Arthur Ripstein, Chair of the Graduate Department of Philosophy at the University of Toronto, writes:
It is with great sadness that I write to inform you of the death of Andre Gombay, who died last Friday, February 28th. He died at home, surrounded by family, and without sadness or fear.
Andre loved philosophy, and was intimately involved in every aspect of our department's life, bridging everything that anyone ever thought of as a divide He wrote and taught about both contemporary issues and the history of philosophy, in both theoretical and practical philosophy, engaging with figures classified as both analytic and continental, and he taught on all three campuses. A dedicated and much loved teacher, Andre taught for 15 years after his retirement in 1998; last year he re-retired, joking that this made him Professor Emeritus Emeritus.
He was a model to us all.
Andre was a distinguished scholar of Descartes, a much loved teacher and colleague, and it is hard to think of Toronto without him.
UPDATE You can post reminiscences and condolences here.
The journal's webpage for submissions is here. The editorial board is just about as distinguished as it could get. Editors don't write a journal, but the prestige of this board ought to make this a good venue to have on one's cv.
I have been thinking about Québec separatism for a long time now—the PQ won its first election a few months after I arrived here. I abhor the very idea of separation except in conditions where the separating entity is actively being oppressed. On the other hand if a jurisdiction votes to separate, it should be allowed to do so without undue fuss. (The Québec situation is the paradigm case of undue fuss, though, prolonged as it has been for forty or more years, with the attendant destabilization of the Canadian polity and economy. Vote yes and then goodbye, or vote no and hold your peace forever.)
This said, I am puzzled by the stand of all three national UK parties regarding the pound. Their position, and that of the Governor of the Bank of England, is that an independent Scotland cannot have the pound. I don't understand.
According to Brian Leiter, Israel Scheffler died on February 16th at the age of ninety. A very sad event. Scheffler was not a philosopher who cared much about trends. When all around him were scratching their heads about Thomas Kuhn, he wrote a pretty trenchant rejection, Science and Subjectivity (which also took on people like Feyerabend and Hanson). And his fine (but perhaps slightly too didactic) book, The Anatomy of Inquiry ,was perhaps the last good book written on the epistemology of science from an analytic perspective. His passing reminds me that there are issues about which the philosophizing of the mid-twentieth century was simple and right, and far superior to what superseded it.
Massimo Pigliucci has written an excellent piece criticizing Plantinga’s theistic arguments, recounted recently in an interview with Gary Gutting on the New York Times “Stone” blog. (See also Helen de Cruz's discussion.) Plantinga’s belief rests, according to himself, not on argument but on “experience.” We have an inborn inclination to believe in God, and like perceptual experience, this is self-validating. Theism doesn’t rest, for example, on inference to the best explanation. Denying God because science explains so much of what was once attributed to God is like denying the Moon because it is no longer needed to explain lunacy.
Fair enough. I won’t venture to oppose an argument that is credible only if you believe the conclusion. But what of Plantinga’s arguments against atheism? Here is one that will be familiar to most readers. Suppose that materialism and evolution are true. It follows (for present purposes, never mind how) our belief-producing processes will be imperfectly reliable. Given that we have hundreds of independent beliefs, it’s virtually certain that some will be false. This means that our “overall reliability,” i.e. the probability that we have no false beliefs, is “exceedingly low.” “If you accept both materialism and evolution, you have good reason to believe that your belief-producing faculties are not reliable.”
In Canada, we've had a lot of concern recently about the Federal Government muzzing its scientists, those who work, for instance, in the Department of Oceans and Fisheries or in Environment Canada. These scientists cannot even publish their work or give talks or answer journalist questions without the clearance of some non-boffin.
As bad as this is, it pales next to a story in the New Yorker (February 10th) about UC Berkeley biologist Tyrone Hayes, who fell afoul of the giant Swiss agribusiness, Syngenta. (The New Yorker story is behind a paywall.) Hayes found that the Syngenta herbicide, atrazine, causes birth defects and hermaphroditism in frogs (PNAS 2002, 2010). To make sure that his message was obstructed, Syngenta had him shadowed by hecklers and hired private sector scientists to contest his findings. A company emails says that they wanted to obtain Hayes' calendar so that they could "reach out to potential audiences with the Error vs. Truth Sheet." Ultimately, they interfered with his being hired at Duke. They also harassed other scientists, issuing a subpoena in one case demanding every email written over a decade about atrazine.
One thing's for sure. These advanced business tactics are going to get a lot of imitators. Maybe the Government of Canada.
One thing that attracted my attention in the Colorado situation was the university’s use of the APA’s Committee on the Status of Women Campus Site Visit program. Judging from the description of the program on the Committee’s website, campus visits are normally advisory. Departments request site visits in which a team investigates climate issues, with the purpose of “offering practical suggestions on how to improve the climate for women.” (The Committee also says: “The team will be attentive to issues beyond gender, e.g., race, sexuality, disability, and will make an effort to collect quantitative data on these groups.” Apparently, no practical suggestions, though, about these matters.)
In this particular case, the context was rather different. It is clear that the Department, Dean, and Provost must have decided that they needed to know and do something about the spate of complaints from Department members (including students) to Colorado’s Office of Discrimination and Harassment. So the advice being sought was not general, but highly specific. In other words, the investigation of climate was not motivated by general concern but by a specific bad situation.
In a disturbing ruling, the usually progressive and interventionist Supreme Court of India has recriminalized gay sex, on non-interventionist grounds.
Section 377 of the Indian Penal Code holds that whoever voluntarily has carnal intercourse against the order of nature with any man, woman or animal commits an unnatural offence. There are two issues here: first, the law itself, and second, the interpretation of the law to include gay sex as being "against the order of nature."
In 2009, the Delhi High Court struck down Section 377, stating:
We declare that Section 377 of the IPC, insofar as it criminalises consensual sexual acts of adults in private, is violative of Articles 21 [Right to Protection of Life and Personal Liberty], 14 [Right to Equality before Law] and 15 [Prohibition of Discrimination on Grounds of Religion, Race, Caste, Sex or Place of Birth] of the Constitution.
We hold that sexual orientation is a ground analogous to sex, and that discrimination on sexual orientation is not permitted under Article 15.
Let me begin with two of what I think of as an extremely simple, indeed grossly over-simplified, truism. Wittgenstein told us that meaning is use. He also told us that meaning should not be understood as primarily consisting in the relationship that holds between a name and its bearer. My truism is this: Wittgenstein’s two dicta are logically independent. It might be that meaning is use: that is, it might be that ultimately anything I mean has to be explicated in terms of something I use it for. For instance, it might be that every time I utter ‘cat’, I am doing something cat-related. It may nonetheless be true that the best way to understand the word ‘cat’ is as naming the concept CAT. Conversely, it may be that my utterances of ‘cat’ have to be understood in complex, situationally variable ways, so that the word cannot be explicated as naming anything. Nonetheless, it may be true that meaning is independent of use. In short, one of these dicta is about the communicative and pragmatic aspects of language, and the other about semantics, and though closely related in Wittgenstein’s thought, they are logically independent and they have to be argued for separately.
In a similar vein, the meaning-is-use claim is logically independent of Wittgenstein’s no-inner-mentality ideology, unless you follow a stolidly behaviourist line of thought. You might think that understanding the meaning of ‘cat’ is a matter of behaving in a certain way with regard to cats. But this has little to do with whether or not you change your inner state when you come to understand ‘cat’.
Spending a short holiday, and of course, seeing all the fabled sights of this fabulous city.
Back one day from several hours on a cruise up the Bosphorus, Lynne and I settled in to some comfortable sofas in a restaurant called Pallatium (or something like that) with a glass floor that looks down on to an excavated palace and a view of the street. It was the latter that fascinated us an in particular, a bright, intelligent, dog who looks very much like this one:
I have been reading Daniel Hutto and Erik Myin’s book Radicalizing Enactivism for a critical notice in the Canadian Journal of Philosophy. Enactivism is the view that cognition consists of a dynamic interaction between the subject and her environment, and not in any kind of contentful representation of that environment. I am struck by H&M’s reliance on a famous 1991 paper by the MIT roboticist Rodney Brooks, “Intelligence Without Representation.” Brooks’s paper is quite a romp—it has attracted the attention of a number of philosophers, including Andy Clark in his terrific book, Being There (1996). It’s worth a quick revisit today.
To soften his readers up for his main thesis, Brooks starts out his paper with an argument so daft that it cannot have been intended seriously, but which encapsulates an important strand of enactivist thinking. Here it is: Biological evolution has been going for a very long time, but “Man arrived in his present form [only] 2.5 million years ago.” (Actually, that’s a considerable over-estimate: homo sapiens is not more than half a million years old, if that.)
He invented agriculture a mere 19,000 years ago, writing less than 5000 years ago and “expert” knowledge only over the last few hundred years.
This suggests that problem solving behaviour, language, expert knowledge and application, and reason are all pretty simple once the essence of being and reacting are available. That essence is the ability to move around in a dynamic environment, sensing the surroundings to a degree sufficient to achieve the necessary maintenance of life and reproduction. This part of intelligence is where evolution has concentrated its time—it is much harder. (141)
A couple of weeks ago, Eric wrote about books that "that try to get away with systematically ignoring existing scholarship and alternative views," suggesting (on the basis of Colin Howson's review in NDPR) that Michael Strevens's Tychomancy might be an example, alongside some others that have been discussed here. We offered Strevens space to respond to Howson's review. Here is what he says:
"I highly recommend the beginning and end of Colin Howson's review of my book Tychomancy. The beginning summarizes the book's aims nicely, and as for the end, what author would not like to hear that their book is "far from being without merit", if perhaps not exactly in that phrasing?
Then there is the middle 80%.
Tychomancy formulates a set of rules for inferring physical probabilities from non-statistical facts such as physical symmetry (e.g., the 1/2 probability of heads from the symmetry of a fair coin) and makes three claims about these "rules of equidynamics":
1. Psychological: they are inherent in every human's mind.
2. Historical: they have been used (usually implicitly) to make important discoveries by scientists such as Maxwell and Darwin.
3. Epistemological: the rules are reliable (though not infallible).
Reading Howson's review, you would think that the purpose of the book is rather to make mathematical or physical claims, contributing to a body of literature about the probabilistic-looking behavior of things such as tossed coins, roulette wheels, particles bouncing around boxes, and even animals bouncing around ecosystems—the literature on "the method of arbitrary functions". Tychomancy in fact makes no attempt to contribute to this technical literature. It rather uses it—extensively—to explain the reliability of the equidynamic rules.
If Elisabeth Lloyd’s take on the female orgasm is
correct—i.e. if it is homologous to the male orgasm—then FEMALE ORGASMis not a proper evolutionary category. Homology is sameness. Hence, male and female orgasms belong to the same category. The orgasm is an adaptation, whether male or female (and
Lloyd should agree). It is not a spandrel or by-product.
I’ll get back to this in a moment, but first some background. There are five NewAPPSers who have a particular interest in the
philosophy of biology. Roberta Millstein, Helen De Cruz, Catarina Dutilh Novaes, John Protevi, and myself. Aside from Roberta, each of us comes at it from a related area in which biological insight is
important. For me, that area is perception. I have written quite a bit about
biology, but my mind has always been at least half on the eye (and the ear, and
the nose, and the tongue, . . .).
There is a divide among us with respect to a leading controversy
in the field. Catarina is strongly anti-adaptationist and I am strongly
adaptationist (perhaps because of my motivating interest in perception, which is exquistely adaptive). Roberta, Helen, and John are somewhere in between, but likely closer to Catarina than to me. You can gauge where I stand when I tell you that in my view, Gould and Lewontin’s 1979
anti-adaptationist manifesto, “The Spandrels of San Marco and the Panglossian
Paradigm” is one of the worst, and certainly one of the most mendacious, papers I have
ever read in any field. Among the five of us, I am sure I am alone in this.
Given all of this, my take on adaptationism with regard to the orgasm may get a
hotly negative response from my co-bloggers. Nevertheless, I’ll get on with it.
The Parti Québecois has now tabled its pernicious Charter of Values in the National Assembly. It is now Bill 60. (I wrote about it here, here, and here.) It's much worse than anticipated. The contexts in which exceptions can be claimed have been narrowed; its scope has been widened. Now kosher and halal rules cannot be observed at daycare facilities or schools in the province. Doctors, professors, teachers, judges, police officers and other public officials will be banned from wearing turbans, kippas, hijabs, etc.
I argued before that Sikh turbans and hijabs are not properly taken as "religious symbols." It is true that Sikhism is a religion, but false that turbans signify an allegiance to the religion, rather than to the community. In any case, what is prohibited for Sikhs is cutting their hair. (There are Sikhs in India who simply wear their hair long, and don't wear a turban.) So if the community symbol is to be taken to be a religious symbol, long hair should be banned for Sikhs. And non-Sikh turbans should be permitted.
You can identify a Sikh by his or her name. Shouldn't Sikhs be banned from calling themselves 'Singh'. Perhaps they should be forced to call themselves 'Bouchard.' Should Muslims be permitted the moniker 'Khan' or 'Ahmed'. What's wrong with 'Pelletier'?
Bad books make reviewers famous. It is, as they say, an ill wind . . .
Eric linked to Kerry McKenzie's devastating review of Colin McGinn's book on physics (if it deserves to have it said that it's 'on physics'). That reminded me of Nina Strohminger's immortal review of The Meaning of Disgust. Since the latter bears re-reading every month or so, I thought that readers ought to know of it's new home on the web. (Most of the Google links that I found pointed to its old address.)
By the way, there's bound to be more hilarity of this sort. MIT Press has signed McGinn up to three more books. They couldn't get Dan Brown, I guess.
. . . says Lavanya Sankaran, writing in the New York Times Sunday Review. (She should know. She's Indian, after all.) The rapists are cut off from the "domestic tapestry that is intricately woven and vital, it seems, to his own sense of well-being."
If you were running an organization, would
you spend money to reward deeds that your employees are already
motivated to perform? Is a special incentive bonus appropriate to induce people to visit Paris in the spring? Sounds like a
waste of your money. There could be complex reasons for rewarding people for
doing what they enjoy doing anyway, but prima facie it makes no sense.
This simple observation points to a
complexity in motivational attitudes that not many ethicists and aestheticians
fully take on board. Take the difference between wanting and liking. When
you are hungry, you want to eat. But it’s also the case that you enjoy or enjoy
eating (at least, when you are hungry). Wanting is a motive that causes you to
eat. Liking is a reward for eating.
Canada woke up today to the news of her Nobel. I was alert for street parties while walking to work, but Toronto was strangely phlegmatic. They haven't replaced the Stephen King display at Indigo on Bay Street.
For a long time, I was inclined to think that Mavis Gallant was the greater writer, but in the last decade or so I have found the humanity of Munro's oeuvre overwhelming.
UPDATE: The Nobel Committee, which has not been very forward in honouring women, calls Munro a "master" of the contemporary short story. Our beloved Prime Minister echoes. The Guardian substitutes "doyenne."
UPDATE 2: Sasha Weiss in the New Yorker's Page Turner: "When it was announced this morning that Alice Munro had won the Nobel Prize in Literature, phone calls and e-mails from friends started streaming in. Some people were tearful. I suspect that these little explosions of joy are happening all over the world . . . I also suspect that this level of emotional response (more akin to receiving family news, like the birth of a child) doesn’t happen every year when the winner of the Nobel is declared."
What is it to find something beautiful? To
take pleasure in looking at it, or in listening to it, or in otherwise
contemplating it. One might find the proof of the Pythagorean theorem
beautiful. If this is literally true, it is because intellectually contemplating
it gives one pleasure. But let’s stick to the senses, and pleasure in gazing or
Why have we evolved to have a sense of
beauty? That is, why (in evolutionary terms) do we take pleasure in
contemplating certain things? What advantage did that give us? (I’ll just
assume that the sense of beauty is at least partially the product of evolution.
Argument: almost all humans find some things beautiful, but most of our
ancestor species find nothing beautiful—that response is not in their
And secondly, why are certain things
(certain patterns, certain rhythms) universally found to be beautiful? Why have
we evolved to appreciate these things?
All of us who teach
know that in every class, from graduate to first-year, some students talk a lot
more than others. In most classes, there are a few students who dominate the
discussion. Whenever you make a point and pause, and whenever you ask the class
a question, those students have their hand up. These hands are insistent; even
when you recognize somebody else, they stay up or squirm with the effort of
waiting. Given the smallest opportunity, these students interrupt. Sometimes,
they even disparage other students. They make you feel quite uncomfortable at
In an interesting blog
post today, Rachel McKinnon addresses the problem. She writes, “Often we have a few students who dominate open discussion, with most
students spending our classes in silence.” She’s right. What should we do about
A question we should ask to begin is this. Why is this minority so vocal? Why is
the majority silent? Rachel hints at an answer that doesn’t accord with my
experience: “some of us are particularly concerned about getting students
from underrepresented groups to participate, especially in spaces where
the dominant voices are typically (white straight cis) men.” The overly
insistent students in my classes are
just as likely to be (in no particular order) brown, women, head-scarf wearing,
non-stereotypical with regard to their gender, or black.
. . . Canada's greatest prodigy. Here is Jan Lisiecki, an 18 year old from Calgary who has a recording contract with Deutsche Gramophon. His Chopin Etudes are a bit immature, but here he is playing Chopin when he was 14:
On Monday, the Québec Government released
its proposed Charter of Values, which would prohibit public servants wearing "overt and conspicuous" religious symbols such as headscarves, face coverings, kippas, turbans, and prominent crucifixes and
Stars of David. Its fundamental
premise is a mistake. The items of clothing (turbans etc.) do NOT affirm religious belief. I am not surprised that separatist Québec politicians have so little understanding of
cultures other than their own. But I am dismayed that they presume to
legislate on matters they understand so little.
Some political context before I get to the
main point: The Charter of Values was leaked, and has thus been the subject of
public discussion for several weeks now. (I wrote about it here,
I gave reasons for treating face-coverings differently here;
my reasons have nothing to do with their religious significance, if any.)
The strong negative reaction to the
proposed Charter in Montreal and across Canada outside Québec gave some
observers hope that it would be weakened. It was not—it apparently has the
strong support of Québec francophones outside of Montreal and is therefore shrewd
identity politics for the Parti Québecois, which is apparently up in the polls.
The PQ and its federal wing, the Bloc Québecois, have defended the Charter
aggressively. The BQ has gone to the length of expelling Maria Marouni, a
Member of Parliament of Lebanese origin, for her criticisms of the bill.
The rationale given for this intrusion into
private life is that these items of clothing are symbols of religion. Are they?
The crucifix specifically symbolizes an event of great religious significance
for Christians. There is nothing analogous in kippas, hijabs, or Sikh turbans. They
are symbols of community values.
Linda Martin Alcoff tells an interesting tale about Roderick Chisholm in her Stone piece yesterday in the New York Times. As a graduate student, she asked a question in his seminar; he replied by demolishing and ridiculing her (as a philosopher of his ability could easily have done with any graduate student). But later he approached her to ask if she was ok. She writes:
I knew his capacity to turn a student’s dissenting opinion into a jello mold of quivering meaninglessness, to the class’s mirth. I admired his abilities. But I still wanted to see how he would respond to my specific questions. Despite his jokes, one could garner from his response to my questions a substantive philosophical rejoinder. It was a perfectly legitimate philosophical exchange, livened up a bit to keep his students awake.
Speech perception is multimodal. Depriving a person of
speaking in one of the constituent modalities consigns her to expressing
herself incompletely. Therefore face coverings, including especially those that
cover the mouth, deprive their wearers of full oral expression. Therefore, the
niqab and the burka are wrong.
This is an argument against face coverings that I have not
seen. Some claim that veils are oppressive, but many women deny it. They say
that they are more comfortable not showing their faces. Others say that women
who cover their faces offend community standards. I am really not clear how
defensible this argument is: at the very least, it is explicitly a proposal to
limit individual freedom, and there must be a clear and sufficient reason when this
is done. It’s not obvious that a fuzzy appeal to nebulous standards will do the
But what if there is a hitherto overlooked and unacceptable
limitation on the liberty of women who wear a complete face covering? A
limitation that depends on an empirical proposition?
Let's distinguish between Mythical history (Myth) and Mistaken history (Mish).
Myth uses narratives about the past to indicate conceptual linkages among (various) and within natural and social kinds.
Mish contains factual errors about the past.
It's possible that Myth = Mish; but Myth need not be Mish (nor does Mish always need to be Myth).
In reflecting on the public and private responses I have received to my criticisms on Thomas Nagel's abuse of history (here and here), I realize I need some such distinction. (In particular, I thank Mazviita Chirimuuta for making me see what's at stake here!)
Myth and Mish are both compatible with (i) messy history, that is, one that suggests the past is (always more) complex and ambiguous (etc.) and (ii) clean history, that is, one that extracts some determinate claim about the way it was (other than being messy). In practice, Myth tends to be clean (but, say, Foucault practices the genre, in part, by being very messy). Mythical history (be it Mish, clean, messy, or not) is philosophially interesting because it can structure how we think about the world and the way we conceive of the nature of the the problems at hand (or overlooked).
The political situation around Québec’s proposed Charter of
Values—the bill that would ban turbans and head scarfs in public contexts, e.g.
as worn by teachers—is now reaching absurdity. (I wrote about it here.)
Some decades ago, the province suspended individual rights by passing the
language law, Law 101 as it is called (because of its then position on the
order paper of the Québec Parliament). It was a controversial move that
balanced the rights of individuals against the interests of a collective, and
(as the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms permits) suspended the former.
This is permitted by the famous “notwithstanding clause” of the Canadian
Charter: “Parliament or the legislature of a province may expressly declare in
an Act of Parliament or of the legislature, as the case may be, that the Act or
a provision thereof shall operate notwithstanding a provision included in
section 2 or sections 7 to 15.” Québec invoked the notwithstanding clause in
Fair enough. You can expect that in such a situation some
will argue in favour of the supposed interest of the collective (i.e., the
preservation of French in Québec) and others will argue in favour of the
individual’s right to speak the language of her choice, which one might think
was guaranteed by the freedom of expression provision of section 2 of the
Charter. This is why the present situation in la belle province is approaching absurdity: the rhetoric of opposing
the proposed Charter of Values seems unanimously to include praising Law 101.
Charles Taylor, the philosopher, was co-chair of a commission appointed by the last Liberal Party government of Québec to study "reasonable accommodation" of ethnic groups of non-Québec origin. (When I Googled "reasonable accommodation," a bunch of reports about average rentals showed up. Would that it were that simple!)
The report of that commision was conciliatory towards the French-speaking majority, and even (somewhat) to Québec nationalists. It was anything but radically libertarian, endorsing, for example:
as the common public language. The intercultural approach would hardly have any
meaning if Quebecers were unable to communicate with each other in the same language.
Nevertheless, the Bouchard-Taylor report was hardly the kind of stuff that the present separatist government wants discussed in the public forum.