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Posts in “Philosophy”

Mon, Dec 8, 2014

Visualizing Philosophy Rankings

The new Philosophical Gourmet Report Rankings are out today. The report ranks a selection of Ph.D programs in English-speaking Philosophy departments, both overall and for various subfields, on the basis of the judgments of professional philosophers. The report (and its editor) has been controversial in the past, and of course many people dislike the idea of rankings altogether. But as these things go the PGR is pretty good. It’s a straightforward reputational assessment made by a panel of experts from within the field.
Wed, Sep 4, 2013

A Word on Critical Realism

Note: The original version of this post, with lots of comments including several follow-ups, clarifications, and further argument from me can be found at OrgTheory. A very useful contribution by Omar Lizardo can also be found there. Seeing as Fabio has promoted some off-the-cuff remarks I made on Twitter about Critical Realism, I suppose I should say something a little more about it. All the moreso seeing as some anonymous commenters have been getting quite huffy at the very idea that anyone who called themselves an academic could make a dismissive comment without, presumably, devoting themselves full-time to “thoughtful debate and analysis” on the work in question.
Mon, Jun 24, 2013

Citation Networks in Philosophy: Some Followup

June 26th, 2013. I’ve corrected some errors in the dataset. They changes don’t effect the substance of the post. All of these involve merging variant citations to the same work. Notable changes in the graph are the increased prominence of Davidson (1980), van Inwagen (1990), Putnam (1975), and (to a lesser degree), Wittgenstein (1953). I thank Brad Wray for drawing my attention to some of these errors. Last week’s posts on A Co-Citation Network for Philosophy and Lewis and the Women generated a fair amount of discussion amongst philosophers, and I also got quite a few emails.
Wed, Jun 19, 2013

Lewis and the Women

Corrections and Changes as of June 26th, 2013: See the end of the post for details on some corrections and changes to the analysis. In the previous post I promised I would say something about the influence of David Lewis, and also something about citation frequency by gender. Some caveats at the outset. First, as I said before, this is exploratory work. I’m still in the process of cleaning the data and correcting mistakes, so things may change (although hopefully just around the margins).
Tue, Jun 18, 2013

A Co-Citation Network for Philosophy

Corrections and Changes as of June 26th, 2013: See the end of the post for details on some changes and fixes to errors in the data. What have English-speaking philosophers been talking about for the last two decades? I’m asking—and presenting an answer to—this question partly out of an ongoing research interest in philosophy, partly out of some recent “Does anyone know …?” questions I’ve been asked, and partly to play with some new text-processing and visualization methods.
Wed, Feb 27, 2013

What you Can't Expect when you're Expecting

Note: This post is by L.A. Paul and Kieran Healy. The paper it draws on is available here as a PDF. You should think carefully about whether to have kids. It’s a distinctively modern decision. Until comparatively recently, producing an heir, supplying household labor, insuring against destitution, or being fruitful and multiplying was what having a child was about. Nowadays the decision to bear a child is freighted with a more personal significance—assuming you are physically able to do so, and lucky enough to be well-off and well-situated.
Sun, May 6, 2012

Practical and Theoretical Knowledge

My friend Jason Stanley has a blog post up at the New York Times’s Opinionator section that might be of interest to you social theorists out there. Jason’s a philosopher of language who teaches at Rutgers. He attacks a distinction which is by now extremely well-entrenched in social theory generally and in specific theories of action in the sociology of culture, the sociology of organizations, and elsewhere—namely, the distinction between theoretical and practical knowledge: Humans are thinkers, and humans are doers.
Fri, Mar 23, 2012

Departmental and Specialty Affinities net of Reputation

The two-sided quality of the connection between departments and specialties invites us to find ways of visualizing them both at the same time. But the large number of departments and specialties makes it tricky to generate interpretable pictures. There is a large family of methods designed to map multidimensional data onto just a couple of dimensions. Here I’ll take one of the more straightforward ways of doing this and apply it to the 2006 data.
Thu, Mar 22, 2012

Ratings and Field Position

I want to get to the department-level stuff today instead of just looking at the raters, but I promised yesterday that I’d say something about the relationship between the field position of raters and their voting patterns. As with specialty areas, where you stand might depend on where you sit. If we slice raters into groups based on the PGR rating of their employer, we can calculate overall PGR scores based just on the votes from within each group, as we did with the specialty areas.
Thu, Mar 22, 2012

A Not Quite Satisfactory Way of Looking at Departments and Specialties

One of the nice features of the PGR data is the duality in the relationship between departments and specialties. Departmental identities are defined in part by the kind of specialized work that gets done in them. The identity of areas is associated with particular departments and schools (with a large or small ’s’). The PGR data lets us see some of this association, and of course also make the link between this relationship and overall status.
Wed, Mar 21, 2012

Rating and Specialties

Yesterday we saw that raters come mostly from the top half of of PGR ranked schools, with a good chunk of them from very highly-ranked schools. We also saw that specialty areas are not equally represented in the rater pool. (Specialty areas are not equally represented within departments, either, because not all subfields have equal status—more on that later.) Are voting patterns in the 2006 data connected to the social location of raters?
Tue, Mar 20, 2012

About the Raters

As it does for the current report, the 2006 rankings listed the names and affiliations of those who participated in the report, along with the survey instrument and a bit of information about the response patterns of raters. Based on this information, we can say a little bit about where the raters come from. For example, in 2006 about sixty five percent of raters were based in the U.S., eighteen percent in the UK, eight percent in Canada, five percent in Australia or New Zealand, and the small remainder elsewhere.
Mon, Mar 19, 2012

Greetings, Philosophers

I come in peace. As Brian mentioned last week, I’m going to be guesting on his blog for the next few days. For those of you who don’t know me—which I imagine is most of you—I am a sociologist; I teach at Duke University both in my home department and the Kenan Institute for Ethics; and for the past nine years or so I’ve been a blogger at Crooked Timber. Initially, I was tempted to treat this gig in the way that people tend to treat philosophers they meet in bars—viz, aggressively tell you all what my philosophy is, perhaps make a truly original joke that comes with fries, or maybe sketch out my own interpretation of two-dimensionalism.
Mon, Mar 5, 2012

Obituaries for Philosophers in the New York Times since 2000

The philosopher Ruth Marcus died two weeks ago, but—as Brian Leiter noted—no obituary for her has appeared in a major newspaper. Michael Della Rocca and some colleagues have circulated a letter calling on the New York Times to rectify this, which I agree they should. In the comments over at Feminist Philosophers, Catarina asks how many of the philosophers who did get an obituary in the NYT were women. In partial answer, I looked at the number of obituaries that have appeared in the Times since 2000 of people who were described primarily as philosophers.
Mon, Mar 21, 2011

The Vertiginous Regressivity of Choice

G.A. Cohen on the German Ideal of Freedom: If logic is more your thing, there is also a lecture by Alfred Tarski, a tutorial with Gilbert Ryle, or a boxing match between John Roemer and Jurgen Habermas.
Mon, Mar 7, 2011

Kuhn's Ashtray

Errol Morris starts to tell a story: It was April, 1972. The Institute for Advanced Study in Princeton, N. J. The home in the 1950s of Albert Einstein and Kurt Gödel. Thomas Kuhn, the author of “The Structure of Scientific Revolutions” and the father of the paradigm shift, threw an ashtray at my head. It had all begun six months earlier. “Under no circumstances are you to go to those lectures.
Fri, Feb 4, 2011

Gender divides in Philosophy and other disciplines

Following up on a conversation with a friend in Philosophy, I took a quick look at the Survey of Earned Doctorates to see the breakdown by gender for Ph.Ds awarded in the United States in 2009. Some nice pictures: Percent female by Division (with Philosophy picked out); Percent female for selected disciplines; and a giant percent female for (almost) all disciplines, with Philosophy picked out for emphasis. The links go to PDFs.
Tue, Jan 11, 2011

Two Syllabuses

In Spring a young man’s fancy turns to love. Rapidly aging academics such as myself, however, have to decide which readings to assign. This semester I’m teaching Organizations and Management to students in Duke’s MMS certificate program and Markets and Moral Order to a small group of seniors at the Kenan Institute for Ethics. Both classes were a lot of fun last year (perhaps not for the students). I’ve rearranged the running order in the Orgs course a bit, as the flow was wrong last time.
Sat, Apr 10, 2010

What do you mean your wife won't take care of them?

Feminist Philosophers reports on some egregious behavior under the auspices of the National Endowment for the Humanities: a good friend of mine (a tenured philosophy professor in the states) was just accepted to an NEH summer seminar in [European city]. She’s a single mom and, obviously, wants to bring her son along. But, she says, she “has just been given 12 hours to “demonstrate” that she has full-time childcare arrangements for her son for the month of July that “are to the [completely unspecified] satisfaction” of the Institute directors; if she fails to meet this requirement, she has been told her accceptance in the program will be withdrawn.
Sat, Apr 10, 2010

The AGIL Turkey

Robert Paul Wolff — the well-known philosopher of politics and political economy, late convert to Afro-American studies, and author of some very good books including the best explanation of how to approach Marx’s ironic, sarcasm-laced prose style — has lately been keeping a blog, and writing his memoirs. There are some very good stories, mostly about philosophers. Most sociologists are unaware that Talcott Parsons’ son Charles Parsons is a well-respected philosopher of logic, mathematics and language.
Fri, Apr 2, 2010

I'm ready for my closeup

First Sean Carroll gets to go on Colbert; and now Jonathan Dancy does a very creditable job on Craig Ferguson’s show. I just want to make it clear to TV producers that I am available for gigs. Now, unlike Jonathan I am not the father of a well-known actor, so I lack a connection to the world of “show business”. But, even so, comedy is kind of a hobby of mine.
Thu, Jan 28, 2010

Not your Father's Communicative Action

Here is Jürgen Habermas’ Twitter feed. No, really. One can’t quite be sure, of course (maybe a German speaker can point to some coverage of this in the German press?), but it seems on the level. If so (even if it’s him via an assistant), that is pretty outstanding, because my ASA Publications Committee slogan can now be “Jürgen Habermas is on Twitter but ASR still requires paper submissions”. Update: Looks like I need a new slogan.
Mon, Nov 2, 2009

Facts and Values

I recall a short but striking conversation with the formidable Piero Sraffa at the Economics Faculty cocktail party after Dennis Robertson’s Marshall Lectures. I well knew that it was Sraffa whom Wittgenstein had described as his mentor during the gestation of the Philosophical Investigations, but I still ventured a rather simple-minded remark about the obvious importance of the fact-value distinction to the social sciences. He turned on me his charming smile and glittering eyes.
Wed, Sep 30, 2009

Goodbye, John

My friend John Pollock died yesterday. I’ll leave it to others to write up his many contributions to philosophy and computer science. I wanted to take a moment to remember him as the hard-charging mountain biker he was. He introduced me to biking shortly after I moved to Tucson, and he spent a lot of time driving me and many others all over Southern Arizona to ride on desert singletrack. Despite being almost twice my age he (and several others even older) would routinely leave me behind on the trail, cranking up hills or blasting down them.
Fri, Mar 20, 2009

Wife Swap

Excerpts from an email forwarded from a philosopher of my acquaintance: Hello, I hope you are doing well! I am a casting producer for ABC Television’s hit reality show, Wife Swap. I am currently trying to cast families that promote philosophy as a discipline for a special episode of our show and thought perhaps you might know some scholars that would be interested in such an opportunity. An ideal family would have 2 parents that are both philosophers and children that also believe in the discipline.
Fri, Aug 22, 2008

Making a House a Whole

At present I’m in a part of Ireland where internet access is about as common as sunshine and clear skies. This means I have only belatedly come across Matt Yglesias’s call for technical assistance from my wife, in her capacity as a trained professional mereologist, to help resolve the thorny question of whether John McCain’s luxury double-condo in Phoenix counts as one house or two. My understanding is that mereological relations are somewhat flexible, and it’s quite acceptable for the same material object to be two condos and one home.
Sun, Jun 29, 2008

No idea more obscure and uncertain

You only have to hang around the world of social science research- or policy-related blogging for a few hours before you come across someone willing to snottily inform you, or some other luckless interlocutor, that although the finding of this or that paper may appeal to you, nevertheless don’t you know that Correlation Is Not Causation. Often this seems to be the only thing they know about statistics. I grudgingly admit that it’s a plausible-sounding rule, and in the textbooks and stuff.
Mon, Jun 9, 2008

I Refute You Thus

Laurie in the process of getting her third degree TKD black belt this weekend. These skills come in handy with the stroppier sort of commenter or more patronizing variety of audience question at the Eastern APA.
Sat, Apr 5, 2008

Skeptic Dudes

Found by chance on Flickr. If Laurie runs another Arizona Ontology Conference next year, this should absolutely be the conference t-shirt.
Sun, Apr 29, 2007

Women in U.S. Philosophy Departments

There’s a discussion going on at Brian Leiter’s about the role of race and gender. There are a lot of anecdotes, which is fine, but little in the way of good data. Just for some context, here’s a figure showing the number women in full-time positions, as a percentage of all full-time positions, at U.S. philosophy departments surveyed in the Philosophical Gourmet Report. Click on the image for a larger version.
Sun, Feb 4, 2007

Wikipedia Follies

Via Teresa Nielsen Hayden come Lore Sjöberg’s views on Wikipedia. He says in part: Wikipedia is a new paradigm in human discourse. It’s a place where anyone with a browser can go, pick a subject that interests them, and without even logging in, start an argument. … The Wikipedia philosophy can be summed up thusly: “Experts are scum.” For some reason people who spend 40 years learning everything they can about, say, the Peloponnesian War—and indeed, advancing the body of human knowledge—get all pissy when their contributions are edited away by Randy in Boise who heard somewhere that sword-wielding skeletons were involved.
Wed, Jan 31, 2007


Via Jason Stanley, a link to some now classic photographs of philosophers taken by Steve Pyke, together with a new batch by the same photographer. Here is the much-missed David Lewis. Here is a terrific shot of Elisabeth Anscombe and husband Peter Geach. Amongst the new batch, here is Rae Langton. Here is Anthony Appiah. And here is Jason himself, looking more intense than usual, and also unusually quiet. Throughout the first batch and for much of the second, Pyke got the philosophers to provide a little statement about themselves and their field.
Fri, Jan 12, 2007

Blogging avant la lettre

Analysis publishes a lot of relatively short papers, but this one26:6%3C208:ANOMB%3E2.0.CO;2-I)—by G.E.M. Anscombe—from 1966 seems close to the limiting case. The link goes to the JSTOR copy, which requires a subscription. No matter. I shall reproduce the paper in full here, including notes: A Note on Mr Bennett By G.E.M. Anscombe The nerve of Mr Bennett’s argument is that if A results from your not doing B, then A results from whatever you do instead of doing B.^1^ While there may be much to be said for this view, still it does not seem right on the face of it.
Sun, Jul 2, 2006

Reconciling Continental and Analytic Philosophy

Over at the Valve John Holbo has an epiphany upon reading the Author’s Note from Stephen Potter’s classic Lifemanship (a kind of joke English Bourdieu avant la lettre, or vice versa, but that is for another day). Here’s the author’s note: I have reprinted these lectures more or less as they were delivered. I have not thought it worth while making the small alterations deemed necessary. Any inaccuracies or repetitions must be put down to the exigencies of the platform – to the essential difference between the Written Word, which is inscribed, and the Spoken Word, which is, essentially, speech.
Wed, Jun 28, 2006

Liberty at Low Prices

Say what you like about the free-marketeers, they certainly know how to ignore market forces, eschew profit and embrace subsidization when it suits them. I just got the 2006 Liberty Fund catalog in the post, and as usual I am having a hard time not buying a lot of their absurdly under-priced offerings. You can get the complete Sraffa/Dobb edition of Ricardo (eleven volumes!) for about a hundred bucks, or $12 for individual volumes.
Tue, May 2, 2006

Sociology and Political Philosophy

I mentioned in posts or a comment a while ago that I was writing a survey piece on sociology and political philosophy, and several people expressed an interest in seeing it. Well, here’s a draft. I was invited to write it for the second edition of A Companion to Contemporary Political Philosophy, which is being edited by Bob Goodin, Philip Pettit and Thomas Pogge. Like the first edition, there will be chapters on the relationship between political philosophy and disciplines like political science, economics, law, and so on, together with essays on problems, ideologies and debates in the field itself.
Fri, Mar 10, 2006

Zizek and Badiou, Where are You

Today I was wondering whether it was worth buying Slavoj Zizek’s new book, The Parallax View and reading it, even in a spirit of ironic detachment or what have you. Reasons to Buy: 1. Some smart people I know like him. Selected Reason Not to Buy: 1. Life’s too short to deal with bullshit, even if it’s high-quality, triple-sifted, quintessence of ironic Lacanian crunchy-frog bullshit like this: “Zizek is interested in the “parallax gap” separating two points between which no synthesis or mediation is possible, linked by an “impossible short circuit” of levels that can never meet.
Fri, Feb 24, 2006

Nearly Doing the Right Thing

Raw material for a short paper in moral philosophy, to be written by someone who is actually a moral philosopher. Case 1. A woman loses her expensive camera while on holiday in Hawaii. Some time later: I got a call from an excited park ranger in Hawaii that “a nice Canadian couple reported that they found your camera!” … “Hello,” I said, when I reached the woman who had reported the camera found, “I got your number from the park ranger, it seems you have my camera?” We discussed the specifics of the camera, the brown pouch it was in, the spare battery and memory card, the yellow rubberband around the camera.
Mon, Jan 16, 2006

University Wealth and Philosophical Reputation

I’ve been looking again at data from the Philosophical Gourmet Report, Brian Leiter’s reputational survey of philosophers. Here are a couple of scatterplots showing the relationship between the size of a University’s endowment and the reputation of its philosophy department, as measured by the PGR, broken out by Private and Public universities. The red regression line in each panel shows the general association between the two variables. Only data for the U.S.
Mon, Jan 9, 2006


A few years ago, way back in the days before Crooked Timber, I wrote a post about Princeton’s old library-borrowing cards. A snippet: When I was a grad student at Princeton, someone told me that (just like most libraries before computers) the books in Firestone library used to have a pocket inside the cover where the book’s borrowing record was kept on a card. When someone wanted the book from the library, the card would be removed and stamped with the date.
Sat, Jul 23, 2005

Ideology and Integrity

Via Tim Lambert, some evidence that these two properties might still be orthogonal. Tim reproduces an email exchange between John Donohue and a representative of the Federalist Society’s chapter at University of Chicago. They are trying to organize a debate between Donohue and the awful John Lott, but they fail through a sequence of scheduling problems exacerbated by Lott’s efforts (on his blog) to make it look like Donohue is afraid to face him in public.
Wed, Jul 20, 2005

The Moor by a Length

Via Gillian Russell I see that the results of the BBC’s “Greatest Philosopher” poll are in. The winner—with 28 percent of the vote, more than twice the share of the philosopher in second-place—was Karl Marx. David Hume is next (just over 12 percent) and Wittgenstein third (6.8 percent). If you are upset that your favorite philosopher didn’t win, why not listen to Randy Newman’s The World isn’t Fair, which also has a lot of useful information about Marx.
Wed, Dec 29, 2004

A Sociologist Amongst Philosophers

Not only is it MLA Season, it’s also time for the meetings of the American Philosophical Association’s Eastern Division. The APA meetings are scheduled at this time of the year because, as is well known, philosophers hate Christmas—even if a good number of its senior wranglers do their best to look like Santa. So here I am in Boston. This year I even have a professional excuse to be here, because I’m doing some work on the relationship between specialization and status amongst philosophy departments.
Sun, Nov 21, 2004

My Semi-Conscious Mind

Following on from last week’s case, which was concerned with the ontological argument, this week’s nutter in Laurie’s Inbox gives us the complete and comprehensive solution to consciousness and morality, two perennial favorites. The Essay (Forward this to all!) [Name Redacted to Protect the Innocent] This universe is filled with atoms, unified into clusters or systems. They make up all things of matter from rocks to humans. All things of matter are either unconscious (a.k.a dead/ non living), semi- conscious (partially conscious), or fully conscious.
Thu, Sep 23, 2004

Song of the Schmibertarians

I agree with Matt. Jacob Levy’s defense of the possibility of Libertarian Hawkishness is coherent and even forceful in the context of the Afghanistan war, but Belle backed down too soon. It’s just not plausible to construe libertarianism as really being about massive, state-sponsored,[1] centrally-planned,[2] militarily-administered[3] efforts to invade and reconstruct another country—let alone to imply that libertarians are by temperament the kind of people who are confident that enterprises like this usually succeed as planned.
Mon, Jul 19, 2004

For All Your Causal Counterfactual Needs

New from MIT Press comes _Causation and Counterfactuals_, an anthology edited by John Collins, Ned Hall and L.A. Paul. At the Pacific APA meetings, the latter was recently identified, much to her disgust, as “Kieran Healy from Crooked Timber’s wife.” Causation and Counterfactuals presents the best recent work on the counterfactual analysis of causation, which helps us understand the metaphysical underpinnings of sentences like “If you don’t buy it you’ll be sorry,” “If I hadn’t blogged so much my own book would be finished by now,” and “If everyone on CT posted a shameless plug simultaneously, who’d be responsible?” The book is also perhaps the only place to read the full, gripping saga of Billy and Suzy, a tale of passion, overdetermination, war, double prevention and appalling violence.
Sat, Nov 1, 2003

It's like the King

This is really Brian’s department, but a report that the world’s oldest person has passed away at the age of 116 leads me to ask whether it is, in fact, analytically possible for the world’s oldest person to die. This in turn reminds me of a story that the late Dick Jeffrey once told me. While sitting on a bus in London in the early ‘70s, he overheard two pensioners complaining about the newfangled decimal currency.
Tue, Oct 28, 2003

All Things Bright and Easterbrook

Following up on yesterday’s great “spiritual plane debate,” I see via Atrios and Carl Zimmer that Gregg Easterbrook may subscribe to the theory of Intelligent Design. Originating with William Paley, this is the view that, as Easterbrook puts it, “organic biology [sic] is so phenomenally complex that it is illogical to assume that life created itself. There must have been some force providing guidance.” One is tempted to reply that anyone who believes in Intelligent Design clearly has never given birth or had impacted wisdom teeth removed.
Wed, Aug 20, 2003

Cosmic Inevitability

Just read “E.T. and God,” an article by Paul Davies in the current Atlantic Monthly about what would happen to religion if extraterrestrial life of any sort were discovered. The author tends to slide about between that question and the narrower issue of what would happen to the theologies of the major world religions, especially Christianity. As Davies himself notes, the discovery of E.T. would do all kinds of things for groups like the Raelians.
Thu, Jun 12, 2003

Bernard Williams

The philosopher Bernard Williams has died. I’ll leave it to others better qualified than me to explain his contributions to ethics and other fields, though I did write about one of his more well-known ideas a few months ago.
Tue, Apr 8, 2003

Battleground God

I just took the Battleground God test. My results: You took zero direct hits and you bit zero bullets. The average player of this activity to date takes 1.37 hits and bites 1.10 bullets. 96240 people have so far undertaken this activity. Ha! Who says sociologists can’t think straight? Their analysis of my performance says: Congratulations! You have been awarded the TPM medal of honour! This is our highest award for outstanding service on the intellectual battleground.
Sat, Mar 29, 2003

What is a Child?

Talking about a post by Amitai Etzioni, Matt Yglesias observes At any rate, I think it is true that most of the big liberal theories that have been articulated don’t do a terribly good job of explaining how and why we should treat children, so maybe this shot isn’t quite as cheap as I thought. Let me immediately recommend my friend Tamar Schapiro’s paper ‘What is a Child?’109:4%3C715:WIAC%3E2.0.CO;2-X) [link is to J-STOR], which appeared in Ethics 109 (4), 1999, pp.715-738.