This is a blog that discusses and advises people about how to make the climate in their philosophy department and other professional spaces more hospitable. Some have argued that the norms of behavior in philosophy departments are part of what explains why Anglophone philosophy is not as diverse as other disciplines in the academy. We are sympathetic to this hypothesis, but also believe that an inhospitable environment is bad for everyone and does not produce the best philosophy.
I thought I would make my inaugural post on NewAPPS a follow-up to Roberta's post about the retraction of the article in Food and Chemical Toxicology. I don't want to continue the debate about whether the retraction was justified; that debate can continue in the original thread. Here, I want to discuss one of the reasons why we should be paying vigilant attention to events such as these, and why their importance transcends the narrow confines of the particular scientific hypotheses being considered in the articles in question. What I worry most about is the extent to which pressures can be applied by commercial interests such as to shift the balance of “inductive risks” from producers to consumers by establishing conventional methodological standards in commercialized scientific research.
Inductive risk occurs whenever we have to accept or reject a hypothesis in the absence of certainty-conferring evidence. Suppose, for example, we have some inconclusive evidence for a hypothesis, H. Should we accept or reject H? Whether or not we should depends on our balance of inductive risks—on the importance we attach, in the ethical sense, of being right or wrong about H. In simple terms, if the risk of accepting H and being wrong outweighs the risk of rejecting H and being wrong, then we should reject H. But these risk are a function not only of the degree of belief we have in H, but also of negative utility we attach to each of those possibilities. In the appraisal of hypotheses about the safety of drugs, foods, and other consumables, these are sometimes called “consumer risk” (the risk of saying the item is safe and being wrong) and “producer risk” (the risk of saying the item is not safe and being wrong.)
A headline story this morning, featured in several news outlets, reported on a new study published online in PNAS yesterday that allegedly confirms that there are major brain differences between men and women. In the study Ragini Verma, an associate professor in the Department of Radiology at the University of Pennsylvania, and colleagues examined the neural connectivity across the whole brain in 949 individuals (521 females and 428 males) aged 8 to 22 years using diffuse tensor imaging (DTI).
The researchers found that in certain age groups, females had greater inter-hemispheric connectivity in the supratentorial region (the part of the brain above the cerebellum), whereas males exhibited greater intra-hemispheric connectivity as well as greater interhemispheric connectivity in the cerebellum. The cerebellum has been implicated in certain forms of knowledge of action and knowledge-how, interhemispheric connectivity seems crucial for many social skills, and intrahemispheric connectivity in local sensory regions may lead to richer perceptual experiences. So, on the basis of these findings, many news reports concluded that men have a greater perception to action potential, whereas women have a greater potential for communicating and connecting “the analytical and intuition.” Some concluded that gender differences in brain connectivity are hard-wired.
Francesco del Punta, a well-known and much admired scholar of medieval philosophy, sadly passed away yesterday. Upon hearing the news from his former student Luca Gili, I asked Luca to write an obituary for NewAPPS, and here it is.
After a long and dreadful illness, Francesco Del Punta (1941-2013) passed away yesterday evening. He was a great scholar and a great man, and he will be much missed. Del Punta is well known especially for his edition of Ockham’s commentary on Aristotle’s Sophistici Elenchi (St. Bonaventure, New York, 1978), and for his edition of Paul of Venice’s treatises De veritate et falsitate propositionis and De significato propositionis (Oxford, 1978).
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.
I have recently been working on a paper about some of the testable implications of DRT (discourse representation theory) and related dynamic semantic frameworks. One of the questions I am stuck on is that of how to put the semantics of proper names to the test. The general framework of DRT does not commit us to a special theory of proper names. However, Hans Kamp traditionally treated them as individual constants, which is consistent with the philosophical (and post-semantic) theory that non-empty names stand in causal-historical relations to their referents. In subsequent work Kamp has treated names as predicates but with an anchor to a particular individual satisfying the predicate. This, too, is consistent with a causal-historical constraint.
Both of these writing modes are essential skills for graduate students to master, but it's hard to get them to even try the "teacher-development" mode, perhaps because it's more difficult. (It's especially important for continental philosophy students to master this, since they will very often be addressing non-CP experts when addressing professional colleagues.)
The editor of the journal Food and Chemical Toxicology (FCT), Dr A. Wallace Hayes, has decided to retract the study by the team of Prof Gilles-Eric Séralini, which found that rats fed a Monsanto genetically modified (GM) maize NK603 and tiny amounts of the Roundup herbicide it is grown with suffered severe toxic effects, including kidney and liver damage and increased rates of tumours and mortality.
they have clear evidence that the findings are unreliable, either as a result of misconduct (e.g. data fabri- cation) or honest error (e.g. miscalculation or experimental error)
the findings have previously been published elsewhere without proper crossreferencing, permission or justification (i.e. cases of redundant publication)
it constitutes plagiarism
it reports unethical research
But none of these applied to the paper by Séralini et al. The journal found "no evidence of fraud or intentional misrepresentation of the data" but that there " is a legitimate cause for concern regarding both the number of animals in each study group and the particular strain selected."
Quite a morning on Facebook. First, someone posted a link to this NDPR review, which prompted this reflection on my part:
The choice of doing a review or not on Objectivism entails a bit of a double-bind: "sunlight is the best disinfectant" (or less obnoxiously, "let's let the marketplace of ideas* do its work") vs "recognition lends legitimacy." The choice of reviewer is equally problematic: with a highly polarizing topic the choice of a friend or a foe stacks the deck and neutral observers are difficult to find. The Stanford EP article on Objectivism was discussed critically along those lines a while ago if I'm not mistaken.
Subsequent discussion led me to this Forbes column on (often privately funded) university centers for "free market oriented policy research."
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.
This week I had to deal with a fair amount of emotional stupidity from people who are very dear to me. So I was inevitably reminded of this song, ‘Sua estupidez’, composed by Roberto Carlos and Erasmo Carlos but at its best in this Gal Costa version (1969), which I listened to a lot around the time that my father died, in 1998 (he was also an example of emotional stupidity of this kind). The key part of the lyrics: “Your stupidity does not let you see that I love you”. Enough said.
UPDATE: This post seems to have gotten some people worried, apologies for that. It's nothing serious, just an argument with someone I'm very close to.
Sometimes combat might be the right stance, but seeing that as the default mode for philosophical discussion leads far too often to destructive Q&A sessions that aim at destroying the opponent and bolstering the amour propre of the aggressor. Where the aim is victory, then all kinds of rhetorical moves can prove effective: there’s no reason to think that truth will emerge as a by-product.
For my part, regarding blood-on-the-floor seminar rooms, I wonder to what extent the practice of awarding individual grades creates the impression among students of a zero-sum game in grades (whether or not a true zero-sum game is in operation*), exacerbating the combativeness aspect: “if I tear down Jones, that’s one less person in the top grade cohort I have to worry about.”
Perhaps more of a reach -- but that's supposed to exceed one's grasp, isn't it? -- is the connection of individualized grades with the neoliberal self-entrepreneur, which Jon discusses below, in relation to Mike Konczal's review of Mirowski.
Nice discussion of Philip Mirowski’s Never Let a Serious Crisis Go to Wastehere. The first half of the book theorizes neo-liberalism from a Foucaultian perspective and the second half excoriates the economics profession, e.g.
According to Mirowski, there was a moment after the 2008 crash when the economics profession could have performed some rigorous self-criticism and made an honest assessment of what had gone wrong. But the proposed technocratic fixes — addressing the “efficient markets hypothesis” in finance, adding so-called bounded rationality to microeconomic models to make them “behavioral,” and adding various bells and whistles to macroeconomic models — were particularly ineffective in reforming or even clarifying what is going on in financial markets. And the various “explanations” of the crisis that were brought up for debate in mainstream publications and through a network of economic policy “experts” ended up not serving any notion of scientific inquiry but instead were means of deflecting, confusing, and delaying any progress toward uncovering truth or consensus.
So how did the economists get away? According to Mirowski, they are protected through a web of prestige that stretches across the academy to quasi-accountable offices of the government like the Federal Reserve, as well as the network of policy think tanks that provide so-called expertise. This miasma of prestige has become too important to the actual logic of financial capitalism at this moment — elite economics dominates all these important international institutions, and there’s been a subtle wagon-circling at that level. Thus, like the banks, economists themselves are too big to fail.
The whole article is a fascinating read, and shows what a scam neo-liberalism is. It's weird to think that we live in a carny-like reality, where something only succeeds to the extent that a certain number of marks systematically misunderstand how it succeeds.
Next week, I will be speaking at a career development workshop for female Oxford graduate and masters students. One of the things I want to focus on is the importance of building out a broad, strong, supportive professional network.
Academia is built on trust and personal relationships. Rarely are people invited as speakers at conferences, workshops etc purely on the basis of merit. Merit is an important consideration, but people want additional information (e.g., is she a good speaker, will she turn up?) that they can acquire through their network, either by directly knowing the potential invitee, or by knowing others who know her. People from one’s network can alert one to opportunities, including job opportunities. Without a professional network, one has no letter writers (except the advisor and readers of the dissertation), one is excluded from many aspects of academic life that thrive on trust and personal relationships, such as being a keynote speaker or contributing to an edited volume. Moreover, people from one’s network provide opportunities for mentoring, friendship and mutual support in the very competitive environment that is academia. If one has to move state or country and has to leave friends and family behind, the ability to be able to fall back on a network of professional comrades for support and friendship is very valuable. Therefore, I will advise the students to work on their networks early on, and to nurture them.
But there are problematic aspects to networking. Ned Dobos has argued that career networking is ‘an immoral attempt to gain an illegitimate advantage over others’. He makes clear that he doesn’t target emotional networking - plain old socialising - but specifically career networking, networking in the context of advancing one’s career, especially, but not uniquely, one’s job prospects.
It does not seem clear to me, however, whether we can make a clean separation between career networking and emotional networking, especially in academia, where (for reasons I outlined above) the people in one’s professional network and one’s emotional (friend) network overlap to some extent. Dobos offers several arguments against the legitimacy of career networking. Insofar as the search process is meritocratic, career networking is morally objectionable because it attempts to distort the meritocratic allocation of positions, in a process analogous to bribery, or to ‘earwigging’ attempting to persuade judges outside of the formal process. In both cases, the career networker obtains an unfair advantage. Is it possible to engage in ethical career networking?
The good news: NYU and the UAW have agreed to allow graduate teaching assistants to hold a union election.
The "sigh" moments come in the first and last clauses here:
Outside the South, graduate student unions are common in public higher education (where collective bargaining rights are determined at the state level), but have been the source of years of organizing and legal struggles in private higher education.
I had just turned nine years old when the Iran hostage crisis began.
For over a year it was the topic of dinner table conversation. Often we would eat dinner on trays in front of the television. If I remember right, the station we watched for national news had a little ticker on the lower right hand side of the screen which showed how many days we were into the crisis.
Radio stations started playing "Tie a Yellow Ribbon" multiple times a day in honor of the hostages, and everyone in my neighborhood in Montgomery, Alabama put in extra work to maintain nice looking ribbons around their trees (I don't remember if they were oak or not). When the rain and whatnot had made the ribbon too frayed you had to cut it with some scissors and put a new one up.
The Iranians were uniformly portrayed as barely human in their fanaticism (often in contrast with our "moderate Muslim" allies in Saudi Arabia) and I never got a satisfactory explanation as to why they might want to take the hostages (google "President Mossadegh" and "Savak"). This didn't bother me too much at the ages of 9 or 10. They were bad guys and we were good guys, and the whole thing was intensely humiliating day after day, especially after the failure of Operation Eagle Claw in April of 1980.
And then, in November of that year, Ronald Reagan was elected. As a six year old I had voted for Jimmy Carter in my first grade class election, because I liked his smile. In the months of nightly news coverage following Eagle Claw, my ten year old self had learned a lesson. I even had a Ronald Reagan t-shirt. And I was right to wear that shirt, for he was so powerful that a mere twenty minutes after his inagurural speach, it was announced the hostages had been freed.
The hostages are free! The hostages are free!
For some reason I was at home that day and my mom was at work. With shaking hands I dialed, for the first time, her phone number at the prison (long story for another post).
When I write a longish review, I put most of my work into having the piece work well as reader's guide, keeping my own views to myself as much as possible until the end. But since I've signed up for an e-mail subscription to the Notre Dame Philosophical Reviews (just go here to get it), I've noticed that this practice is by no means uniform. Consider the beginning of Bruce Russell's recent review of James Sterba's From Rationality to Equality:
In this book James Sterba sets out to answer two central questions in moral philosophy: (1) Why be moral? and (2) What does morality require? (see Sterba's Preface and Introduction, esp., pp. 1-2). He understands (1) to be the question (1a): Are we always rationally required to do what we are morally required to do? However, I think the fundamental question is (1b): Is there always most reason to do what we are morally required to do? I may be rationally required to take a pill that I have overwhelming epistemic reason to believe will save my life when I am really not dying and the pill will actually kill me (imagine some doctor wants me dead and has presented me with conclusive evidence to make me believe that I am dying and that the pill is my only hope for survival). But in this case what there is most reason to do is to refrain from taking the pill even though the rational thing to do is to take the pill. I think what we want to know when we ask, "Why be moral?" is whether there is always most reason to do what is morally required. We want to know whether it is necessarily true that there ismost reason to do what is morally obligatory, not whether it's necessarily true that we are justified in believing that there is most reason to be moral.
I worked hard to try to figure out what Russell meant here, and then was frustrated to find that the phrase "most reason" doesn't occur in the review itself.
In the discussion that followed Anca Gheaus' guest post on the gender situation in the German academy, there was some mention of the fact that in many European job-markets, faculty searches are not truly 'open,' so that internal candidates are strongly preferred to those from outside the hiring institution. Clearly, when taken to an extreme—institutions becoming highly resistant to hiring anyone but their own PhDs and/or post-docs—such a practice can be very detrimental to any process of diversification within the academy. But I wonder if there might not be other situations in which an over-emphasis on 'open' searches is actually detrimental.
I'm thinking of the situation in the U.S. academy, where the norm is very strongly against not only hiring a department's own PhDs, but also hiring any currently employed non-tenure track faculty into tenure lines, or even adjuncts into full-time NTT lines. Given that the galloping precaritization of the professoriate as a whole is fast becoming a structural crisis, I wonder if it is not time to examine the possible merits of encouraging departments to commit to making at least a certain percentage of their full-time and TT hires from within the ranks of their current part-time and NTT faculty.
This semester I'm teaching Stuart Brock and Edwin Mares' generally excellent Realism and Anti-Realism. If you want to quickly introduce students to a lot of canonical debates in analytic philosophy, it would be hard to do better. The first part of the book discusses generalized anti-realist positions such as Kantianism, and the second part goes over localized anti-realisms (color, morality, science, modality, etc.).
The general excellence of the book sets in bold relief the manner in which the authors thoroughly botch their discussion of Michael Dummett. One can't really blame them though, as their botching does cite a lot of canonical secondary literature, where the mistakes continue to linger sixteen years after Neil Tennant pointed them out in The Taming of the True.
This summer I learned to walk. More precisely, I learned to walk normally. My gait had gotten unsteady, and I was dragging my right foot. Work with an excellent physical therapist helped straighten me out. But balance problems, tremors, and hesitations continued.
At the beginning of August I was diagnosed with Parkinson’s. I want to describe the phenomenology of my version of it, and begin thinking through its implications for the philosophy of perception and action. But first the disease itself.
Over the weekend, I learned that journals published by the University of Chicago Press – this includes, e.g., Philosophy of Science – have a policy of "green access" for published articles. (I believe this was a change made in the last few years, but I am not positive). Details are here, but here is what I was surprised and pleased to learn.
First, authors may "post their article in its published form on their personal or departmental web pages or personal social media pages, use their article in teaching or research presentations, provide single copies in print or electronic form to their colleagues, or republish their article in a subsequent work" (emphasis added). It was the italicized part that was new to me; the rest I knew. It's a big deal that they are allowing the published articles (with proper pagination, etc.) to be added to one's website or one's department website immediately after publication. That is, it's not full open access (which would be better), but it still provides for good dissemenation given tools like Google Scholar.
Second, "Authors may deposit either the published PDF of their article or the final accepted version of the manuscript after peer review (but not proofs of the article) in a non-commercial repository where it can be made freely available no sooner than twelve (12) months after publication of the article in the journal" (emphasis added). Here, I knew that the final accepted version could be deposited on non-commercial sites like PhilSci Archive or PhilPapers after 12 months, but I didn't know that the published PDF could be. Again, this is a big deal.
So, I guess the moral is, check the publication policies for articles that you have published, even if you think you know what they are, and perhaps consider such policies when deciding where to send articles. And if you know of other philosophy journals with similar policies, please mention them in the comments.
I have been reading Daniel Hutto and Erik Myin’s book Radicalizing Enactivism for a critical notice in the Canadian Journal of Philosophy. Enactivism is the view that cognition consists of a dynamic interaction between the subject and her environment, and not in any kind of contentful representation of that environment. I am struck by H&M’s reliance on a famous 1991 paper by the MIT roboticist Rodney Brooks, “Intelligence Without Representation.” Brooks’s paper is quite a romp—it has attracted the attention of a number of philosophers, including Andy Clark in his terrific book, Being There (1996). It’s worth a quick revisit today.
To soften his readers up for his main thesis, Brooks starts out his paper with an argument so daft that it cannot have been intended seriously, but which encapsulates an important strand of enactivist thinking. Here it is: Biological evolution has been going for a very long time, but “Man arrived in his present form [only] 2.5 million years ago.” (Actually, that’s a considerable over-estimate: homo sapiens is not more than half a million years old, if that.)
He invented agriculture a mere 19,000 years ago, writing less than 5000 years ago and “expert” knowledge only over the last few hundred years.
This suggests that problem solving behaviour, language, expert knowledge and application, and reason are all pretty simple once the essence of being and reacting are available. That essence is the ability to move around in a dynamic environment, sensing the surroundings to a degree sufficient to achieve the necessary maintenance of life and reproduction. This part of intelligence is where evolution has concentrated its time—it is much harder. (141)
I am taking an indefinite leave from regular posting at NewAPPS.*
None of us ever imagined that our daily readership would include thousands of our peers. While undoubtedly some of the interest in the blog springs from less than noble impulses (philosophers are human, after all), I have been humbled by the size and loyalty of our audience. The huge interest of our readership in our daily postings has had many unexpected benefits and consequences. My greatest pleasure has been able to share this platform with many, long-admired guest-posters.
It's sobering that the positions I express on the blog are -- even with polemical distortion (and my rhetorical ambiguity) -- much better known than my scholarly views. It remains disconcerting that a paper that consumed my intellectual life for a few years will have a smaller readership until eternity than this post will have during the next few hours. It's been strange to see snippets of my blog posts reappear as 'blurbs' on the back of books or in scholarly articles on the state of the profession.
To be clear, participating in NewAPPS has been a source of joy and has brought me into contact with astounding intellects and generous souls within professional philosophy and economics as well as the wider academy. It has been thrilling to draw folk into multiple conversations that have enriched me, and I have enjoyed the unexpected attention that my opinions have received on a variety of professional issues and causes.
Before NewAPPS had any readers other than ourselves, Protevi decided on grounds of higher order political economy that we would never accept any advertising. This, together with Cogburn's and Des Chene's design acumen, has resulted in our clean look. With the addition of Dutilh Novaes (and other regulars) our readership grew, and Matthen prudently insisted that we should reduce the number of announcements of conferences (etc.) on the blog. These decisions ensured that our editioral course has been guided primarily by our (sometimes conflicting) professional judgments. I am grateful to Lance for pushing us all into activism on a whole range of professional norms and practices. I take great pride in the fact that we have revived the art of the philosophical essay; when I feel melancholic, I turn to the 'NewAPPS back-lists' of Bell, Des Chene, Matthen, Brogaard, and Cogburn.
My fellow NewAPPSies have graciously put up with my careless grammar and provocations. I have learned an astounding amount of philosophy and living wisely from them. 'Behind the scenes,' I cannot imagine a greater group of generous colleagues.
I am leaving without rancor or disagreement. I have been eager, even restless to try new approaches to philosophy for a while now; I'll meditate a bit before I launch into new adventures, before long.
When Ian died I had just been helping Mark Ohm translate Tristan Garcia's chapter on death in his Form and Object, and what Garcia writes continues to have an awful resonance for me. Garcia notes that the canonical wisdom of philosophers focuses* on how someone should deal with their own death. Plato, Seneca, Lucretius, Camus, and Heidegger are certainly the top five philosophers to have written about death (Boethius writing in the shadow of his own is certainly close), but in each case the normative lessons tell you first and foremost how to deal with the prospect of your own death.***
At least the kind of music to which I regularly listen (excluding classical and opera here) usually falls down on this same thing. We get all sorts of moving meditations on ones own confrontation with mortality. Here's Ralph Stanley ripping it up.
Aside from the nauseating mythological reminiscences of the Kennedy presidency, news today is dominated by discussion of the US Senate's decision to eliminate the possibility of filibuster for certain nomination votes. All manner of dire consequence has been suggested on both sides of this procedural issue. (Has there ever been a more hyperbolic characterization of anything than calling this change in voting procedures a "nuclear option"?) It seems to me that there is a deeper issue here that points to a rather depressingly misguided focus of intellectual thought on collective rationality, one that cuts across a wide variety of disciplines.
The University of Florida has been given permission to hire "100 faculty members to fill new positions it will create as part of a push to join the nation’s top 10 public research institutions," The Chronicle reports. [HT Pete Boettke] According to the university, the main fields targeted for expansion "are life sciences, massive data, cybersecurity, Latin American development." Given demographics and geography, the first and last of these priorities make eminent sense, of course. (I ignore here the non-trivial issue to what degree Florida should be investing in higher education rather than, say, in K1-12.)
Now, earlier in the year this very same university made national headlines by acknowledging that it is basically terminating its PhD program in economics. Given that "massive" data-mining is increasingly taking over economics, there is some logic in this decision (recall and here, here). But before any philosopher has misplaced schadenfreude over the demise of the once-imperial human science in the face of market-forces, it is worth noting that the economics department was "offered the opportunity to move to the College of Liberal Arts and Sciences but opted to remain within the business college and become smaller." One wonders what is known about the investment priorities of the Gator's college of LAS. For more on the internal political economy at UF called "responsibility-centered management", see here.
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?