This is my first foray into newAPPS waters-- and I thank the newAPPS coterie for the invitation!-- so I thought I’d start by tossing out a fairly straightforward philosophical claim: Tolerance is not a virtue.
When I say that tolerance is not a virtue, to be clear, I don’t mean to imply that tolerance is a vice. No reasonable moral agent, certainly no moral philosopher worth his or her salt, would concede that. Rather, I only want to point out that “being tolerant” requires at most little if not nothing more than refraining from being vicious. Not only is it the case that we don’t define any other virtue in this explicitly negative way, but we also don't generally ascribe any particular kind of moral credit to persons who are merely refraining from being vicious.
This week, we’ve had a new round of discussions on the ‘combative’ nature of philosophy as currently practiced and its implications, prompted by a remark in a column by Jonathan Wolff on the scarcity of women in the profession. (Recall the last wave of such discussions, then prompted by Rebecca Kukla’s 3AM interview.) Brian Leiter retorted that there’s nothing wrong with combativeness in philosophy (“Insofar as truth is at stake, combat seems the right posture!”). Chris Bertram in turn remarked that this is the case only if “there’s some good reason to believe that combat leads to truth more reliably than some alternative, more co-operative approach”, which he (apparently) does not think there is. Our own John Protevi pointed out the possible effects of individualized grading for the establishment of a competitive culture.
As I argued in a previous post on the topic some months ago, I am of the opinion that adversariality can have a productive, positive effect for philosophical inquiry, but not just any adversariality/combativeness. (In that post, I placed the discussion against the background of gender considerations; I will not do so here, even though there are obvious gender-related implications to be explored.) In fact, what I defend is a form of adversariality which combines adversariality/opposition with a form of cooperation.
Whatever Schubert intended with this request, I cannot imagine a greater compliment from one composer to another.
Let's leave aside, those professional philosophers for whom philosophy is primarily a job or an interesting diversion from which one can 'retire.' Let's imagine, rather, those ('the infected philosophers') for whom philosophy is a necessity. Such an infected philosopher would keep at philosophy to the very end. Yet, on her deathbed, would she turn to a work by somebody else (e.g., as Hume did with Lucian), would she keep teaching (Socrates), would she, in fact, try to complete her last work(s), would she seek consolation, or would she ask to re-read or hear one of her own results/works?
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.
But then this "as if" proposition raises the question, psychoanalytically speaking, of latent content...He ends up rather where some began, resting the notion of analyticity on the notion of possible worlds. His contentment with this disposition of the analyticity problem makes one wonder, after all, how it could have been much of a motive for his study of convention.--Quine, "Foreword" to David Lewis Convention.
A few weeks ago I posted about boy-wonders. (Recall I tried to give it a fairly precise characterization.) While various institutional features of the phenomenon were discussed in my post and subequent discussion, the psycho-dynamic dimension was largely ignored. (Part of me suspects that's because these days it is thought very bad form to explain behavior with even a mere allusion to Freud among Anglophone philosophers.) But as it happens I was mulling Quine's curious foreword (partially quoted above) on the same day as I read the following unrelated book-review:
The relation between a literary father and a literary heir is always one of mutual idealization. Similar cross-idealizations of éminence terrible and enfant gris
occur in other fields and in both sexes. The most common variety seems
to be prompted by a young person’s wish to find a mentor, a word that
points directly to the fantasy behind the wish. In the Odyssey,
the Ithacan elder Mentor is not a mentor at all; the protective guide
who takes Telemakhos in hand is Athena disguised as Mentor, a divinity
filling a role that no ordinary mortal could manage.
Not all celebrated writers attract idealizing literary children.
Those who do seem to have an unusually sharp divide between their public
image and their private self...
What the literary father seems to find in an
ideal son is an image of his younger self as it might have been without
its weakness and doubt....What the literary son seems to
find in an ideal father is an image of what he might become if he could
overturn the barriers left inside him by his real father. Each hopes to
find in the other a relief from anxiety that no idealizing fantasy can
give.---Edward Mendelson, The New York Review of Books (reviewing Greg Bellow's Saul Bellow's Heart: A Son's Memoir. [Sadly no mention of Fenelon (neither does English Wikipedia entry on mentor, although the Dutch version does--ES.)]
reviewing Kieran Healy's citation data, and it reminds me again how weird
journal acceptance is. My book *Knowledge and Practical Interests* is the fifth
most cited work of philosophy since 2000 in Phil
Review, Mind, Nous, and the Journal of Philosophy (book or article).
Yet the book itself is the result of three revise and resubmits, and finally a
rejection from Phil Review. One of
those drafts was also rejected from Mind,
and also from Nous. All of those
journals have accepted papers discussing, in many cases very centrally, a work
those very journals have deemed unpublishable.
It is a familiar issue: the extent to
which peer reviewing really does track quality. As has been noted before in discussions
prompted by Healy’s data, in terms of publication venues, we are a highly
conservative discipline, one where publishing in the ‘Healy Four’ – Phil Review, Mind, Nous, the Journal of Philosophy – is often viewed
as the ultimate goal to be pursued. The assumption seems to be that publishing
in these journals is a necessary and perhaps even sufficient condition for
philosophical excellence. However, at least two of them have notoriously
problematic refereeing practices (though it seems that efforts were made on
that front); those that do have a reputation of fair refereeing practices end
up overburdened and often need to call for a moratorium on submissions. All of
them end up with minuscule rates of acceptance, much lower than in some of the
top journals in other disciplines (such as Science
Now, reflection on this very small sample (add your favorite example in comments!) inclines me to delimit a certain genre of philosophically effective ridicule (as opposed to mere character assassination); this genre, relies on the magnification of a core philosophical commitment of the opponent and thereby render the whole project preposterous or laughable. I label this a 'Swiftian-Rabelaisian strategy.' Nietzsche's writings are littered with attempts at Swiftian-Rabelaisian strategy, although he often suggests that the contrasting strategy -- ridicule by way of minimization (e.g., Berkeley on minute philosophers) -- comes more naturally to him.
Of course, such a Swiftian-Rabelaisian strategy is compatible with the existence of effective arguments against the ridiculed opposition (as well as the existence of argumentative rejoinders). It is also compatible with holding a rather austere (what we may call, adopting a phrase from Derrida) 'ethics of writing'. Given the sample, I hasten to add that even if the meta-ethical-writing-principles were shared, the enacted norms of writing may differ widely. We should distinguish the Swiftian-Rabelaisian strategy from other forms of ridicule (which, say, rely on misrepresentation, incredulous stares, silencing techniques, etc.).
I conclude my preliminary analysis by way of a suggestion; in some possible world it ought to be possible to execute the Swiftian-Rabelaisian strategy under, as it were, the radar without, say, being funny. To give a hint of an example: when Locke takes on the stance of an 'under-labourer' he magnifies some privileged others (Boyle, Sydenham, Huygens Newton). Nobody would ever accuse Locke of being a funny writer, but it would be amusing if he were capable of an inside joke.
"Strauss' interpretation of Plato is wrong from beginning to end." M.F. Burnyeat.
Although we philosophers are thought of as a cerebral bunch, our loathings can be pretty intense. I need not mention the hundred-year, fraternal civil war, which around here we label a 'divide,' between analytic and continental philosophy; we are not known for our fondness for what passes as 'theory' among literature and cultural studies departments (and I have experienced plenty of uncivil behavior from folk in, say, science studies in return). But when professional philosophers are not just puzzled by the Straussians they encounter, we reserve a special kind of bile and invective against them, especially as Strauss's students found their ways into advising Goldwater and Reagan (and beyond); once I was halted in my invective against Wolfowitz by (The University of Chicago's) Ralph Lerner's, 'Paul once sat in that chair, and was no less passionate than you.' Undoubtedly a few of us were at least mildly irritated by reading Steven Smith's very respectful review of books on the legacy of Strauss in a recent New York Times Book Review--"doesn't he know that 'Strauss is not a Philosopher!'"?
In his famous essay, Burnyeat (a former teacher) overreached. Invoking "ordinary scholarship," Burnyeat treats Plato (surprisingly Popperian) as a "radical utopian," primarily relevant for opening up "a reasoned debate on the nature and practicality of a just society" (emphasis in Burnyeat). Given that Burnyeat was in no sense an ordinary scholar, who also searchingly pioneered the historiographical construction of the classics, these lines are painful read; Burnyeat reduces the significance of Plato's political philosophy to being a forerunner of Rawls. Those of us living in the shadow of the surveillance state may find Strauss' "anti-Utopian teaching" ("invented" or not) about Plato a useful touch-stone, sometimes. For in Republic and Laws surveillance are ever-present and its limits thematized. The cause of Burnyeat's overreach is that Plato's Laws has always been a blind-spot to him (and until recently ordinary analytic scholarship).
At some level, Burnyeat must have known he overreached, because he allowed the original and reprinted version of the piece to have a clear reference to a famous short story by Oscar Wilde, -- which may be read as an allegory on philosophical madness [Murchison is introduced as a truth-teller] ! -- that ends with that enigmatic "I wonder."
Different institutions are participating in this project, they already are part of the project: Various professors and students from the Humboldt University in Berlin, Eindhoven University of Technology, Radboud University Nijmegen, Utrecht University, University of Bern, Georg Simmel Centre for Metropolitan Studies, University of Luxembourg... and many more. [Emphasis in original--ES.]
Almost no names are mentioned except a certain "Sandra A.V. Vos", who seems hard to track down to a particular philosophy program; it seems a bit...opportunistic.
The following three sub-fields are highly specialized: Ancient philosophy, seventeenth/eighteenth century philosophy, and philosophy of physics. The following sub-fields have a low level of specialization: metaphilosophy, philosophy of religion, philosophy of probability, philosophy of the social sciences, decision theory, and philosophy of race and gender. Highly specialized sub-fields tend to require extensive knowledge in some area beyond the typical training of a philosopher, and outside of philosophy proper.--Brad Wray.
Brad Wray, a Kuhnian-naturalistic philosopher of science, has mined the PhilPapers data with an eye toward "the degree of specialization in each area of specialization" in the discipline. (Wray is a bit too confident that this is a "representative sample of the profession;" I worry about selection and, especially, geographical effects; even so the numbers are pretty large (3,226 people in total and 1,803 'philosophy faculty or PhD') so that the results can be illuminating if used with caution.)
Wray: "The degree of specialization of an area is a relative measure of how specialized a particular area is" and is calculated as follows: "The number of people who claim the area as their primary area of specialization/The number of people who claim the area as an area of specialization." I have posted a chunk of the abstract, which contains the core results, in the epigraph above. One of Wray's finding would not have surprised Adam Smith: "an analysis of the data suggests that the size of a specialization is correlated with the degree of specialization."
Wray's crucial result (which seems to have been explored at the prompting of a referee) is this one: "a high degree of specialization is the exception, not the norm in philosophical specialties. Many specialties seem to depend, to a significant degree, on the involvement of many who work in the area but who do not identify the area as their primary area of specialization." Of course, this says nothing about the way in which specialists set the agenda with a specialization.
Either way, this data suggests that there are still quite a few generalists in philosophy (it is amusing to me that I work in a 'specialist' area because us 'early modernists' cover two hundred years of systematic philosophy with ongoing discussions pertaining to M&E, value, science, and increasingly philosophy of religion). The question as to what degree Wray's pattern is born out by publication and citation-data is worth exploring in the future.
This blog about Lost Causes in Statistics [HTGreg Gandenberger] made wonder if Lost Causes are really possible in Philosophy. A half a century ago The Principle of Sufficient Reason or Metaphysics generally might have seem such a cause; and that makes me hesitant to nominate one.
Can anybody suggest decisively (that is, forever) rejected, once-promising philosophical projects/positions?
I am inclined to suggest the naturalistic fallacy just to get conversation going.
Signed comments only (unless one writes me with an explanation for anonymity.)
"My one complaint with the volume is that several of the contributors seem to have recycled earlier work, rather than coming up with anything new. This issue is hardly particular to the present volume, of course, and in general editors and referees acting on behalf of presses should be doing more to ensure that contributors are offering genuinely new material to volumes that aren't anthologies of previously published work."--Aidan McGlynn.
I would add reviewers to McGlynn's list of folk that need to do more to ensure that "contributors are offering genuinely new material to volumes."
Anyway, the lines above are the conclusion of McGlynn's excellent review. It's never easy to review edited volumes, especially Festvolumes. But McGlynn manages to offer a nice balance of useful summary and critical commentary. Moreover, at various places the review manages to convey a personal appreciation of Crispin Wright and an insider's look behind the scences at the way Wright does philosophy:
"As for Wright's replies, their format allows them to capture something of his present modus operandi, which
involves collaborative engagement with a number of seemingly disparate
topics, looking for unexpected points of overlap between them. The
distinctiveness of this approach is often largely lost by the time its
outputs make it into print, but interestingly that hasn't happened here."
In comments, David Chalmers generously acknowledged that his famous (co-authored) paper ""The
Extended Mind" was rejected by J Phil, Phil Review, and Mind before it
was finally accepted by Analysis (three years later)." TEM was published in 1998. So, I decided to compare the editorial performance of the Chalmers top-3 with Analysis between 1995-8 as measured by citation impact fifteen years later. (I used Harzing's Publish and Perish--this includes google.scholar citations, so it captures a lot of citations.)
The Journal of Practical Ethics is a new open access (hurray!) journal hosted by the "Oxford Uehiro Centre for Practical Ethics;" the Centre "was established in 2003
with the generous support of the Uehiro Foundation on Ethics and
Education of Japan." So generous, in fact, that "Authors and reviewers are offered an honorarium." (Wow!) Of course, our moral experts like to keep it clubby: it is "an invitation only, blind-peer-reviewed journal." That puts a different spin on its desire to "promote informed, rational debate, and is not tied to any one particular viewpoint." Subtext: we will reward our friends and approved opinions handsomely; prudent folk are encouraged to keep quiet. [HT Matt Lister, who raised the issue in comments at Crookedtimber.]
Friend-of-the-blog Rebecca Kukla is the latest 3:AM Magazine
interviewee. Alongside lots of interesting observations about her philosophical
work, she was asked to comment on the poor gender balance in professional
philosophy. Here is one of her (somewhat controversial) comments:
[L]et me go on record
as saying that I think that the whole idea that women are put off by or
unsuited to the aggressive, argumentative style of philosophy is crap.
Discursive intensity and tenacity, a high premium on verbal sparring and
cleverness, and a fundamentally critical dialogical method have been central to
philosophy since its birth, and I wouldn’t have it any other way. The fact is,
most people, regardless of gender, find that kind of discourse difficult,
overwhelming, and somewhat threatening; the Athenians didn’t crack out the
hemlock for no reason. This is why most people should not be philosophers, and
that’s just fine. A tiny number of women and men thrive on that kind of
engagement. I think the idea that women are disproportionately bad at it or put
off by it is based on anecdotes – anecdotes that are hopelessly distorted by
stereotypes and biases – and not on serious evidence.
"LIKE MOST English philosophers (Bradley being the great exception--corrupted no doubt by Hegel), Whitehead is a pluralist, as were Occam, Locke, Berkeley, Hume, and Bertrand Russell."--Charles Hartshorne, "Whitehead's Revolutionary Concept of Prehension."
I advocate that the first sentence of a journal article should have a straightforward thesis statement. Even so, I grant that this rule can be trumped by aesthetic considerations. Hartshorne's line is memorable, in part, because of the unlikely nature of this set of "English philosophers" and the uncommonly, polemical nature of a parenthesis; Hartshorne also implies that pluralism is a virtue. We are immediately made to feel something is at stake in this English tradition.
Readers' nominations for even more memorable first lines of journal are welcomed.
Continuing on NewAPPS’ recentobsession with number theory, today I came across an interesting Slate article
on the new proof of the ‘bounded gaps’ conjecture. The whole article is worth
reading, but there is one particularly priceless quote (hyperlink in the
If you start thinking
really hard about what “random” really means,
first you get a little nauseated, and a little after that you find you’re
doing analytic philosophy. So let’s not go down
Sometimes an idea just is in the air. Last week in the context of our blogging (originally by Dennis, then more recently yours truly, and Catarina) about the ABC conjecture our very own Dennis des Chene reminded me that the source of the most recent discussion, written by Caroline Chen, requests that "If you enjoy this story, we ask that you consider paying for it. Please see the payment section below." How many philosophers did? (I finally did in context of writing this story!) Now, Daan Oostveen, a journalist writing for a Dutch weekly, contacted me about my views on crowd-funding in philosophy. According to Wikipedia, crowd funding is a "collective effort of individuals who network and pool their money, usually via the Internet, to support efforts initiated by other people or organizations." I often write these blog posts in an espresso-bar/fashion-store that was funded in this fashion (the owners were even on Dutch TV about it).
Now, I certainly expect that (like blogging!) crowd-funding could be a viable financing model for some philosophers. At NewAPPS we self-consciously decided not to accept advertisements, but if we had I expect we might have had some nice extra cash to fund our annual APA lunch. Crowd-funding is an especially viable funding source for non-academic (or marginal-academic) philosophers, who (a) use performance-like or primarily digital methods. It might even help develop these fields--something I wish we could do at NewAPPS (but I have come to the conclusion we lack interest and talent in these areas). Also, for charismatic people (b) whose philosophical views and methods lean closely toward self-help/therapeutic/religious spheres/pratices crowd-funding may even be lucrative. (In Holland the glossy Filosofie Magazine has made philosophy a life-style for educated folk near retirement looking for alternatives to religion.)
I read this paper by David MacNaughton on why philosophy is so tedious (recent link at Leiter's blog). Of the many interesting strands in this paper, I'd like to highlight this concern:
There is now so much to read that “keeping up with the current literature,” could occupy every
waking moment. But to what end? Do we really want to create a profession where, to get
recognition and to advance one’s career, one has no time to do anything except philosophy? That is not good news for philosophers. It is neither sensible nor humane to encourage this work-centered monomania in anyone … Moreover, it is inimical to one of the traditional justifications of philosophy that sees it as a reflection on life, a discipline that trains you to understand the world in which you live better and so enables you, and others, to live better. But we are in danger of abandoning that conception and leaving professional philosophers no time and no incentive to put that wisdom into practice, to engage in other worthwhile activities. Is philosophical training a preparation for doing philosophy, and nothing more? … Nor is this degree of absorption in philosophy good for philosophy itself. It is (predominantly) a liberal discipline, and the best philosophy (especially in my own subjects, ethics and the philosophy of religion) is enriched by a wide, reflective, and imaginative experience of literature, politics, art, and science (McNaughton, p. 7).
The author here is right: if philosophy is indeed the love of wisdom, and its practice is embedded in a richer social, cultural, artistic, political, etc. context, it would be very strange that the only thing that could contribute to our work as philosophers would be reading papers and books by other philosophers.
Non-philosophical activities and concerns could enrich philosophical practice. By this I mean a wide variety of things, for instance, being a parent, a musician, someone who actively engages with a religious tradition, someone who is involved in political activism, etc. I would like to hear from readers how their non-philosophical activities have influenced and enriched their philosophy.
It would be valuable to get an idea of this, as I think there is an increasing pressure, even on people who are not on a tenure track, to work incessantly - as if work alone is something that makes a good philosopher, and where one's personal life is regarded mainly as an impediment to being a blossoming philosopher. This is, of course, not a problem unique to philosophy (it pervades academia), but it does strike me as something our discipline needs to address.
I was recently having tea with a philosopher who is the head of an interdisciplinary research group. We talked about grant proposals. My interlocutor said he devoted a lot of his working hours (at least 1/3 in his estimation) to writing grant proposals. He also knew someone personally, who was not a philosopher, but someone from an empirical discipline, who devoted as much as 70% of his time on grant writing. That latter person even said that he can now scarcely keep up with the literature in his highly specialized field - let alone contribute original research. But, given that his research group (comprising many PhD students and postdocs) depended on his ability to secure grants, there was no other option but to devote more and more time to the grant writing process.
Since grant schemes often ask for unrealistically elaborate timetables and detailed projected results, many experienced grant writers have turned to this heuristic (they have admitted this freely to me, and are unabashed about it - I haven't tried this for myself, but the practice is widespread):
Write a grant proposal that describes the work you have recently done (let's call this research project X).
If your proposal gets funded, you start doing the research you really want to do (research project Y)
If asked for a report of results, you simply mention the papers that are now in press, undergoing review or are recently published from project X; you do not mention the actual work that is now going on in your centre or lab, project Y.
About 1 year off from the completion of your current grant, you start developing a new grant proposal, this time detailing how you will carry out project Y (which, of course, is already about completed), allowing you in the future to pursue project Z.
And so on. This practice illustrates, I believe, that there is something deeply wrong with the grant making process as it is currently practiced.
Over the next several months or more I will be writing a book on Deleuze and Guattari's What is Philosophy? The answer they give to the question, "what is philosophy?" is simple enough: "philosophy is the art of forming, inventing, and fabricating concepts." (2). Unpacking this definition, of course, is not nearly as simple, although a few pages later Deleuze and Guattari begin the process by differentiating philosophy from art and science:
In fact, sciences, arts, and philosophies are all equally creative, although only philosophy creates concepts in the strict sense...Nietzsche laid down the task of philosophy when he wrote, "[Philosophers] must no longer accept concepts as a gift, nor merely purify and polish them, but first make and create them, present them and make them convincing." (5, citing Will to Power §409)
In future posts I'll discuss this further, but for now I'm interested in other answers to the question, "what is philosophy?" Below the fold I have added one from Russell and another from Heidegger. Feel free to add to the list.
It is still very common that students only get readings by male authors in their introductory classes to philosophy. This contributes to the image of philosophy as a boys only discipline. It would therefore be useful to have a list with readings written by women that are suitable for philosophy courses, such as general introduction to philosophy, philosophy of science, ethics, epistemology.
I would like to invite readers to contribute their favorite pieces, written by women philosophers, to the following Google spreadsheet (please fill out the spreadsheet, rather than using the comment section, except if you experience difficulties with the spreadsheet).
In first instance, the focus would be on papers and book excerpts that are not overtly specialist or technical, suitable for intro-level or intermediate courses. Ideally, they should have made a significant impact on their field. They should be readings you have either already successfully used in class context, or envisage using.
A review of a recent collection of essays on Davidson concludes with:
To conclude, there are some interesting and thought-provoking moments in
this collection. But the take-home message (no doubt unintended) is
that Davidson's insights and theorizing have far less currency in
current analytical philosophy than they did twenty or thirty years ago.
It is interesting to compare this volume with two very famous and
influential volumes: Truth and Interpretation: Perspectives on the Philosophy of Donald Davidson, edited by Lepore, and Actions and Events: Perspectives on the Philosophy of Donald Davidson, edited
by Lepore and Brian McClaughlin. Those two volumes show how central
Davidson was at the time (1985 and 1986) to most of the major areas of
philosophy (language, epistemology, metaphysics, and mind). In contrast,
reading the present volume brings home how much philosophy has moved
away (for better or for worse) from those Davidsonian themes that
captured the imagination of entire generations of analytic philosophers.--José Luis Bermúdez.
I rarely agree with José Bermúdez, but for once I share his sentiment. (Recall this post on how Anscombe's Intention is being unshackled from a Davidsonian interpretive frame.) Still, it would be interesting to see some careful data on this; this quick and dirty data suggests that the earlier "Davidsonic boom" may just a being at Oxford-induced illusion--a known perceptual bias. Either way, José does not explain why "philosophy" moved "away" from Davidsonian themes. Is it just a consequence of changing fashions, or have fatal arguments been directed against the Davidsonian program? Is it too early to tell? Readers's insights much appreciated.
Here I am, back from my vacation and trying
desperately to catch up with the accumulated work and all the interesting
events in internet-world of the last week. At NewAPPS alone there are quite a
few posts I want to react to, in particular Eric’s post on the genealogy of
genealogy. But let me start by commenting on the ‘hot topic’ of the moment, at
least among philosophy geeks: L.A. Paul’s draft paper on how decision theory
is useless when it comes to making life-transforming decisions such as having a
child. Eric and Helen already have nice posts up reacting to the paper, but I
hope there is still room for one more NewAPPS post on the topic.
Perhaps the first thing to notice, which
comes up only at the end of Paul’s paper, is that the very idea of having
children being a matter of choice/decision is a very recent one. For the
longest part of human history, and for the largest portion of the human
population (excluding, for example, some of those who took up religious vows), finding a partner and procreating was simply the normal course of
events, no questions asked. (Indeed, Christian faith even views it as a moral
obligation.) It is only fairly recently, possibly only towards the end of the
20th century, that having a child became a matter of choice at least
for some people, in some parts of the planet. Contributing factors are the
availability of contraceptive methods, and a wider range of life options which
are now deemed ‘acceptable’, or at least more acceptable than before. (People
who choose to remain child-free, in particular women, are still often looked at
A recent review of a companion to Oakeshott concludes with the following lines:
In closing I must -- reluctantly -- say something about Robert Grant's
contribution. It has no place in this volume. It is about Oakeshott's
sex life. There is no discussion in it of Oakeshott's work. It consists
in peddling often malicious hearsay from largely uncheckable sources.
Oakeshott was very careful to separate his private life from his work.
This should be respected, but Grant tramples on it. The editors have
made a serious misjudgment in including this essay.
The very idea of a "Companion" changes its meaning with such a chapter.
Let's grant that reporting hearsay is not very praiseworthy, and let's assume that the reviewer is right in claiming that Grant's contribution is "malicious" (oddly enough no argument or evidence is given for this claim). By mentioning, even condemning Grant's chapter and the volume's editors, the reviewer generates an interest in it that would otherwise not exist (comparable to stamping 'top secret' on a report on the garbage disposal maintenance system). So, in doing so the reviewer calls attention to a topic that apparently "Oakeshott was very careful" to keep quiet and achieves the opposite of Oakeshott's (and perhaps the reviewers') intentions.
Now, if we and Oakeshott respect a private/public distinction then surely discretion is the name of the game here. Now, I have not gone back to Oakeshott, but I thought he was fairly skeptical about such a distinction. Regardless, the lives of the philosophers were once a legitimate subject of interest among the Ancients and Early Moderns. In so far as we allow the life lived and the written record float free from each other we treat our subject as in some sense disembodied. It's not to be denied this can be useful, but it is not obvious that is progress.