This blog about Lost Causes in Statistics [HT Greg 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.]
UPDATE: Rebecca Kukla further explains her position in a Facebook status update.
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.
Continuing on NewAPPS’ recent obsession 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 original):
Why not, dear colleague?
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 that road.
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.
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 with suspicion.)
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.
As some readers may recall (but most probably don't), I’ve written a few blog posts on the significance of the history of philosophy for systematic philosophical analysis (here and here, for example). I used the term ‘conceptual archeology’ to refer to the kind of investigation that seeks to unearth the origins and development of philosophical concepts that are central for contemporary philosophers. I also suggested that this exercise is important in that it highlights the contingent and potentially contentious assumptions that led to the establishment of a given philosophical concept, and the dogmas and truisms surrounding it.
Now, NewAPPS’er Jeff Bell is working on a project for a volume on (if I understood it correctly) establishing fruitful dialogues between continental and analytic philosophers. When he invited me to contribute, I figured this could be the occasion I had been waiting for to finally flesh out these ideas of mine in a more systematic way.
(A second in a series, drawn from joint work with K. Joseph Mourad.)
How do we measure the complexity of decision procedures in poker? This is a question that is both complex and subtle, and seems to me interesting in thinking about the interplay between formal modeling of epistemological situations and more concrete strategic epistemic thinking.
Phi2Phi is a philosophy app for iPhone and iPad, available free of charge here.
Developed by the University of Toronto epistemologist, Jonathan Weisberg, it allows you to ask other users questions anonymously. You can run micro-polls (to discover intuitions, for example, or test out thought experiments), get advice about teaching, and crowdsource reading suggestions and references. (Of course, you can also answer questions that other users ask.)
A brilliant procrastination device, but useful too!
As many readers will have seen, there is an interview with Herman Cappelen in the latest issue of 3:AM Magazine. Moreover, Cappelen has recently published the much-discussed Philosophy without Intuitions, where he seems to argue (I haven’t had the chance to check out the book with my own eyes yet) that the X-Phi critique of ‘armchair’ methodology misfires in that it criticizes an inexistent straw-man: there are no (serious) philosophers for whom intuitions play the philosophical role that X-Phi’ers claim is the case in traditional, armchair philosophy. Here are some relevant passages from the interview:
3:AM: Your latest book, Philosophy without Intuitions, enters a hot debate in philosophy, that of the role of intuitions. Philosophers' alleged reliance on intuitions has been source of concern. This concern is unwarranted?
HC: Right. Not because reliance on intuitions is unproblematic, but because philosophers don’t rely on intuitions. It turns out that those who assumed philosophy was intuition-based hadn’t done their homework: they made broad, sweeping claims about an activity (philosophising) and a group of people (philosophers) without careful study of those people and that activity. When you look at what real – as opposed to caricatured – philosophers write (and say), there’s nothing there that is appropriately characterised as ‘relying on intuitions as evidence’.
This is X-posted from Prosblogion. Let me be clear from the outset: the majority of work in analytic philosophy of religion (PoR) does not aim to proselytize, but is concerned with fairly technical topics, such as the possibility of creaturely free will in heaven, the compatibility of specific divine attributes, or the evidential problem of evil. But some portion of PoR is clearly aimed at convincing the reader that religious belief (usually, Christianity, given the demographics of academic philosophy) is reasonable. To this end, philosophers construct sophisticated arguments, for instance, to show that religious belief does not require evidence, that religious faith is also, or even primarily, a matter of practical rationality, that the evidence is overwhelmingly in favor of theism, etc. Plantinga and Swinburne are good examples.
Such philosophy of religion can be plausibly regarded as a form of proselytism--I'm using a wider term than the usual apologetics, as apologetics is the more narrow notion of systematically defending a particular religious position. But I'm not entirely happy with the term proselytism either, since I also think that some of this PoR is aimed at those people who have religious faith, but who are wavering, for instance, because others tell them their faith is not rational. So I'll settle for proselytism cum apologetics as a not entirely satisfactory term for this type of PoR. Is it acceptable for philosophers of religion to engage in proselytism/apologetics?
The Philosophy of Biology Lab that I co-run with Jim Griesemer here at UC Davis is re-reading Wesley Salmons' Scientific Explanation and the Causal Structure of the World. I am reminded how, when doing such re-readings, one can find little nuggets of wisdom that may have been overlooked on the first read. Even in the Preface.
Although much modern work on scientific explanation has been rather formal and technical -- often treating various quasi-formal 'models' in great detail -- I shall dwell extensively on less formal considerations. There are two reasons for this emphasis. In the first place, I have been convinced for some time that many recent philosophical discussions of scientific explanation suffer from a lack of what Rudolf Carnap called "clarification of the explicandum." As Carnap has vividly shown, precise philosophical explications of important concepts can egregiously miss the mark if we do not have a sound prior informal grasp of the concept we are endeavoring to explicate.
It's my impression that this is a lesson that many have failed to learn; all too often I see formalism with little attempt to explain what the formalism is intended to represent (and not just in philosophy of science).
More from Salmon's Preface:
I got my first taste of the existence of boundary policing within philosophy a year after graduation (Tufts 93): at my graduation a family friend had given me a collection of essays by Isaiah Berlin. Subsequently, I devoured it and his other writings; went on to Vico (of course), and a whole lot of other obscure authors. A year later I went back to Tufts to celebrate some friends' graduation and to beg for a TA job (in political science); as it happened I bumped into a "famous student of Rawls" on campus; he (not Rawls) was a very good teacher and involved in the great questions of the day in Washington. I admired him. He recognized me, we made some small talk, and for whatever reason I revealed my excitement about Berlin (I may have even carried a totemic copy of Four Essays on Liberty around with me). I am not sure what I expected, but was completely taken aback by the disapproving grunts, and was told something to the effect that Berlin isn't "really philosophy." Fair enough.
Much later I decided that Rawls had created (by design/also here) a "school" with broadly shared sensitivities and, thus, gaps in scholarly knowledge. For, Rawls would teach his own work in light of constructed traditions from which he privileged certain thinkers (including, in fact, Berlin when his "famous student" was at Harvard; Rawls studied with Berlin at Oxford on his Fullbright). One consequence of this way of teaching I noted in passing last week: in Theory of Justice (TJ), Rawls calls attention to the significance of the now forgotten Frank Knight (and Knight's debates with Arrow)), but from the evidence available to me it's clear that Rawls did not teach his students to appreciate the significance of Knight to TJ.
This by way of introduction to the topic of the present post: from the vantage point of contemporary political philosophy, Rawls' near-complete silence on his contemporary, Hayek, is striking, and even a bit puzzling. (Here's an exception to the point.) Even Nozick engages less with Hayek in Anarchy than one would expect today.
There is one last lacuna that demands mention. When Verene puts forward the idea, to cite but one example of many, of the importance of Goethe and the opportunity for a separate study on Goethe's influence on Cassirer, one wonders why Verene has not mentioned John M. Krois who, it is well known, has always insisted on the importance of Goethe for Cassirer. The footnotes of Verene's work are filled with such lacunae.--From this review.I liked this review a lot; it first offers a critical summary of the book and then moves to substantive criticism. But the last paragraph (quoted above) left me dissatisfied. Rather than just pointing at at an example of "such lacunae," I would have preferred a more substantive list of examples and references as a guide to (future) graduate students and scholarship. But maybe that's too much work to expect from a review? What do readers think?
Over the last week, there have been quite a few blog posts prompted by Tim Williamson’s recent critique of experimental philosophy in his review of J. Alexander’s Experimental Philosophy. In particular, at NewAPPS Eric Schliesser and Berit Brogaard shared some of their views on the debate. Here, however, I want to discuss a post by Eric Schwitzgebel at Splintered Mind, as I think he identifies an important and overlooked component of the whole debate. Eric puts forward the distinction between X-Phi in a narrow and in a wide sense. The narrow conception can be thus described:
Most of the work canonically identified as "experimental philosophy" surveys ordinary people's judgments (or "intuitions") about philosophical concepts, and it does so by soliciting people's responses to questions about hypothetical scenarios.
The wide conception is more difficult to define, and Eric basically offers a definition by exclusion:
In this broad sense, philosophers who do empirical work aimed at addressing traditionally philosophical questions are also experimental philosophers, even if they don't survey people about their intuitions.
It used to be called Asperger's Syndrome. A new suggestion for the upcoming Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM-5), published by the American Psychiatric Association and expected to appear in May 2013, is to get rid of that term and include the condition under the label 'high-functioning autism'. Now take a look at some of the characteristics of high-functioning autism:
"why, if at all, such testing of expertise is more urgent in philosophy than in other disciplines."--Tomothy Williamson
The Wykeham Professor of Logic claims that "the project of Experimental Philosophy, as characterized by Alexander, does not withstand scrutiny." It is worth paying attention if only because this is clearly an attempt to delegitimize experimental philosophy as properly philosophical. (In the conclusion to the piece experimental philosophy is characterized as "polemical philosophy-hating philosophizing from which it has not been entirely free.") Do not object that Williamson is merely criticizing Alexander's formulation. Williamson also writes:
"What the Experimental Philosophy revolution is supposed to change — systematize, restrict, or abolish — is a philosophical method: the use of philosophical intuitions as evidence....The systematic deployment of elaborate hypothetical cases is indeed an eye-catching feature of much recent analytic work. But what Experimental Philosophers target is neither the systematicity nor the elaboration." (Quoted from here; HT Prophilosophy)
Williamson targets the methodological aspirationsof Experimental Philosophy an sich. Given that this approach is no more than a methodology it has no reason for existing. Williamson has three strategies: first, after he suggests (via an analogy with theoretical and empirical physics where the "trade-off between the two sorts of skill is not easily avoided"--this sentence comes after a blistering few pages in which Alexander is portrayed as simply not understanding what important philosophical debates are about) that experimental philosophers will lack certain conceptual skills. (Williamson is counting on us agreeing that without conceptual expertise philosophy is empty.) The second and third strategy are cleverly connected.
I quote Williamson: