Introduction to The Sooty Empiric

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 Westfall's `The Construction of Modern Science'. In the chapter on 17th century chemistry he notes that:
Scientists looked upon [chemists] with scorn, referring to them in a phrase that can hardly be misunderstood, as ``sooty empirics.''
Steampunk Sooty Empiric - ``Liam wanted you to know
what a steam punk aesthetic looked like but he's also
kind of feeling not great about using this random bloke,
 who after all did not give his permission, to illustrate
an alternate-history re-appropriated former racist term.''
The phrase caught my eye as a good blog title for a number of reasons. (1) that's some top quality shade right there; I doff my charmingly ridiculous proto-top-hat to you, snobby British chemistry-hating aristocrats. Should this blog, against my sincere intent, ever descend into throwing shade (perish the thought!) I hope I can live up to this august precedent. (2) As philosophical tendencies go, I rather like pragmatism and I rather like empiricism -- especially the logical kind. I rather feel that modifying `empirics' with `sooty' is suggestive of a sleeves-rolled-up pragmatic bent of empiricism. (3) It kind of sounds like a cool re-appropriated racist insult. I can imagine a good steampunk novel where `sooty empiric' was once upon a time a put down directed at black scientists but has since been appropriated by its former victims, and is now the name of the secret society wherein the heroes meet to fine tune their electro-rays and discuss the rumors of the Kaiser's plot to conquer Atlantis... ok I'll stop but you get the point. I guess I like that?

In this blog I am sure I will be discussing science, and the philosophy thereof. Pragmatism, empiricism, and all manners of epistemology and meta-philosophy beside. And, sure, I am not just a philosopher but a black man too, and maybe that will be relevant sometimes, given discussions now on going both in my profession and the world beyond academic philosophy. So stick around! I hope it will be fun, I hope it will be interesting, and I hope it will in no way interfere with my attempts to get a job in academia.

(Alas I am not a steampunk super hero though... yet.... In the mean time, British readers Of A Certain Age will no doubt be disappointed that the real Sooty seems to have no connection to this blog -- so here's a link and now you can feel old and nostalgic and sad too. It really bothers me that there were no good pictures of a black person in clock punk gear, because really to fit the era the phrase the blog title is from it should have been clock punk. Maybe I shall have to be the change I want to see on google image searches too? Almost relatedly, I have ill defined ambitions of eventually making this a group blog wherein black philosophers with a naturalistic bent can post on their work and ideas. Watch this space?)


  1. Unfortunately, I had a look at the Sooty show link before I planned to comment. I am now in a state of deep shock.

    Still, I do think it's great you have joined the blogsphere.

  2. This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.

  3. Thanks Anne! And, yeah, that Sooty show link is pretty much just a nostalgia bomb. Apparently it's the longest running kids Tv show though, so that's pretty cool.


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