Saturday, February 28, 2009

Wittgenstein: greatest philosopher of the 20th century?

So claims Jim Holt here. Is he right? (No, he's not.)

UPDATE: It's really quite an entertaining review. I laughed out loud several times, mostly at suicides.

2ND UPDATE: You can vote on the greatest 20th century philosopher over at Leiter's place. Astonishingly, Wilber is nowhere on the list.

The Hermes Petition and the APA

What are the odds that the APA will act on, or even respond in any way, to this petition? Given that the APA seems incapable of doing almost anything, even when the issue is pressing and a certain course of action is clearly indicated (e.g., come up with an online jobs database), I'm not optimistic. I wonder, is there a formal, precedented way of petitioning the APA that Hermes is following? If so, then the APA might be forced to act in order to comply with its own rules.

Anyway, I'm hoping the APA will surprise me, and I encourage you to sign the petition if you are a member of the APA and haven't already.

Wednesday, February 25, 2009

A bed of laurels

A number of well-known philosophers have reached a stage in their careers where most of the articles they write are invited and appear in anthologies, in book symposia, or in invitation-only venues like Philosophical Perspectives. I've been appalled by the quality of several pieces of this sort that I've read recently. (Of course there are also lots of very good invited pieces out there--I'll dispense with such caveats in what follows, but please do mentally insert them wherever you see fit.) The authors seemed uninterested in offering a careful and comprehensive defense of their views. They do offer some arguments, of course, but these arguments invite obvious objections that they don't bother addressing. They often seem much more intent on making jokes than on producing a lasting, high-quality piece of philosophy. No junior philosopher submitting a piece to a refereed journal would dare to offer such a casual, even flippant defense of his or her views. A lot of these pieces are also replete with typos. Part of the problem here is that academic publishers now outsource their copy-editing to India or Singapore, where not much in the way of copy-editing gets done as far as I can tell, but again, philosophers who are not tenured and famous do their best to correct their spelling and grammar before sending off their work. Maybe I'm overly prickly, but I actually feel insulted having wasted my time reading something that was clearly not the writer's best work, and that reflects such an arrogant, complacent attitude.

I'd say if you want to read really good work, seek out articles by unknowns writing in very selective journals, and avoid the invited pieces.


Isn't there something inappropriately condescending and self-important about this motto, found on a t-shirt sold by the APA and the title of a book by Simon Blackburn? Doesn't it seem to suggest that one is only really thinking when one thinks philosophically?

Thursday, February 19, 2009

G*** B*** update

Here are the candidates:

George Bartlett (Florida)
George Barton (Tulane)
George Beiswanger (George State)
Gustav Bergmann (Iowa)
George Burch (Tufts)
Gary Brodsky (Connecticut)
Geoffrey Bridges (San Luis Rey)
George Boas

Thanks to an anonymous poster for looking this up (on JSTOR).

Wednesday, February 18, 2009

Coming out

An anonymous poster asks:

Do referees for journals ever "out" themselves once the piece appears in print? Have you ever, upon getting a paper published, gotten an email saying, "I was the anon reviewer ..."

Monday, February 16, 2009

Best and worst conference presentations

Thanks to Chrono for the suggestion. I would very strongly urge you not to name graduate students or untenured faculty in the 'worst' category, for obvious reasons, though you could of course describe their talks without naming names.

Update: While we're on this topic, what does reading a paper as opposed to informally presenting it say about the speaker? Should first-timers start by reading the paper, or should they jump in the deep end right away?


Sleeping in the tub writes:

I am very curious to hear opinions from faculty about the following article:

...especially as it pertains to philosophy. I received my PhD a couple months ago, and I have to admit that I feel like I chose the wrong profession, but not because of any deficiency on my part in regard to what it has taken to be a professional philosopher. Rather, given the market this year, this seems like a dying field. I estimate that 25% of the TT jobs originally posted in the October JFP have been suspended or pulled, and there seems little to no sympathy or understanding coming from established faculty (especially those who have decided not to retire because their TIAA-Cref's have lost value). This is not about landing a 2/2 research position in a 'prime' location. This is about paying rent, buying food, and paying on loans. I realize that none of us were promised jobs when we finally 'got out,' but I have seen little to nothing from established philosophers that honestly addresses the economic crisis, especially as it pertains to our field (and to those of us suspended between graduate school and academic employment). The fall semester will be here sooner than many of us want it to be. Faculty, what is your honest advice? What do all of you really think is going to come of this profession?

Open thread

Any questions, gossipy or otherwise, that readers would like answered by other readers? Suggestions for new topics? Paranoid conspiracy theories? Post them in the comments and I'll turn some of them into separate posts.

Who is G** B**?

Inquiring minds want to know. If you don't know what this is about, see here.

Wednesday, February 11, 2009

Reader comments

Two anonymous comments seemed to merit a separate post:

I. I would like to know if there are people outside of the profession -- i.e., without having a job, or being a current student, in the academy -- who attempt (successfully or not) to publish in respectable journals. Does this ever happen?

II. Does anyone recall the scandal about the wealthy former philosophy graduate student who paid some big-name M&E people to review his article? I think that happened in 2002 or so, but I can't remember the details.

Monday, February 9, 2009

Talent and perseverance win out...sometimes

Somewhat related to the last post, my understanding is that Eric Olson spent a long time in the wilderness, including a period of unemployment, before finally publishing his way into a tenure track job at Sheffield. (Is it an accident that he ended up working at a British university, where the ability to publish is even more prized than in the U.S.?) What amazes me is that Olson was able to get a book deal with Oxford while he was still unemployed. The fact that the preeminent publisher of philosophical books would give an unemployed philosopher's book a careful and open-minded look gives me reason to hope that this profession isn't all about pedigree and prestige, and that good work, no matter who produces it, will eventually be recognized and rewarded. Am I being pollyannaish? Anyway, I'd be interested in hearing more about Olson's story, if anybody knows anything. Eric?

Sunday, February 8, 2009

Making it off the TT

One measure of professional success is one's academic rank and the prestige of one's institution and department: you know you've made it if you're a full professor at MIT. Another measure is the quality and impact of one's work: you know you've made it if you have publications in Nous, Phil Review, and Mind that lots of other philosophers are discussing. It's very rare to find somebody who scores very high on the second measure but very low on the first: there aren't a lot of adjuncts with articles in Nous that everybody is talking about. One reason for this, of course, is that somebody capable of writing really good, "buzzworthy" articles would likely appeal to search committees and would end up with a TT job at a good place. Another reason is that even if you are a brilliant adjunct, teaching 4-4 (or worse) and possibly supplementing your income with another job leaves you very little time in which to produce high quality work. But there are at least possible cases in which these factors are absent: imagine an adjunct who is independently wealthy and has a 2-2 teaching load in a good department, but because she needs to care for an ailing mother or whatever, cannot relocate to a better job. Supposing that our adjunct is really brilliant, would it be possible for her to become a significant figure in her field, all the while remaining an adjunct? Or is it just impossible to get taken seriously if you don't have a "real" job?

Wednesday, February 4, 2009

Practical philosophy

An email announcing the founding of a new philosophy radio show and institute associated with the University of North Dakota (details here) makes the following claim:

We at IPPL are committed to the belief that all philosophical research is relevant to day to day life (even the most obscure stuff) and that what is needed is a “translation” of the technical or jargon-filled work. General audiences will respond to what we do, we just have to get their attention.

No doubt there are certain bits and pieces of philosophy that might be of some use or interest to the man on the Clapham omnibus, but this strikes me as an outrageous exaggeration. You?

Monday, February 2, 2009

Hot topics

One advantage of being a grad student in a top program, it's been said, is that such students get access to cutting-edge work that might not appear in the journals for several years. It also seems obvious that journals are more likely to reject articles that they perceive as not being on the cutting edge. These facts, if they are facts, might seem to give students at top programs a very significant advantage over their less pedigreed brethren, since only they (and the faculty in their programs) would be in a position to submit articles on a given topic just when the journals really want to publish articles on that topic.

Do students at top programs really enjoy a huge advantage in this regard? If so, what can students at non-stellar programs do to minimize their disadvantage? Does fairness require that philosophers at top programs disseminate their current research more widely?