Many readers of this blog will be aware of the remarkable institution known as the Collège International de Philosophie, based in Paris and supported by the French government since 1983. During its more than 30-year existence, the Collège has offered an extraordinary range of very high-quality free and public programs in France and around the world. It is, as such, one of the world's foremost institutions dedicated to public philosophy.
Sadly, the Collège now stands days away from being forced to close because the funds to support its operations have not been paid. As is detailed here, the Collège has been the subject of a number of discussions concerning its maintenance since 2012, which led to its association with the new Université Paris Lumières in 2013. This administrative association was supposed to provide a sustainable home for the Collège; but the 240,000 Euros that form the Collège's annual operating budget have been withheld by the ministry responsible for the UPL and its associated elements—leaving the institution days away from bankruptcy.
There is a petition circulating where people can offer support for the Collège—below the fold you can find, with his permission, Gabriel Rockhill's translation of the original French text (which also details the situation that the Collège is facing, and its accomplishments and history, a bit further than my remarks above).
"No Rankings, Not Now, Not Ever" is the rallying cry for the October Statement, and over a hundred philosophers have signed. They think it would be better not to have rankings of philosophy departments. For all I say here, they might be right. The trouble is that there's no way to sustain an absence of rankings when the internet exists, so "no rankings" is not actually a live option.
Rankings are very easy to produce and distribute. With a few philosophers and a bottle of tequila, you can make up some idiosyncratic departmental rankings in an evening. With the internet, you can make it all instantly available to everyone. The funny thing is, I'd actually be more interested in your idiosyncratic tequila-driven rankings than the opinions of internet journalists with only a passing interest in philosophy, posting rankings promoted by the prominence of their media organizations. Even if I disagree with you, your rankings were made by philosophers who read lots of stuff while earning PhDs, and whose opinions I'm interested in engaging with. But in a battle for the attention of undergraduates from universities with few research-active philosophers (and worse, Deans!) the media and its promotional machinery can win.
Argumentation gets a bad press. It’s often portrayed as futile: people are so ridden with cognitive biases—less technically, they are pigheaded—that they barely ever change their mind, even in the face of strong arguments. In her last post, Helen points to some successes of argumentation in laboratory experiments with logical tasks, but she doubts whether these successes would extend to other domains such as politics or morality.
I think this view of argumentation is unduly pessimistic: argumentation works much better than people generally give it credit for. Moreover, even when argumentation fails to meet some standards, the problem might lay more with the standards than with argumentation. Here are some arguments in support of a view that is both more realistic in its aspirations and more optimistic in its depiction of argumentation—we’ll see if these arguments can change Helen’s mind about the power of arguments.
Continuing from my last post on 'Style of Living versus Juridification in Foucault', there seems to be me to be something to be gained by thinking about Kierkegaard's ethics here, even if Kierkegaard's Christianity and Foucault's aesthetic self seem rather distinct. The emphasis in Foucault on style or aesthetics of life or existence seems to be be already the object of criticism, in Kierkegaard's account of the aesthetic (as a mode of life rather than with regard to the appreciation of art and beauty). However, Foucault does refer on occasion to the self as acting on itself in Kierkegaard. So Kierkegaard has a particular importance in suggesting that the self is not just an observing consciousness.
Kierkegaard's attitude to the self , and modes of living, is in some degree structured by an understanding of the relation between individuality and the state as a political entity. It is an understanding that draws on Hegel, but which tries to resist what Kierkegaard takes to be an absorption of the self into history and communal morality in Hegel's philosophy. That continuation of aspects of Hegel includes a distinction between antique and modern communities, which itself draws on an enormous amount of earlier thought going back to the Renaissance regarding the distinction between antiquity and the present.
In writing about Brittany Maynard, the twenty-nine year old cancer patient who has scheduled herself for a physician-assisted suicide on November 1, Ross Douthat asks:
Why, in a society where individualism seems to be carrying the day, is the right that Maynard intends to exercise still confined to just a handful of states? Why has assisted suicide’s advance been slow, when on other social issues the landscape has shifted dramatically in a libertarian direction?
This question will predictably be answered by some variant of the usual Douthat analysis. To wit:
Because liberals misunderstand the American soul, if not the human condition, which is offered more soothing, palliative balm, more existential comfort, by the religiously infused conservative spirit, the true heart of America, and really, perhaps all of humanity. This Godless, cold, uncaring cosmos of the liberal imagination--where it ultimately fails is in being able to address La Condition Humaine.
It is well-attested that people are heavily biased when it comes to evaluating arguments and evidence. They tend to evaluate evidence and arguments that are in line with their beliefs more favorably, and tend to dismiss it when it isn't in line with their beliefs. For instance, Taber and Lodge (2006) found that people consistently rate arguments in favor of their views on gun control and affirmative action more strongly than arguments that are incongruent with their views on these matters. They also had a condition where people could freely pick and choose information to look at, and found that most participant actively sought out sympathetic, nonthreatening sources (e.g., those pro-gun control were less likely to read the anti-gun control sources that were presented to them).
Such attitudes can frequently lead to belief polarization. When we focus on just those pieces of information that confirm what we already believe, we get further and further strengthened in our earlier convictions. That's a bad state of affairs. Or isn't it? The argumentative theory of reasoning, put forward by Mercier and Sperber suggests that confirmation bias and other biases aren't bugs but design features. They are bugs if we consider reasoning to be a solitary process of a detached, Cartesian mind. Once we acknowledge that reasoning has a social function and origin, it makes sense to stick to one's guns and try to persuade the other.
Like an invisible hand, the joint effects of biases will lead to better overall beliefs in individual reasoners who engage in social reasoning: "in group settings, reasoning biases can become a positive force and contribute to a kind of division of cognitive labor" (p. 73). Several studies support this view. For instance, some studies indicate that, contrary to earlier views, people who are right are more likely to convince others in argumentative contexts than people who think they are right. In these studies, people are given a puzzle with a non-obvious solution. It turns out that those who find the right answer do a better job at convincing the others, because the arguments they can bring to the table are better. But is there any reason to assume that this finding generalizes to debates in science, politics, religion and other things we care about? It's doubtful.
A couple of decades ago, I strolled through Washington Square Park on a warm summer night, idly observing the usual hustle and bustle of students, tourists, drunks, buskers, hustlers, stand-up comedians, and sadly, folks selling oregano instead of good-to-honest weed. As I did so, I noticed a young man, holding up flyers and yelling, 'Legalize Marijuana! Impeach George Bush! [Sr., not Jr., though either would have done just fine.]." I walked over, and asked for a flyer. Was a new political party being floated with these worthy objectives as central platform issues? Was there a political movement afoot, one worthy of my support? Was a meeting being called?
The flyers were for a punk rock band's live performance the following night--at a club, a block or so away. Clickbait, you see, is as old as the hills.
I note here the existence of the October Statement, which 111 philosophers have signed to demonstrate their resistance to all ranking systems. (I have not signed this statement. As I say here, I favor a user-created ranking system.)
In addition, Brian Leiter released a list of those who will serve on the board of the PGR for 2014. I checked this list against the board of the 2011 PGR and an earlier announcement and found 7 missing names. I do not presume to know why all 7 of these people appear to have stepped down from the board, but Brian notes at his blog that "Five Board members resigned over the past two weeks, some because of the controversy, and some because of unrelated concerns about the PGR methodology." Here are the missing names: Alex Byrne, Craig Callender, Crispin Wright, David Brink, Graham Priest, Lisa Shapiro, and Samantha Brennan.
--for all of the departments in the top 50 of the 2011 worldwide PGR, a mean 17% faculty signed the document**. (I am attaching the Excel spreadsheet I used here.)
--there is little to no correlation between PGR rating and the percentage of faculty who signed for departments in the top 50 of the 2011 worldwide ranking (-.11). Of these departments, those with greater than 17% faculty signatures include: ANU, CUNY, Duke, Georgetown, Harvard, Indiana, King's College London, MIT, Northwestern, Rutgers, Syracuse, UCL, UCSD, Cambridge, Edinburgh, Leeds, U Mass Amherst, Michigan, Oxford, UPenn, Sheffield, USC, St Andrews/Stirling, UVA, Wisconsin.
*I updated the list at approximately 2:45 p.m. PDT , October 10th, 2014.
**I did not match the names of the signers to the names of members of faculty, but compared the number of people who signed the document claiming a particular affiliation to the number of faculty listed in the current PGR faculty lists. It is possible that persons not included in the PGR list for a department signed the document with that department's affiliation, which would potentially lower this percentage as well as the percentage for that particular department.
Update (October 6th, 2014): Sheffield is the second department to announce that it is not cooperating with the PGR this year. The October Statement has 111 signatures, as of October 4th. (I have not worked out how much overlap exists between these statements, so it would not be correct to say that these statements together constitute 745 signatures--the number is smaller than this, but I don't yet know by how much.)
Update (October 10th, 2014): Signatures on the September Statement have closed, and an announcement has been added, as below.
"The September Statement, signed by twenty-one philosophers on September 24, 2014, and its addendum, signed by six hundred twenty-four philosophers in the weeks following, was a pledge not to provide volunteer work for the Philosophical Gourmet Report under the control of Brian Leiter.
On October 10, Leiter publicly committed to stepping down from the PGR following the publication of the 2014 edition, which will be produced with Leiter and Berit Brogaard as co-editors. After its publication, Leiter will resign as editor, and become a member of the PGR's advisory board. (See Daily Nous's account here.)
The September Statement did not specify the conditions under which the PGR is considered to be "under the control of Brian Leiter". It is up to each individual signatory to decide whether it is consistent with the pledge to assist with the 2014 PGR with Leiter as a co-editor, or with future editions with Leiter as a board member.
We are grateful for the support of the philosophers who signed the September Statement, as well as that of those who worked in other ways to make clear that this kind of bullying behaviour is unacceptable in professional philosophy."
In Sons and Lovers (1913), D. H. Lawrence directs many glances at the Derbyshire landscape, often through his characters' distinctive visions. Here is one, this time through Paul Morel:
He was brooding now, staring out over the country from under sullen brows. The little, interesting diversity of shapes had vanished from the scene; all that remained was a vast, dark matrix of sorrow and tragedy, the same in all the houses and the river-flats and the people and the birds; they were only shapen differently. And now that the forms seemed to have melted away, there remained the mass from which all the landscape was composed, a dark mass of struggle and pain. The factory, the girls, his mother, the large, uplifted church, the thicket of the town, merged into one atmosphere—dark, brooding, and sorrowful, every bit. [Bantam Classic, 1985, pp. 271]
In this vivid passage, Paul's melancholia affords him a lens through which to interpret his surroundings, now infected with his own subjectivity. The world he 'sees' has the shapes and forms that it does because they are the ones he has imposed on it. So overpowering is his current sense of desolation that the boundaries between objects break down, principles of individuation fail to hold sway, and the substratum that is the foundation of the visible world is revealed. In this state of mind it can only be the 'vast, dark matrix of sorrow and tragedy', 'a dark mass of struggle and pain.' As a daily coping mechanism, this brooding assemblage is understood as, and interacted with, as physical objects, including animate and inanimate ones, like 'houses and the river-flats and the people and the birds' but at times like these--a characteristically intense interaction with a woman, in this case, Clara Dawes, his lover--this construction crumbles, and the artifice of it all is revealed. As is the grim underlying reality. (Paul's interpretive scheme is not a linguistic one; it seems to be constructed from felt emotions and sensations.)
An interesting analogy with Lawrence's technique here is that employed by Martin Scorsese in Taxi Driver when showing us Travis Bickle's New York City. Scene after scene shows a grim tapestry of violence, sexual degradation, and corruption of all stripes--'the filth'--which so corrodes Bickle's sensibilities and generates an ultimately violent retaliation. So relentless is this depiction of 'the open sewer', so ubiquitous its presence outside Bickle's car window, that viewers of Taxi Driver might wonder if Bickle was driving around the same city block again and again. But that, of course, is the point of it all: the diversity of the city has been dissolved and made shapeless and formless by Bickle's gaze. What we see on the screen is Bickle's subjectivity imposed on the landscape outside, now understood and contextualized by his distinctive perspective into 'one vast matrix of of vice and dirt', with its streets and corners and peoples and street lights all merged into one atmosphere--dark, brooding, and sorrowful, every bit.'
Paul Morel and Travis Bickle live in distinctive worlds of their own.
As most kids (I suspect), my daughters sometimes play ‘upside down world’, especially when I ask them something to which they should say ‘yes’, but instead they say ‘no’ and immediately regret it: ‘Upside down world!’ The upside down world game basically functions as a truth-value flipping operator: if you say yes, you mean no, and if you say no, you mean yes.
My younger daughter recently came across the upside down world paradox: if someone asks you ‘are you playing upside down world?’, all kinds of weird things happen to each of the answers you may give. If you are not playing upside down world, you will say no; but if you are playing upside down world you will also say no. So the ‘no’ answer underdetermines its truth-value, a bit like the no-no paradox. Now for the ‘yes’ answer: if you are playing upside down world and say ‘yes’, then that means ‘no’, and so you are not playing the game after all if you are speaking truthfully. But then your ‘yes’ was a genuine yes in the first place, and so you are playing the game and said yes, which takes us back to the beginning. (In other words, 'no' is the only coherent answer, but it still doesn't say anything about whether you are actually playing the game or not.)
... here, have been approved. Some ended up in spam, some I lost track of in the flood of comments on other posts. Sorry about that! If you have submitted one and it's still not showing, please email me. I'm delighted that the discussion has been so fruitful!
Enclose the sun inside a layered nest of thin spherical computers. Have the inmost sphere harvest the sun's radiation to drive computational processes, emitting waste heat out its backside. Use this waste heat as the energy input for the computational processes of a second, larger and cooler sphere that encloses the first. Use the waste heat of the second sphere to drive the computational processes of a third. Keep adding spheres until you have an outmost sphere that operates near the background temperature of interstellar space.
Congratulations, you've built a Matrioshka Brain! It consumes the entire power output of its star and produces many orders of magnitude more computation per microsecond than all of the current computers on Earth do per year.
Here's a picture:
(Yes, it's black. Maybe not if you shine a flashlight on it, though.)
Matt Osterman's Ghost from the Machine (2010)--originally titled and known internationally as Phasma Ex Machina--is touted by its marketing material as a 'supernatural thriller'. A low-budget indie, it uses a cast made up of genuine amateurs who sometimes look distinctly uncomfortable and self-conscious on camera, and wears its modest production values on its sleeve. The story sounds hokey enough: a young man, an amateur inventor of sorts, tries to bring his dead parents back to life by building an electrical machine that changes the electromagnetic field surrounding it (I think.) The parents, unsurprisingly, do not return from the dead, but other folks do: a widowed, fellow-garage-tinkerer neighbor's long-dead wife, and a pair of murderous old folk. (The return to life of this latter bunch makes the movie into a 'horror' or 'ghost' film; bringing back the garage-tinkerer's wife would only have made it 'supernatural.')
For all that PEM manages to often be genuinely thought-provoking. It is so because its treatment of its subject matter invites immediate analogizing--not comparison--with two cinematic classics: Alfred Hitchcock's Vertigo and Andrei Tarkovsky's Solaris.
My friend Vassiliki Betty Smocovitis, a historian of science at the University of Florida, has drawn my attention to a number of concerning events at the eminent journal Science.
One was an appalling magazine cover, for which they were roundly and rightly criticized. The Editor-in-Chief issued a non-apology for the cover, saying that she is "truly sorry for any discomfort that this cover may have caused anyone" and promising "that we will strive to do much better in the future to be sensitive to all groups and not assume that context and intent will speak for themselves."
A second recent development is the shortening of book reviews to 600 words, with an increased focus on popular books and fewer reviews coming from scholars in the history and philosophy of science as compared to the past. This is an unfortunate loss of an important perspective from Science.
Now, a blog post from Michael Balter, who has been with the journal for over 21 years, talks about some of the behind-the-scenes troubles at Science and its publishing organization, the American Association for the Advancement of Science (AAAS). These include the recent dismissal of four women in the art and production departments, with essentially no notice in three cases and very little notice in the fourth case, and the absence of any serious response to the concerns expressed by the overwhelming majority of Science's news staff about the way these dismissals were handled.
I am not in a position to fully comment on these recent developments; I am only reporting what I have read and what I have been told. But as a member of the AAAS Section on History and Philosophy of Science (Section L) I am very concerned. Indeed, perhaps given the important role that Science plays, we should all be concerned about what what is involved with the "strategic transformation that AAAS is currently undergoing, to enhance its engagement with its members and to be in the forefront of the multimedia landscape of the future."
Cloud computing – where users keep their data (and often their applications) online - poses significant theoretical and regulatory problems. Many of these concern jurisdiction: it’s very hard to even know at a given moment where data is kept, and it’s often unclear (in the case of privacy, for example), which jurisdiction’s privacy and data protection rules should apply (the one for the data subject? the company that collected the data? the companies processing it? etc.). Not only that, U.S. and EU law are wildly inconsistent on the point, even though any large big data company has to serve multiple jurisdictions.
A recent piece by Paul M. Schwartz does some valuable work disentangling these issues; here, I want to focus on one moment. Schwartz notes that cloud computing will likely induce significant changes in how firms are structured, and how they structure their data handling. Back in 1937, Ronald Coase proposed that companies will decide between doing something in house and outsourcing it based on a comparison of the costs of each. If it’s more efficient to do something in-house, using the hierarchical control structure of the firm and avoiding the complexities of dealing with markets, that’s what we can expect. If, on the other hand, it turns out that it’s more efficient to hire somebody else to do the job, we can expect companies to do that. Companies have to balance the difficulties of managing a project in-house versus the costs of negotiating contracts with independent vendors.
I'm making a brief exploration of one of the most significant oppositions in Foucaut's thought, which has not been discussed that much in my experience, but I may well have overlooked some vast bibliography. In any case, there is a major polarity in Foucault between the style of living in antiquity, related to care of the self, and in which 'style' can be replaced by 'aesthetics' or 'techne', while 'living' can be replaced by 'existence', in ways I do not think make much difference to the current discussion. There is also a relation with the discussions of the government of the self and the use of pleasure. I am not getting into references and precise context, but outlining the general field.
The most obvious opposition to 'style of living' is the emergence of 'subjectivty' in the sense of some deep subject behind speech and action. Foucault's understanding of this refers in large part to the development of the confessional in Christianity, with the standard Catholic confession in private to a priest taken as the end point. There is a suggestion in this historical discussion of a historical preparation for the development of assumptions about the sıbject that come to inform Descartes, and what follows Descartes with regard to consciousness and subjectivity.
I have read in several places this description of my placement post and my response to Brian Leiter's criticisms of that post (most recently, in comments posted yesterday at Philosophical Comment):
"July 1: I posted a sharp critique of some utterly misleading rankings produced by Carolyn Jennings, a tenure-stream faculty member at UC Merced. She quickly started revising it after I called her out."
For the record, this does not strike me as an accurate representation of those events.
First, while I did post a ranking, I made it clear that I did this as an exercise: (from the original post, bold original) "As discussed here in the comments, one of the advantages of comparative data on placement is that they help fill in gaps left over by the PGR...To illustrate this, I below rank the top 50 departments by tenure-track placement rate**, providing for comparison these department's ranks from the 2011 "Ranking Of Top 50 Faculties In The English-Speaking World"by the Philosophical Gourmet Report. Please note that this placement ranking is provided only to demonstrate the potential utility of these data."
Second, while Brian Leiter did find the rankings misleading, many others did not, and even commended the clarity of language in my post. Take these quotes from David Marshall Miller, who has also worked on placement data: "Andrew Carson and, especially, Carolyn Dicey Jennings have developed analyses that now strike me as very robust." and "I will say, to again quote Leiter, that “all such exercises are of very limited value.” Nevertheless, they are of some use, and should be made available, so long as the methodology and limitations of the analysis are made clear. I think the PGR and the placement rankings by Jennings, Carson, and myself all meet this standard."
Third, Brian did post criticisms of the ranking, but I did not make any substantial revisions to the ranking based on his criticisms, since I did not find those criticisms to have merit. Brian's way of characterizing my response at the time was "Prof. Jennings digs in her heels."
John Protevi, founder and emeritus member of New APPS, has posted an "October Statement." By signing, one states one's opposition to the ranking of philosophy programs, whether in the form of the current PGR or in some other revised form. The statement contains links to those who have offered reasons for taking such a position.
Protevi seems to have found a second statement to be necessary because he thinks that the September Statement implies that ranking systems confer a (net) benefit on the profession. I don't think that it implies any such thing, and in a comment over at the Feminist Philosophers blog, Daniel Elstein nicely sums up why:
I guess what we should try to remember is that it’s really hard to write a statement that pleases everyone. People who support (PGR-style) rankings and people who oppose (PGR-style) rankings can (and should) agree that it is worse if Leiter is PGR editor than if he isn’t. The phraseology in the September Statement that seems to irritate ranking opponents is clearly there to reassure the ranking supporters that signing on is compatible with supporting (PGR-style) rankings. Ranking opponents should recognise that it is a good thing if all those who oppose bullying (including ranking supporters) can sign a unified statement, and so interpret the relevant parts of the statement charitably. The problematic sentence could be read: “With a different leadership structure, the benefits [that some attribute to] the guide might be achieved without detriment to our colleague.” That’s true, right? And it’s all that the authors will have intended.
That being said, I do understand why some might share Protevi's interpretation and for that reason not feel comfortable signing the September statement. I would encourage those who feel similarly to sign the October Statement, while also pointing out that it is consistent to sign both statements (as I have done).