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Showing posts from October, 2016

The Open Philosophy

Here are two ideals of openness in inquiry, both of which are independently attractive on both ethical and epistemic grounds.

Per the first ideal, call it openness-to-challenge, scholars are such that their pronouncements are as falsifiable as possible; as much as can be facilitated the scholar renders themselves capable of being shown wrong, if indeed they are. The goal here is to avoid gurus and unchallengable experts. The power to have people believe what one says, especially where that is likely to guide policy and action, is, after all, a very significant source of cultural power. Epistemically, falsification is attractive for all the reasons you would guess it is attractive: it helps ensure we can set ourselves aright where we go wrong, and makes debate between opposing viewpoints more liable to end in fruitful resolution. Ethically, the significance of this ideal is grounded in the fact that epistemic power is no small thing. We should like it to be the case that if somebody ga…

The Negro Scientist

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Yesterday I came across a fascinating new paper by Du Bois on the sociology of science. It's called The Negro Scientist, and it's published in a 1939 edition of The American Scholar. The piece is framed by the following remark:

Some time ago a great American scientist noted in public print how few Negroes had made their mark in science. They were heard of in music and literature, on the stage, in painting and in some departments of public life, but not often in exact science. I called his attention to the fact that it was not easy for an American Negro to pursue science and he admitted that there might be difficulties. But I think that along with most Americans his private belief was that the exact and intensive habit of mind, the rigorous mathematical logic demanded of those who would be scientists is not natural to the Negro
Nice to see a shout out to mathematical logic from Du Bois! But in any case, his response strategy then is two fold. First, he gives an account …

Metalogic Against Heideggarian Naziism.

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Heidegger was a Nazi. And, like, not just in a he had some edgy years as a teenager sort of way, nor in a maybe he was just naive and he didn't really think about it kind of way. No. Heidegger was somebody who thought hard about it and decided that in light of his philosophical perspective Naziism was an attractive political programme that he wished to see implemented to its fullest extent. Now, Heidegger wasn't the only Nazi philosopher out there -- Frege was an anti-Semite who had some sympathies for the emerging Nazi movement before he died, Gentzen was a Nazi, and I've heard mutterings to the effect that Gadamer may have collaborated. Nor are Nazis the only politically odious regime philosophers have supported -- Foucault infamously celebrated the Iranian theocracy, Mill wrote in defence of the British Raj, Du Bois wrote in defence of the Japanese occupation of Manchuria, Locke helped author the constitution of a slave state, and Sartre was, at the least, surprisingly …

Debating My Humanity

Recent events in philosophy and wider political life have me thinking about a point of political epistemology. There is a principle fairly popular in circles I am broadly sympathetic with which is roughly that: somebody should never be put in the position of defending their own full humanity. Any debate which does not have, as a presupposition, something like the full moral equality of persons is not a conversation one can reasonably expect those not-presupposed-to-be-fully-human to participate in or even bear witness to. Here's a tweet which says it in a snappy way:
We can disagree and still love each other unless your disagreement is rooted in my oppression and denial of my humanity and right to exist. I like the way that tweet puts it because it makes it clear this is not really a purely academic issue -- this is a matter of what it means to coexist in a pluralistic society, whether we can get along across certain cultural and political divides.

I think this principle guides a …

Sociology Hesitant

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Recently an exciting new collection of essays was released called `Ten Neglected Classics Of Philosophy'. In the spirit of this volume, I am going to explicate the argument of an essay that I think is, at the least, an under-appreciated contribution to the philosophy of science. The essay is: `Sociology Hesitant' by W.E.B. Du Bois. It's based on a manuscript he wrote in 1905 reflecting on a scientific conference he had attended, but was first published in 2000 -- this delay in publication probably contributing to its under-appreciation.

Ok so, here is the problem Du Bois takes himself to be responding to. Sociologists of his day, he thinks, are apt to be too metaphysical and theoretical and not enough empirically informed. The result is that they end up offering vague and rather mysterious pronouncements that do not obviously contribute to better understanding the day to day realities of social life that sociology should properly be informing us of. The science thus stands…

True For You

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Here's an idea that is perennially popular with undergraduates and perennially unpopular with professional philosophers: truth is relative; what is true for me may not be true for you; two logically incompatible perspectives may be just as good as each other, from the point of truth or accuracy. Call this vague idea `relativism' The classic philosophical formulation of relativism comes from Protagoras of Abdera, who famously said ``Man is the measure of all things; of the things that are, that they are, and of the things that are not, that they are not.'' The idea here being that in some deep and interesting sense what is true depends on what we take to be true, or on decisions we make, or on facts about how we represent things. While there is much work to be done in making this idea clear, I am going to assume that yinz know roughly what I have in mind. And while there are plenty of arguments about relativism, I am going to focus on an ethical debate.

As a way into t…

All Power To The Meglapsychos!

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Confucianism and Virtue Ethics are, at least, similar in spirit. A lot of ethical theorising consists in trying to provide rules or principles which one could, at least in theory, consult and explicitly reason with in order to work out what to do when encountering a novel or tricky scenario. Not so with either the Confucian or Virtue Ethical tradition. These latter two are ethical theories where the focus is not on rules, but rather on trying to make folk into the kind of people who of their own more-or-less spontaneous accord will make good decisions when confronted with novel situations. 
I prefer Confucianism to most versions of Virtue Ethics that I have seen. This because: there are some incredibly authoritarian elements that often accompany Virtue Ethics. In particular in discussions of Virtue Ethics I have had with people that are sympathetic, there often seems to be a theory of ethical pedagogy that amounts to ``emulate great moral exemplars!''. Worse, it is accompanie…

Platonic Feminism and Social Epistemology of Science

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Today's post was prompted by a fascinating podcast my alma mater put out on the current status of women in science. Women are under-represented in science relative to the proportion of the population that are women, and many report experiences of harassment and discrimination. This leads many to wonder about the causes and consequences of this under-representation, and it is largely to those questions that the panel discussion recorded for this podcast was addressed.

One of the women on the panel was Cailin O'Connor. She's a philosophy professor at Irvine who has worked on diversity in science before. One of the hats Cailin wears is that of a social epistemologist: somebody who studies how the social and institutional organisation of communities of inquirers affects the communities' ability to produce and disseminate knowledge. Since I myself identify as a social epistemologist* I was especially glad to hear her so well represent our field and the general consensus the…

Introduction to The Sooty Empiric

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The philosophy blogosphere is pretty active, and as a community we seem to get a lot of productive thinking done at too-big-for-a-social-media-post but too-small-for-a-paper levels. This seems well suited to blog posts, and I'd like to join in the discussion. Further, my interests mainly centre around philosophy of science, formal/social epistemology, and political philosophy. While there's some great blogging out there for each of these, nobody combines them in quite the way I like, so here is me trying to be the change I want to see in the blogosphere. (Mind you, I'll post on plenty besides!)  I really hope to foster discussion in this space, but anybody following the philosophy blogosphere will have noticed that we seem often to generate rather more heat than light in our online blog squabbles. So, everyone, let's try and be nice and avoid that, eh?

Anyway, that's my mission statement of sorts. For those wondering, the title for the blog comes from Richard S Wes…