Posts

Showing posts from 2019

Truth in the Culture War

One claim that I have seen crop up lately is the idea that somehow the present culture war turns upon what one thinks of the correspondence theory of truth. Now, I think the nature of truth is a deep and fascinating topic of philosophical inquiry, so I absolutely welcome more interest in it, and encourage people to delve deeper into what I think is an important topic. However, as is always the way, truth has been a casualty of war. In this case in particular the claims being made on behalf of truth's role in the culture war seem to me simply confused. So I am going to try and spell out what is being said, what I take to be wrong with this, and instead indicate some more productive lines of inquiry re philosophy in general, theory of truth in particular, and our present cultural moment.

(I think the whole discussion goes back to an argument Rachel McKinney had on twitter, so blame her! In all seriousness also thanks to her for doing much serious thinking on this and being willing t…

Just a Humble Philosopher

What are we trying to do when we teach philosophy? This question was broached recently at a conference I took part in on the role of formal methods in philosophy. It was maybe one of the most Very Extremely Online philosophy conferences the world has yet seen, being announced in advance on one blog, livetweeted by twodifferent philosophers, with questions from twitter being asked at a roundtable at the end - which is now going to be blogged about here! (Just want to include a note of thanks to Samuel Fletcher, not only for his role in organising the conference but also for offering helpful feedback on this very blog post!) This isn’t the last time I am going to blog about the conference, but right now I want to focus on a rather curious element of the conference and reflect on what it means for those who engage with students of philosophy.

The conference had us all thinking about what we hope formal methods can do for various people who interact with the philosophy world. But first an…

On The Unity of Science, or - All Philosophy Is Political!

Image
Recently there has been much discussion in the philosophy online regarding the slogan "All philosophy is political" (when expressed negatively by those who disagree, it might be the slogan: "Resist the politicisation of philosophy!"). I said to an LSE graduate student that I rather thought that this slogan didn't capture much of interest and we should stop discussing it. I do think that, but on reflection I thought that might have slightly misled as to my actual opinion so I should write a blog post. Prompted to actually write by this piece from Oliver Traldi, which clarified multiple senses of the term and touches upon the sense I am interested but which I think still doesn't lay the emphasis on the sense in which I think the slogan is true and which is also, I think, upstream of the actual conflicts we see. (Subsequent to posting it occurred to me that this blog post is also broadly similar to points Barnes made here.) I think the fact that all philosophy…

An Interesting Case of Philosophical Consensus

This is just a brief note to point out something I think rather obvious but which bears more emphasis. As far as I know every theory of distributive justice, or maybe justice in property holdings, agrees that the present actual global distribution of stuff is not just.

I don't have any fancy argument for this. It's actually quite an immediate entailment for most of them. Trivially, for instance, realist theories (or those versions of Marxism that have realist elements), are not going to say that the present world order is just if only because they won't say that about anything. Only slightly less trivially libertarian theories - or really anything which grounds the justice of a division of property in its being justly acquired and transferred by free consenting agents - are bound to say that the present distribution of stuff is immoral. We all know that De Beers don't own those diamonds, and Shell-BP doesn't own that oil, because of a series of free trades with the…

Letter to a Young Black Philosopher

Dear Person I Have Directed To This Post,

Hi! Periodically I get requests - at conferences, in emails, most lately via twitter - to offer advice for aspiring black philosophers. Now, sometimes that request is specific ("I have offers from schools X and Y - which would be better?") but other times its more generic. The hope seems to be that I can give some advice to a person qua aspiring black philosopher. Since this seems to be by design a request for generic advice, and in the spirit of sometimes writing blog posts on questions I often get just for the sakes being able to refertothem, I'm going to write a generic response here.

There is, of course, the general advice one can give a young philosopher. Study hard; don't be afraid to challenge received wisdom, but also make sure you actually know what that received wisdom is and why people receive it. Be willing to take on board criticism without getting too defensive, but avoid being too deferential. To get a PhD it o…

Boundless Ocean of Unlimited Possibilities

Sometimes (e.g.) on the internet we angst about the kind of person who likes to DESTROY his enemies with FACTS AND LOGIC AND REASON. Ben Shapiro has become the iconic figurehead of this sort, and not without cause - but that is at least somewhat misleading. Shapiro is prominently a fairly traditional conservative in his politics, but that is not an essential property of the sort. It is not tied to any particular political position so much as a self-characterisation and an aesthetic. The self-characterisation is that of an unbiased objective person who calmly follows (to the best of their abilities, accepting human frailty etc) good principles of rationality to reach conclusions. The aesthetic is that of being very impressed by displays of logical acumen, and very persuaded that one's ideological opponents (whoever they may be) can be set aside with relative ease once the tools of reason are brought to bear against them. This post is my contribution to that genre.

Now, I am a fan o…

The Perception of Merit

Academia runs on a prestige economy. The opportunities you are afforded and the resources you have access to in very large part depend on your reputation for skill in your chosen field. What is more, we mostly internalise this - we would like not only to do well but to be seen and acknowledged to do well. This latter is considered disreputable and to own to it something of a guilty secret; but it seems to me plainly true that the vast majority of academics would like to be prestigious as can be. Nor does it seem so obviously bad - there is nothing even apparently wrong with wanting people to think well of you, and think well of you (what's more) for contributing to the long quest for knowledge. So why is it so miserable?

Today's post is about that desire for prestige, from the point of view of somebody who struggles with it. It's kinda bad armchair sociology, but (with tongue in cheek please don't hurt me actual sociologists) I mean it to be somewhat phenomenological -…

Taking a Break

I have been a very online philosopher. I have kept this blog, I was very active on Facebook,  I was very active on Twitter. I like this blog a lot. But I eventually left Facebook because it stopped being fun for me. And I am not sure I can still be on Twitter anymore either. Along with the part of me that really wants to engage with the world, there's another part that really wants to withdraw. For fear that this latter part of me wants to withdraw too far and represents some of my darker thoughts, I have tended to suppress it. I think it's time to give it the reigns for a while. Maybe this won't last more than a day (I've tried to quit social media before and lasted around 24 hours) but I want to at least give it a go. So, it's been real, and I am sure I will be back sooner or later, but for now - a break.