This is the second installment of my series of posts with different sections of the paper on conceptual genealogy that I am working on. Part I is here; a tentative abstract of 2 years ago, detailing the motivation for the project, is here.
I now present some of the basics of Nietzschean genealogy which will then be central for my general project. The goal here is thus not to offer a thorough account of Nietzsche's thought on the matter, obviously (a lifelong project!), but it should still be an accurate presentation of some aspects of it. If that is not the case, please do let me know! (I rely mostly on Geuss' and Leiter's interpretations.) Feedback in general is more than welcome.
The mundane, commonsensical sense of genealogy is typically related to the idea of vindication, i.e. of validation of one’s authority through the narrative of one’s origins. This is particularly conspicuous in historical disputes for political power within the traditional monarchic model: a contestant has a claim to the throne if she can prove to be a descendent of the right people, namely previous monarchical power-holders. In such cases, a genealogy is what Geuss (1994, 274) describes as ‘tracing a pedigree’, a practice as old as (Western?) civilization itself. The key idea is the idea of transmission of value: a person with noble ancestry inherits this status from her ancestors.
Nothing new to say about Schmitt here, but I think there is something to be said for clarifying in what ways Schmitt is not ‘Schmittian’ in some senses that influence some people. This issue came up in a teaching context recently and I think refers to a widespread tendency, which I believe can be tackled without hopefully falling into assault and battery on a straw man in order to clarify what is distinctive about Schmitt’s contribution.
The issue is of defining Carl Schmitt as a ‘decisionist’ who regards the question of who exercises sovereignty as arbitrary, as a question which begins and ends with the question who has the force to exercise sovereignty, with no regard for the legitimation of that sovereignty. This is severely one- sided, but does have some basis in some things Schmitt said, particularly in Political Theology, The Concept of the Political, and Crisis in Parliamentary Democracy. The opening of Political Theology and a slightly later in the text quotation from Kierkegaard, with related discussion, is where decisionistic Schmitt seems most apparent.
Let's say the world is morally ordered if good things come to those who act morally well and bad things come to those who act morally badly.
Moral order admits of degrees. We might say that the world is perfectly morally ordered if everyone gets exactly what they morally deserve, perfectly immorally ordered if everyone gets the opposite of what they morally deserve, and has no moral order if there's no relationship between what one deserves and what one gets.
Moral order might vary by subgroup of individuals considered. Perhaps the world is better morally ordered in 21st century Sweden than it was in 1930s Russia. Perhaps the world is better morally ordered among some ethnicities or social classes than among others. Class differences highlight the different ways in which moral order can fail: Moral order can fail among the privileged if they do not suffer for acting badly, can fail among the disadvantaged if they do not benefit from acting well.
As some readers may recall (see this blog post with a tentative abstract -- almost 2 years ago!), I am working on a paper on the methodology of conceptual genealogy, which is the methodology that has thus far informed much of my work on the history and philosophy of logic. Since many people have expressed interest in this project, in the next couple of days I will post the sections of the paper that I've already written. Feedback is most welcome!
Today I post Part I, on the traditionally a-historical conception of philosophy of analytic philosophers. Tomorrow I will post Part II.1, on Nietzschean genealogy; on Thursday and Friday I will post Part II.2, on the historicity of philosophical concepts, in two installments.
Wiliams (2002) and Craig (2007) fittingly draw a distinction between genealogies that seek to expose the reprehensible origins of something and thereby decrease its value, and genealogies that seek to glorify their objects by exposing their ‘noble’ origins. The former are described as ‘subversive’, ‘shameful’ or ‘debunking’, while the latter may be dubbed ‘vindicatory’. (I will have much more to say on this distinction later on.) Nietzsche’s famous genealogical analysis of morality is the archetypal subversive genealogy, and has given rise to a formidable tradition of deconstruction of concepts, values, views, beliefs etc. by the exposure of their pudenda origo, their shameful origins. As described by Srinivasan (2011, 1),
Nietzsche’s innovation prompted a huge cultural shift towards subversive genealogical thinking – what might be called the ‘Genealogical Turn’ – including Freudian analysis, 20th-century Marxism, Foucault’s historical epistemology, certain strands of postcolonial and feminist theory, and much of what goes by the label ‘postmodernism’. These ideological programmes operate by purporting to unmask the shameful origins – in violence, sexual repression, gender or racial hegemony and economic and social oppression – of our concepts, beliefs and political structures.
The current New Yorker includes a profile of Theranos, a Silicon Valley start-up that is developing new techniques of blood-testing, and its founder, Elizabeth Holmes. In the old way, you’d go to the doctor, who’d order some tests. You’d then get a blood draw of a couple of vials of blood, and they’d get shipped off to LabCorps or Quest. A few days later, you’d find out your lipid or other levels. Theranos claims to have developed the technology to get much, much more information out of a couple of drops of blood – at a fraction of the cost. Needless to say, such an innovation would be a game changer. There is serious money at stake: Quest and LabCorps apparently generate $75 billion a year in revenue. Medically, it’s not just that routine lipid screenings would be easier; it’s that as researchers discover blood markers for more and more diseases, routine blood testing could enable early detection of some that are currently very difficult to treat. For example, recent research suggests such biomarkers might enable early detection of the most common form of lung cancer (this follows the discovery of another lung cancer biomarker a year ago); such early detection is critical for treatment, and its absence is part of why lung cancer has such a high mortality rate. The automatic testing for cancer biomarkers could simply be folded into the lab result. Holmes puts it this way:
In 'Five Parables' (from Historical Ontology, Harvard University Press, 2002), Ian Hacking writes,
I had been giving a course introducing undergraduates to the philosophers who were contemporaries of the green family and August der Stark. My hero had been Leibniz, and as usual my audience gave me pained looks. But after the last meeting, some students gathered around and began with the conventional, 'Gee, what a great course.' The subsequent remarks were more instructive: 'But you could not help it...what with all those great books, I mean like Descartes...' They loved Descartes and his Meditations.
I happen to give terrible lectures on Descartes, for I mumble along saying that I do not understand him much. It does not matter. Descartes speaks directly to these young people, who know as little about Descartes and his times as I know about the green family and its time. But just as the green family showed itself to me, so Descartes shows himself to them....The value of Descartes to these students is completely anachronistic, out of time. Half will have begun with the idea that Descartes and Sartre were contemporaries, both being French. Descartes, even more than Sartre, can speak directly to them....I do find it very hard to make sense of Descartes, even after reading commentaries, predecessors, and more arcane texts of the same period. The more I make consistent sense of him, the more he seems to me to inhabit an alien universe.
Religious disagreements are conspicuous in everyday life. Most societies, except perhaps for theocracies or theocracy-like regimes, show a diversity of religious beliefs, a diversity that young children already are aware of. One emerging topic of interest in the social epistemology of religion is how we should respond to religious disagreement. How should you react if you are confronted with someone who seems equally intelligent and thoughtful, who has access to the same evidence as you do, but who nevertheless ends up with very different religious beliefs? Should you become less confident about your beliefs, or suspend judgment? Or is it permissible to accord more weight to your own beliefs than to those of others?
In November and December 2014, I surveyed philosophers about their views on religious disagreement. I was not only interested in finding out what philosophers think about disagreements about religious topics in the profession (for instance, do they consider other philosophers as epistemic peers, or do they take the mere fact of disagreement as an indication that the other can't be right?), but also in the influence of personal religious beliefs and training. I present a brief summary of results below the fold; a longer version can be found here.
Over at DailyNous, we read that the University of Oregon has sent a letter to international graduate students warning them that they would face deportation if they were to join a strike being undertaken against the university by the Graduate Teaching Fellows Federation (GTFF).
Several things should be said about this.
1) The threat appears to be credible. As I understand matters on the basis of conversations with folks who have had hiring responsibilities that frequently involved graduate students on the type of visa that is likely involved here, all the university would have to do is report to Homeland Security that the students are no longer complying with the conditions of their visas.
2) The above highlights the extent to which international graduate student labor is an extreme form of the sort of captive, precarious labor provided by un-unionized graduate teaching assistants (GTAs) more generally—and the importance of which once led Marc Bosquet, in one of his seminal pieces on the academic labor system, to characterize actually granted PhDs as "the waste product of graduate education." Because international graduate students typically have no legal option but to work for their university employers, they represent possibly the perfect form of GTA labor.
3) Graduate Teaching Assistant unions—which may cover more than TAs narrowly so called, also including graduate students teaching as adjunct faculty, etc.*—represent a threat to this academic labor system. I'll say a little more about this third point, and draw some general conclusions, in what follows.
[In the mean time, I encourage folks to consider adding their names to the open letter that John Protevi is hosting on his blog, calling on the University of Oregon to abandon its current tactics against the union and to grant them the very reasonable benefits they are demanding.]
A common argument made in the ongoing national discussion about police brutality and violence is, very roughly, "We should be careful in criticizing the police because we have little idea of how difficult and dangerous their work is." Which reminds me: some ten years ago, when discussing the Abu Ghraib tortures and sundry atrocities with a serving military officer, he offered me the following piece of wisdom: "You cannot, from this safe couch-warming distance, judge the actions of military men; you have no idea of the dangers and stresses of their work."
You know, whereof one cannot know every excruciating detail, one should not criticize or judge or pass moral judgment?
There are some ways in which Kierkegaard might appear to be diminishing the importance of ethics. At least such is the impression some take away from Fear and Trembling, Kierkegaard’s most read text, and the one most readily found in relatively popular editions. Fear and Trembling features the well known idea of the ‘teleological suspension of the ethical’, though that is an aspect of Kierkegaard that looms larger in general discussions of Kierkegaard from a distance rather than detailed up front engagement with his work as a whole.
The ‘teleological suspension of the ethical’ evidently leaves some with the impression that Kierkegaard is downgrading the importance of ethics, and at the extreme some suggest that Kierkegaard is recommending religiously inspired violence, though I do not think that any who can be described as a competent reader of Kierkegaard has ever reached such a conclusion.
In 1997, as a graduate teaching fellow, I began teaching two introductory classes in philosophy at the City University of New York's John Jay College of Criminal Justice. Many of my students were training for careers in criminology and law enforcement. Some hoped to join the FBI, yet others, the New York City police force. And, as I had been told (warned?) some of my students were serving NYPD officers, perhaps hoping to become detectives, gain added educational qualifications and so on. In my first semester, I did not meet any of these worthies.
At the end of my time in high school, I worked part-time bagging groceries. There was some modest union influence on the job, and its scheduling was pretty predictable: the longer you’d been there, the better schedule you’d get. Your first few weeks, you knew you’d be working late into the evening, especially on Friday and Saturday. After a while, the late shifts would taper off as somebody newer than you would get slotted into them. You could depend on a pretty predictable schedule week-in and week-out. It was a service sector job with a factory-like scheduling.
I mention this because one of the more nefarious uses of big data got emphasized last week in the context of discussion Black Friday’s steady march backwards into Thanksgiving day. Last week’s news highlighted one way that data analytics can be used to introduce further precarity into the lives of low-wage workers. The transfer of risk and precarity to employees more generally is of course something neoliberalism does pretty well, but the process is even more intense for low-wage workers due to the introduction of scheduling software that produces unsteady, uneven, just-in-time scheduling, so that employers don’t have to pay for employees who aren’t absolutely necessary. Since a disproportionate number of those affected by these programs have children to care for, and since many of them are minorities, it’s also a case of disparate impact on poor, minority women. As stores open earlier and earlier for Black Friday, more and more workers – again, mostly women – are being put into the position of not knowing whether they’ll have Thanksgiving off until a day or two before. It’s a good example of the general problem.
We're talking about rankings this week. (Do we talk about anything else, any more?) While we're doing so, I'd like to encourage everyone to read and meditate on this extraordinary post by Kate Bowles, which takes off from the heartbreaking story of Professor Stefan Grimm, "a senior UK academic who has died after being put on performance management for the insufficiency of his research. He was 51."
The piece is a meditation on the professional culture and the emotional world, all too familiar, that almost inevitably surrounds not just a death like this but also any number of other real abuses which we have become all too capable of overlooking, if only by virtue of their excessive familiarity. It bears, heavily, on rankings, and the uses to which they are put. But it also calls us out for the way in which we participate in, and facilitate the whole process. As a tease, I'll simply leave folks with these two paragraphs.
Some days they will also drive each other for you. They will whisper about each other, and turn a blind eye to each other, and not quite find the time to act on their own secret critical thinking about any of it. They will also surreptitiously maintain each other through care and coping practices and shrugs in the corridor and exchanged glances and raised eyebrows in meetings and Friday drinks that become chronic, secretive drinking problems so that they can get some rest without writing emails in their heads at 3am.
In fact, if you get the scarcity, intermittency and celebratory settings for occasional reward just right, then the toxic alchemy of hope and shame will diminish their capacity for solidarity, and they will keep the whole thing going for you, in the name of commitment, professional standards, the value of scholarship, academic freedom, the public good of educational equity.
When I first looked at placement statistics at the Philosophy Smoker I performed some analyses that I shouldn't have. First, I performed too many analyses. Second, I used the wrong kinds of analyses for some of the data. I did not imagine that these statistics would take off as they did and I was overworked*, which contributed to some mistakes on my part. One of these mistakes was running correlation analyses over gender:
I also found a negative correlation between PhD granting institution and number of publications (-.17: the lower your PhD granting institution is ranked the more peer-reviewed publications you have) and between gender and number of publications (-.21: if you are a man you likely have more publications than if you are a woman).
While at the time I suspected that this negative correlation had to do with the increased difficulty women have in publishing their work, others worried that women had an upper hand on the job market. I brushed off this latter worry because the proportion of women who found tenure-track jobs was about the same as the proportion of women who obtain PhDs in philosophy. In fact, in the 2011-2014 data set I found that there is not a significant difference between the proportion of women who graduate from each department and the proportion that find tenure-track jobs from each department (but there is a significant difference for postdoctoral/VAP/instructor positions, which are awarded to a smaller proportion of women relative to women graduates). But this worry regularly comes up in comments and I feel a responsibility for having possibly led people astray with analyses I shouldn't have used in the first place. For that reason, I want to provide some more appropriate analyses here, as clarification on the relationship between gender and publications in the placement data from 2011-2012 and 2012-2013. Those who want to check this work can use the spreadsheet at the bottom of the post here, which is the one I used. (I do not use the more recent data because I decided not to collect publication data in this last round, due to time constraints.)
Jason Osder's searing Let the Fire Burn--a documentary about the tragic standoff between the radical black liberation group MOVE and the Philadelphia city administration in 1985--is ostensibly a documentary about an America of thirty years ago, but it is also about the America of today.
Last night, as my wife and I waited for the 'verdict' in Ferguson, we decided to watch Let the Fire Burn; at its conclusion, we sat there stunned and speechless and disbelieving. I could hear my wife sobbing. Contemplating the death of children, left to burn, and indeed, possibly forced back into a burning house by gunfire from a homicidal police force will do that to you. I got up, walked over to my dormant desktop machine, touched the space bar, and watched the screen spring to life. I checked my social media news feed: as expected, the grand jury in Ferguson decided not to indict, and thus bring to trial, the police officer Darren Wilson, for the deadly shooting of Michael Brown.
The brutality and cruelty of what we had just paid witness to was enough to make me pen the following initial response on my Facebook page:
Jesus Christ, the racist, malevolent stupidity on display in this documentary was unbelievable and unbearable.
Much of that same thick, unblinking, deadly mental and moral dysfunction has been on display in Ferguson: in the murderous shooting of Michael Brown, the heavy-handed reaction to the protests, (which sparked an inquiry by Amnesty International), the refusal to indict, the timing of the announcement, and sure enough, the pronouncements of St. Louis County prosecutor, Robert P. McCulloch.
To place this latest episode of the continuing tragedy of African-American life in some context, to see that black American life has always been cheap, that the police get away with murder all too often, all too easily, Let The Fire Burn is essential viewing.
There is no doubt MOVE in the Philadelphia of 1985 was a prickly bunch: they were radical in their deeds; they could be violent; there is ample cause for disagreement with their indoctrinaire methods; they were anti-social and bad neighbors. But nothing I saw in Let The Fire Burn will convince me that the police action, the heavily armed blockade of their 'headquarters' in a predominantly black neighborhood, followed by a gun battle in which over ten thousand rounds were discharged, the bombing of their house by a incendiary device dropped by a helicopter, and then fatally, the decision to not put out the fire, and burn down not just the house with its occupants still inside, but a total of sixty-one homes, could ever be justified.
Let The Fire Burn is made up entirely of archival footage; there are no talking heads, no contemporary analysis, no hindsight to be offered. The words and actions you see and hear are those of almost thirty years ago. They speak for themselves; no commentary is required. This is documentary making of the highest order. Watch it, weep, and rage. Most of all because nothing has changed.
One aspect of Nietzsche’s political thought of note is the strong tendency to replace politics with culture as the source of value. Some sense of cultural value as the human goal, or at least a major aspect of flourishing humanity, or some flourishing group of humans, goes back to The Birth of Tragedy. However, at the time of The Birth of Tragedy, Nietzsche still adhered to German nationalism with regard to the state, as well as culture, even if culture is the greater preoccupation.
The Birth of Tragedy suggests a rebirth of the greatness of tragedy in the operas of Wagner, an unmistakably nationalist project. At that time Nietzsche welcomed the revival of German Empire under Prussian leadership, if not stridently and had been proud to serve in the Prussian army. Ill health only allowed him to serve in the Franco-Prussian War, which led to proclamation the Second German Empire, as a medical orderly, but he would presumably have fought if allowed.
A graduate student in my department, Shawn Miller, has created a wiki for graduate programs having faculty who specialize in philosophy of biology: philbio.net It gives an at-a-glance overview of schools and faculty, with links to websites, CVs, and PhilPapers profiles for individual faculty. The wiki thus serves as an excellent springboard for those who are researching graduate programs in philosophy of biology, both Ph.D. and terminal M.A. As the wiki notes, "The primary intended audience is prospective or current graduate students with interests in philosophy of biology who want to get the lay of the land by seeing who works where, and on what."
Some important features of the site:
Anyone can edit the wiki, with or without an account. Faculty and students are encouraged to add listings and update listings.
The criterion for program inclusion is just that a philosophy (or a history and philosophy of science) Ph.D. program have at least one full-time faculty member who self-identifies as a philosopher of biology.
On the main page, faculty specializations can be listed and willingness to work with new students can be indicated. Programs can also create a separate page that lists further information about the program, such as lab groups (see UC Davis's entry for an example).
I would encourage others to update this site and help make it a useful resource, and to recommend the site to prospective graduate students with interests in philosophy of biology. I would further encourage those who work in other areas of philosophy to create similar sites to facilitate prospective graduate students in doing the sort of deep research that an important decision like applying to graduate school calls for.
We continue awaiting the decision of a grand jury on whether or not to indict Darren Wilson, a white police officer, who shot and killed Michael Brown, an unarmed black teenager, exactly 15 weeks ago today on a suburban street in Ferguson, Missouri. News reporters from across the globe have been camped out in Ferguson for months, their expectation of an announcement teased and disappointed several times in the last week alone. On Monday, Missouri Governor Jay Nixon declared a state of emergency and activated the National Guard in advance of the grand jury's decision. Yesterday, President Barack Obama, in what can only be judged to be an anticipation of Wilson's non-indictment, preemptively urged protesters not to use Ferguson as an "excuse for violence." In the meantime, demonstrators of various ilk remain on standby, rallying their troops, refining their organizational strategies, painting their oppositional signs, standing vigilantly at the ready for whatever may come.
But what are we waiting for, really, as we wait for Ferguson?