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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.

Carnap Did Nothing Wrong!

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This is a post about what it means to have a fave, a philosopher one likes and identifies with and champions. Spurred by the fact that folk on twitter pointed out that more people will hear of Carnap though my social media promotional efforts than actually read him. (Incidentally, the rumour mill has it that Kristie Dotson has in production a paper on philosophy as a fandom, so watch that space!) But first a note on how I got here. Back in the day I used to always say #NoHeroes and had various arguments against the role of hero worship in academia and intellectual practice. I thought (and in fact still think) that it is bad for scholarship and the way we organise ourselves as a discipline that some figures gain such high stature in the prestige economy of our discipline. For instance, people become overly charitable to their views, and thus come to misrepresent them or fail to acknowledge clear reason to reject their claims - and we thereby lose out on valuable sources of intellectual…

On Eurocentrism

I write this as someone who is largely a consumer rather than producer of the sort of work I am going to critique. I am confident that what I say will sound obvious in theory and is no doubt something people training to comparative philosophers are quite aware of - but since I am a frequent consumer I am also confident that it is frequently violated in practice even if theoretically people know better. As ever, I don't like to link to negative exemplars, so if you don't believe me on that point I am happy for us to just disagree about the existence of the tendency I here bemoan.

So here is a thing I see a lot of in articles introducing English speakers to some form of philosophy that is not typically studied by English speaking philosophy students.  (I am going to say "non-mainstream-Western" philosophy, but only because I don't know a better way of referring to the class I have in mind, that's not a great term either.) Maybe it's philosophy in pre-modern…

A Quick Plea For Interdisciplinary Peace

Here's an interesting blog post I recommend you read. It's about why people end up science denialists. I am going to be pedantic about it and complain, but I will later explain why I still recommend reading it despite these complaints. Near the start there's some conceptual analysis, which I quote at length:

"In social science, the concept of belief describes a statement that people think is either true or false. Beliefs are deep rooted because they evolve from early socialisation. They are maintained tacitly through everyday interactions with our primary social networks like family, religious communities, and through close friendships with people from the same socio-economic backgrounds. Beliefs are hard (though not impossible) to change because there is a strong motivation to protect what we believe. Beliefs are strongly tied to personal identities, culture and lifestyle. Beliefs are harder to change in a short frame time because they’re interconnected to structures…

Logic versus Social Justice Activists

Let me tell you upfront that I don't intend this to be endorsed. The point of the exercise is to see if it sounds to you as plausible as similar narratives you have heard in other cases. So it's a kind of satire, I guess, but the goal isn't at all to mock or to be funny. (It's also me trying my hand at something kinda like the ideological Turing test - but not quite, since after all I don't think people actually do run this particular argument.) If I have done my job correctly, this will seem to you about as plausible as other elements of the popular Everything Changed When The SJs Attacked genre. In this genre one talks about how a once proud tradition of Western achievement in the arts or humanities has been ruined by the advent of social justice scholarship or activism. I don't like linking to negative exemplars where I don't have to - so if you are unfamiliar with the genre or think it doesn't exist, just consider the plausibility of this on its own…