, here; see Feser's response to me and also Mohan's posts: here, here, here and here) is his reliance on Plantinga's so-called evolutionary argument against naturalism (hereafter EAAN; see also pp. 74-78). Let's leave aside the fact that Nagel pretends in his book that this (evolving) EAAN argument has not been subject to significant criticism. (It must be convenient to think that one is obliged to engage only with one's referee [Sober, although even his criticism of EAAN is ignored], one's colleague [Street], one's cheerleader [Plantinga], and one's deus ex machina [Hawthorne & Nolan].) Here I explore a response to this style of argument that is overlooked by Nagel and, I think, not explored in the literature (but would love to learn otherwise--it's not my field). So, let's grant -- for the sake of argument -- the claim that "Mechanisms of belief formation that have selective advantage in the
everyday struggle for existence do not warrant our confidence in the
construction of theoretical accounts of the world as a whole." What follows from this?
My quick and dirty answer is: nothing. For the crucial parts of science really do not rely on such mechanisms of belief formation. Much of scientific reason is or can be performed by machines; as I have argued before, ordinary cognition, perception, and locution does not really matter epistemically in the sciences.
We all know—don’t we?—that modern physics
is inconsistent with teleology, at least with real teleology, as opposed to the substitute version that so many
of us have tried to fashion for use in “teleosemantics.” But what is it,
exactly, that modern physics bans? What form would a teleological theory take?
When pressed, most of us would be hard pressed to come up with an answer. (Do
pause and think about it, Dear Reader. I can almost guarantee that if you are
not familiar with the material I am about to discuss, you’ll get it wrong. I
certainly did, and I am supposed to be an expert! Ha!)
This is the target of a brilliant 2006 analysis, “What Would
Teleological Causation Be?” by John Hawthorne (Oxford) and Daniel Nolan (ANU). I’ll
summarize the paper here, and reflect some more on it in a follow-up post.
(The paper was published in Hawthorne’s 2009 Essays in Metaphysics. I only heard of it recently, when it was cited by Tom Nagel in his recent book and mentioned in Eric’s
insightful post on the Principle of Sufficient Reason.)
It is often said that teleology is
impossible because it involves backward causation—Aristotle says that the acorn
sprouts “for the sake of” the mature oak, but (so the criticism goes) this
cannot be a causal relation because the mature oak cannot make the acorn
sprout. (Spinoza: "That which is really a cause, it considers an effect.") H&N demur. Teleology and backwards causation are different things,
they show. (This, by itself, is one of the surprising and most valuable parts
of the analysis.)
Suppose we observe the following strange
occurrence, which I’ll call BAM. . .
Not long ago, the Times of London published an article examining "why everyone wants to be Danish." It covered Danish society (according to scientists, Danes are the world's happiest people), Danish fashion ("a leather trim here, a matelot stripe and an edgy trilby there") . . . Danish sperm donation (last year, more than five hundred British women were artificially inseminated in Denmark—an ad for one clinic read, "Congratulations, it's a Viking!"). A "How Danish Are You?" quiz asked, "You like your skies a) Blue b) slate grey c) slate grey with vultures circling the carrion of slaughtered youth."
In the latest round of graduate school recommendations that lighten one's winter break, I have noticed that not satisfied with asking whether your protégé is in the top 1, 5, 10 % etc, some schools now offer the option: "Best ever." Some decades ago, 5% was the top cut, and marking that meant "Definitely take her/him", while marking 10% meant: "Take her/him if you have room." (All the other categories were definitely "I do not recommend.")
Then the 1/2% question was introduced, and ticking that meant: "I am going out on a limb for this person: you'd be insulting me if you didn't take her/him." So that was a test of your own clout, and not just about the student. It was particularly bad for you if your former graduate school failed to admit one of your 1%ers.
But what does the "Best Ever" option mean? Obviously, it isn't meant to be taken literally. None of these questions is. I figure it means "I am a liar." So only Cretans tick that box. Right? And does it benefit your protégé or not if you are a Cretan?
As readers of this blog know, the erstwhile Liberal government in Québec attempted to increase university tuition fees a little over a year ago. This led to a long student strike and harsh police measures against student protest. Then the Liberal government was defeated in elections held in September, and the separatist Parti Québécois formed a new minority government. Given that it does not control the provincial parliament, it has been a remarkably aggressive government, introducing a number of highly visible nationalist measures, including a bill that would require businesses with more that 25 employees to operate internally in French. (Interestingly, the penalty for non-compliance would be inclusion on a name-and-shame website.)
More controversial still are the measures taken against universities. The above-mentioned tuition fee increase was cancelled along with the consequent revenue increase to universities. And the universities were presented with a retroactive cut of $126 million to their combined budgets. (McGill's share of the cut is about $20 million, just to give you an idea . . . eight months into the budget year, they have to fill this unanticipated hole in the current year's budget.)
It's a large cut, yet students and faculty seem oddly complaisant. At McGill, for example, the Principal, the Board, and non-academic staff have taken a strong stand, but as far as I can tell there has been little reaction from faculty or student groups. This marks a strange contrast with the enthusiastic support that the student protests found among faculty. Is it just the holidays?
UPDATE Sunday 23 December: It has now emerged that had it not been for brilliant police work by the Sûreté du Québec, the world's Maple Syrup Reserve would have been seriously depleted. As it is, only two-thirds of the stolen commodity has been recovered. The Canadian dollar has slipped 1.5% in the week since the heist occured.
"Police have made a breakthrough in the headline-grabbing heist of millions of dollars’ worth of maple syrup from a warehouse in Quebec.
"Quebec provincial police said the three individuals are to appear in court in Trois-Rivières Tuesday in connection with the massive theft from a maple-syrup warehouse in St-Louis-de-Blandford.
"The Sûreté du Québec said they also seized vehicles suspected of having served to transport the stolen maple syrup as well as equipment. Some two-thirds of the lucrative condiment has been recovered, say police."
From a story about three poor women who made it to college and then dropped out: “Thirty years ago, there was a 31
percentage point difference between the share of prosperous and poor Americans
who earned bachelor’s degrees . . . Now the gap is 45%. While both groups
improved their odds of finishing college, the affluent improved much more,
widening their sizable lead.”
From a story about planted review on
Amazon.com: “The mystery novelist J. A. Konrath does not see anything wrong
with an author indulging in chicanery. ‘Customer buys book because of fake
review = zero harm,” he wrote on his blog.