Professional philosophy news

Philosopher’s Carnival

Is up at “In Search of Logic”. It features:

  • “Two Metaphysical Pictures”, by Richard Yetter Chappell of Philosophy et cetera
  • “Special relativity and the A-theory”, at Alexander Pruss’s Blog
  • “A Question About Religious Experience and Safety Accounts of Knowledge”, by ex-apologist
  • “Metaphysical Skepticism a la Kriegel”, by Eric Schwitzgebel of The Splintered Mind
  • A pair of posts by Jeffrey Ketland of M-Phi discuss the Quine-Putnam Indispensability Argument: “The Quine-Putnam Indispensability Argument” and “Other Formulations of the Quine-Putnam Indispensability Argument”
  • “Grim Reapers vs. Uncaused Beginnings”, by Joshua Rasmussen of Prosblogion
  • “A Modification to Lewis’s Theory of Counterfactuals”, by Tristan Haze of Sprachlogik
  • “Computational Metaphysics”, by Tomkow
  • “Substitution and Models, Part 1: Bolzano, Quine, Tarski and Boolos”, by Jason of Metaphysical Values

Peer Review and Reference Letters

Graham Harman (American University in Cairo) suggests we blame reference letters.


The Misconceptions of Philosophy

In the Iowa State newspaper. Thanks to a reader for the link.


On the Relative Strengths of Eurocentric and non-Eurocentric philosophy

In Al Jazeera. Thanks to a reader for the link.

Video of the Lectures at the 2012 Sellars Conference

Video of all of the lectures from the 2012 Sellars Centenary Conference is available on YouTube. There are 12 lectures in all:

  • Jim O’Shea
  • Robert Brandom
  • Ruth Millikan
  • Robert Kraut
  • Johanna Seibt
  • Willem deVries
  • Rebecca Kukla and Mark Lance
  • John McDowell
  • Huw Price
  • Michael Williams
  • Paul Churchland
  • David Rosenthal

John Perry on CBS

John Perry (Stanford) talks about structured procrastination on CBS.

Nagel and Creationists

The NY Times reports on the support Nagel (NYU) has received from creationists because of Mind and Cosmos. Thanks to a reader for the link.

Ronald Dworkin has passed away

Dworkin was a member of the NYU philosophy department and was the Frank Henry Summer Professor of Law. The AP’s memorial notice is at ABC News. Dworkin passed away early this morning in England of leukemia at the age of 81.

Update: The New York Times has a lengthy piece.

Update: Bloomberg has a piece.

National Research Council philosophy department rankings

Available here. The site allows you weight various priorities, such as research productivity, student outcomes (how quickly students graduate and how many get jobs), diversity, external funding, and the like. It also appears to have a lot of useful information about each program, including median time to degree and completion percentage, type and location of job obtained after graduation, publications per faculty member, size of the stipend, percentage of students that are funded and percentage of first-year students with full financial support, university and department resources, and demographic data.

One of the most important factors in deciding on a Ph.D. program is the ability of its recent graduates to get jobs. For last year’s data about jobs received organized by Ph.D.-granting department, see this page.

Why Women Leave Academia

In The Guardian. Thanks to a reader for the link.

Update: Link fixed.

Behaving Better

This NPR piece relates keeping your New Year’s Resolutions to Eric Schwitzgebel‘s (UC-Riverside) work on whether ethicists behave better.

The most interesting lesson from these findings — the one that motivated Schwitzgebel’s research — concerns the relationship between explicit thought and one’s actions. Recognizing the right thing to do isn’t always enough to motivate the right behavior. (Just ask anyone who’s ever tried to diet or give up an addiction.)

Women Undergraduates at the University of Chicago take action

This is what two undergraduates at the University of Chicago are doing about what it’s like to be a woman in philosophy there. (Thanks to a reader for the link.)

In response to an underrepresentation of women in the University’s philosophy department, third-year philosophy majors Julie Huh and Sabina Bremner have restarted the RSO Undergraduate Women in Philosophy (UWiP) to make the field more welcoming to female students.

Of UChicago’s 28 full-time philosophy faculty, only five, or 17.8 percent, are women. UChicago’s current chair of philosophy, Candace Vogler, was the only female faculty member in the philosophy department when she came to the University twenty years ago.

Philosophy on YouTube

A reader sends along a link to a video of Tamar Gendler (Yale) giving a 45-minute lecture entitled “An Introduction to the Philosophy of Politics and Economics.”

APA Task Forces and Committees

An email from Michael Bratman, chair of the national board of the APA, tells of new task forces and committees for:

  • Strategic planning (chaired by Julia Driver)
  • An APA journal (chaired by Robert Audi)
  • Membership and dues structure (chaired by Peter Railton)
  • Succession and crisis planning (chaired by APA President Amy Ferrer)
  • Sexual harassment (chaired by Kathryn Norlock)

Philosopher Kings and Fiscal Cliffs

Schellenberg and McGrath on the epistemic force of experience

Susanna Schellenberg (Rutgers) has put up a video on Vimeo as part of the Neuphi video series. The title of the talk is: “The Epistemic Force of Experience.” Matthew McGrath (Missouri) has provided comments.

Thanks to Carolyn Dicey Jennings for the link.

Moving Forward

Last week ProPhilosophy asked for volunteers to contribute as authors. There were not enough offers to maintain the level of activity that readers have grown accustomed to. We’re going to have to scale back. ProPhi will post tenured hires, run the annual tenure-track and postdoc and VAP hiring thread, and post any other news stories or queries that we receive from readers. Additionally, we still welcome new contributors. We hope this will still remain a useful site for those who have come to appreciate it. If it seems that such a level of output is not helpful, this blog will cease entirely.

It has been shocking how much time and effort running a site like this takes. We are sorry we cannot do more.

A non-philosopher reviews a philosophy and pop culture book

PopMatters reviews Black Sabbath and Philosophy.

Black Sabbath & Philosophy is a wholly absorbing read. Sabbath’s work can obviously be approached from any number of scholarly angles, and at times you may find yourself disagreeing with the ideas here, but then, it wouldn’t be philosophy or Sabbath without some fierce debate around the quality of the ideas expressed. Of course, Sabbath fans already appreciate the insight of the band’s material, but Black Sabbath & Philosophy unfurls another of the band’s layers, granting a refreshing perspective on its depths. A long-overdue work, and a rewarding one both for fans and those curious about the philosophical gravity behind all those murky riffs. Rating: 7/10.

Philosophers and Nazism

In The Telegraph.

The way academic philosophers embraced Nazism is shocking. You might try to excuse it on the basis that they were bullied into it by the Gestapo and the SS. But they were not. As Sherratt points out, when Hitler became chancellor in 1933, his plan to purge universities of Jews “required the wholesale collaboration of a mass of academics”. No doubt it could and would eventually have been achieved by force – but, in the event, Hitler did not need to use force. The academics, particularly the philosophers, cleared out their Jewish colleagues voluntarily.

And Jamie Collin (Edinburgh) comments. Thanks to Tony Bolos for the links.

University of Connecticut hires Lewis Gordon from Temple

Gordon will begin in Fall of 2013, reports Donald Baxter, chair of the UConn department. Gordon is currently the Laura H. Carnell Professor of Philosophy at Temple, and works in Africana philosophy, philosophy of culture, philosophy of human and life sciences, phenomenology and philosophy of existence, social and political philosophy, philosophy of education, and philosophy of religion. Gordon is also Ongoing Visiting Professor of Philosophy and Government at the University of the West Indies at Mona, Jamaica; and President Emeritus of the Caribbean Philosophical Association.

The 10 best philosophy books of 2012

Why Study Philosophy?

Peter Hacker (Oxford) explains to the Institute of Art and Ideas (IaI). He concludes,

The study of philosophy cultivates a healthy scepticism about the moral opinions, political arguments and economic reasonings with which we are daily bombarded by ideologues, churchmen, politicians and economists. It teaches one to detect ‘higher forms of nonsense’, to identify humbug, to weed out hypocrisy, and to spot invalid reasoning. It curbs our taste for nonsense, and gives us a nose for it instead. It teaches us not to rush to affirm or deny assertions, but to raise questions about them. Even more importantly, it teaches us to raise questions about questions, to probe for their tacit assumptions and presuppositions, and to challenge these when warranted. In this way it gives us a distance from passion-provoking issues – a degree of detachment that is conducive to reason and reasonableness.

Philosophy and Drama

By William Lyons (Trinity College Dublin) in the Huffington Post.

It is arguable that philosophy and drama never go well together, no matter what form the conjunction takes. A number of classical scholars have suggested that Plato’s philosophical dialogues were performed as live dramas at some of the great Athenian dramatic festivals such as the City Dionysia. But while there have been many famous philosophical dialogues written since Plato’s time, for example by Anselm, Berkeley and Hume, they are not drama but just talking heads.

Philosophy in high school

In the Huffington Post.

ProPhi has linked to stories about philosophy in high school here and here and here.

Crowds are groups of people, not entities themselves

According to the New York Times.

We’ve long believed that physical crowds are emotional, irrational and prone to violence. Over the last decade, we’ve come to think of virtual crowds as sources of wisdom that can’t be found in individuals. Both these ideas treat crowds as entities, rather than groups of people — an idea that has its origins in 19th-century sociology, which, according to scientists studying crowd behavior today, is deeply flawed.

The assumption that crowds have some non-fragmented consciousness leads us to the false dichotomy we draw between physical and virtual crowds: one is dumb, the other is smart. But in both cases, we’re placing too much emphasis on the crowd as distinct from the people involved in it.

The Hardest Logic Puzzle Ever

The New Scientist has a story. Thanks to Gregory Wheeler (CMU) for the link.

The article is for subscribers only. A pdf version can be found here.

Judith Jarvis Thomson wins APA’s Quinn Prize

Thomson has been awarded the prize due to her lifetime contributions to philosophy.

An internationally renowned philosopher, Thomson is best known for her thought experiments, including the famous “trolley problem,” which present simple scenarios that illuminate serious moral and ethical questions.

“Judy is a powerful intellectual force in the profession….ready and able to address topics across a very full range of subfields, from metaphysics to ethics, publishing first-rate work wherever she turns her attention,” said Professor Sally Haslanger, a fellow MIT philosopher.

Would God allow evil?

On NPR’s All Things Considered. (Thanks to an anonymous reader.)

Journal refereeing is rarely blind

Claims Berit Brogaard (Missouri-Saint Louis) over at NewAPPS. (Current comment count: 28)

The turn-around time for journals is horrific. But you knew that before submitting the piece. Referees can be terrible: Some don’t bother to read the paper carefully. Others provide idiotic or arrogant comments and evidently know nothing about the subject matter. But you knew that, too, before hitting the “send” button. You couldn’t have been more prepared. In fact, one of your advisers taught you that if referees are ignorant or foolish, don’t blame them. Anticipate stupidity. It’s YOUR job to make your work resistant to idiocy.

What you didn’t know (and probably still don’t) is that your rejection may have been partially based on the fact that you are a newcomer at a crappy university that no one has ever heard of. Or maybe you are one of those other underprivileged in the field implicitly considered less intelligent than the inner circle.

Rutgers hires Elisabeth Camp from Pennsylvania

Camp (philosophy of mind, philosophy of language, aesthetics) will begin in Fall 2013, according to Jeff King, department chair at Rutgers.

Philosophy and Scientism

In The New Atlantis.

The positivist tradition in philosophy gave scientism a strong impetus by denying validity to any area of human knowledge outside of natural science. More recent advocates of scientism have taken the ironic but logical next step of denying any useful role for philosophy whatsoever, even the subservient philosophy of the positivist sort. But the last laugh, it seems, remains with the philosophers — for the advocates of scientism reveal conceptual confusions that are obvious upon philosophical reflection. Rather than rendering philosophy obsolete, scientism is setting the stage for its much-needed revival.

Syracuse hires Janice Dowell and David Sobel from Nebraska

Dowell works in mind and language and Sobel works in ethics. Ben Bradley (Ethics), department chair at Syracuse, notes that

Dowell is our third hire in mind/language in the past year, along with Michael Caie (PhD 2011, Berkeley, Philosophical Logic/Language/Epistemology), who started in Fall 2012, and Kim Frost (PhD 2012, Pittsburgh, Philosophy of Mind/Philosophy of Action), who will start in Fall 2013.


Amy Ferrer, Executive Director of the APA

Amy Ferrer did several posts last week at Leiter Reports. Here they are, in chronological order:

  1. Introduction
  2. Better Technology, More Communication
  3. Diversity
  4. Job Market
  5. Tenure
  6. Non-Tenure-Track Faculty
  7. The Public Perception of Philosophy






Advice to Hiring Departments

As the Eastern APA approaches, Philosopher’s Anonymous has some helpful tips for hiring departments for campus visits.

Who’s your favorite philosopher?

How philosophy majors are reaching out

How serious a threat is a robot uprising?

The proposed Cambridge Center for the Study of Existential Risk wants to find out, according to the Wall Street Journal and the Huffington Post. Huw Price (Cambridge) is a co-founder of the project.

From the Post:

“It tends to be regarded as a flakey concern, but given that we don’t know how serious the risks are, that we don’t know the time scale, dismissing the concerns is dangerous. What we’re trying to do is to push it forward in the respectable scientific community,” [Price] said.


The top 50 songs about philosophers

In the Guardian. You can listen to the list on YouTube or Spotify. (Thanks to an anonymous reader for the link.)

The paradox of nonlethal weapons

Fritz Allhoff (Western Michigan) writes for Slate here.

Not all weapons are designed to kill; some are just meant to cause injury. Yet under the rules of war—a somewhat haphazard collection of ethical and legal directives—we are sometimes allowed to use lethal weapons even when certain nonlethal weapons are disallowed. In short, the lethal weapons are more permissible on the battlefield. As Donald Rumsfeld once complained “in many instances, our forces are allowed to shoot somebody and kill them, but they’re not allowed to use a nonlethal riot-control agent.” This is the paradox of nonlethal weapons, and it has been around for some time. Yet as military technology becomes increasingly capable of halting an enemy without killing him, it is a situation that international law must reconsider. Isn’t less deadly better?

The Huffington Post has followed up with a 25-minute video panel discussion featuring Alhoff and four others.

Nagel book reviewed in New Republic

Alvin Plantinga (emeritus, Notre Dame) reviews Thomas Nagel’s (NYU) Mind and Cosmos for The New Republic here. Earlier this year, Nagel reviewed Plantinga’s Where the Conflict Really Lies for the New York Review of Books.

John Kavanaugh has passed away

A brief memorial by Jeremy Neill (Houston Baptist) and an obituary for John Kavanaugh (SLU) have been posted to Prosblogion. SLU notes his passing here, including a link to this 2008 interview.

Hiring for 2012-2013

A follow-up to this post. Dr. Jennings (Antwerp) has created a form to make it easier to contribute to the Google spreadsheet. The form is available on ProPhi’s 2012-2013 hires page.

Jean-Paul Sartre has a blog

Tenure-track, postdoc, and VAP reporting

Last year ProPhi had the most comprehensive list of tenure-track hires and postdocs, thanks to lots of help from candidates and department chairs. ProPhi also featured a detailed analysis of the hiring data by Carolyn Dicey Jennings (Antwerp) — part 1, part 2, and part 3. As the 2012-2013 hiring season begins, Dr. Jennings has created a spreadsheet to make compiling this data easier. The spreadsheet lists each job available. When you have accepted a job (or, if you’re on a search committee, when your job has been accepted), please mark it. Dr. Jennings explains how it works:

Here is a google doc: It has two tabs. If anyone adds/updates a line to the “Ads 2012-2013” tab, it will automatically add/update the hiring institution and AOS in the “Hires 2012-2013” tab. Right now, anyone with the link can edit the document. If that gets out of hand, we can introduce a comments to edit filter.

The history of just war theory

Jeff McMahan (Rutgers) writes for the Stone.

The traditional just war theory, allied as it has been with the international law of armed conflict, has sustained a remarkable consensus for at least several centuries. But that consensus — for reasons I will describe shortly — has finally begun to erode. In the following two-part post, I will briefly summarize the evolution of the traditional just war theory, then make a case for why that theory can no longer stand.

Replications in Experimental Philosophy

Christian Mott (Yale) explains this new site:

Much of the research in experimental philosophy — as in every science — has built on previous work by replicating and extending earlier results. However, these replications have often been buried inside footnotes or more complicated experiments. This website aims to collect and organize these results, and to serve as a helpful resource to researchers in the field.

H/T: Experimental Philosophy

Philosophy and Chemistry: Occam’s Razor

In Scientific American.

Sadly, the multiple derivate restatements of Occam’s Razor combined with our tendency to look for simple explanations can sometimes lead to erroneous results. Part of the blame lies not with Occam’s razor but with his interpreters; the main problem is that it’s not clear what “simple” and “complex” mean when applied to a natural law or phenomena. In addition, nature does not really care about what we perceive as simple or complex, and what may seem complex to us may appear perfectly simple to nature because it’s…real. This was driven home to me early on in my career.

These episodes from my own research underscores the rather complex and subtle nature of Occam’s Razor and its incarnation in scientific models. In the first case, the assumption of multiple conformations is both realistic and predictive. In the second, the assumption of multiple conformations is realistic but not predictive because the multiple-conformation model is not good enough for calculation. In the first case, a simple application of Occam’s razor is flawed while in the second, the flawed simple assumption actually leads to better predictions. Thus, sometimes simple assumptions can work not because the more complex ones are wrong, but because we simply lack the capacity to implement the more complex ones.

I am glad that my work with molecular conformations invariably led me to explore the quirky manifestations of Occam’s razor. And I am thankful to a well-known biochemist who put it best: “Nature doesn’t always shave with Occam’s Razor”. In science as in life, simple can be quite complicated, and complicated can turn out to be refreshingly simple.

APA Guide to Graduate Programs in Philosophy

The APA has released the 2012 report on graduate programs in philosophy:

The new Guide to Graduate Programs in Philosophy provides information on graduate philosophy programs throughout the US and Canada, including demographic data on faculty and students, placement records, and information on teaching and fellowship opportunities within each program. Both Ph.D. and terminal master’s programs are profiled, and demographic information for all participating programs is included in tabular format for easy reference.

Education reform

In the Washington Post, with guidance from Martha Nussbaum (Chicago).

Philosopher Martha Nussbaum’s “spirit of the humanities” serves as an outline of the non-economic skills that education reform should promote. She describes this as “searching critical thought, daring imagination, [and] empathetic understanding of human experiences of many different kinds.” The first characteristic, “searching critical thought,” can be interpreted as probing critique. Students must learn to cast a critical light upon those cultural institutions and traditions that familiarity has largely concealed; these include the influence of media, the impact of race, gender, and class on identity, social institutions, cultural norms, and other aspects of existence commonly encountered and largely unquestioned. In other words, students must learn how to “make the familiar strange.”


Michigan hires Williamson; he will stay full-time at Oxford

As Nelson ProfessorTimothy Williamson (Metaphysics, Epistemology, Logic, Language) will visit the University of Michigan each March, during which he’ll teach an intensive graduate seminar. He will remain the Wykeham Professor of Logic at Oxford University. ProPhilosophy has confirmed this with Laura Ruetsche, department chair at Michigan.