Monday, December 01, 2008


If you're looking into financial support for graduate school, check out the following link:

Wednesday, November 19, 2008

Monday, November 17, 2008

Publishing in Graduate Journals

If you are thinking about publishing in a graduate journal, read on:

Sunday, October 19, 2008

Which philosopher will you vote for this election season?

When you need a good break, you should watch each of the following philosophy campaign ads and then rock the vote: will it be for Nietzsche, Kant, or Kierkegaard? Personally I like Kierkegaard, but I don't know if he has enough experience. I need someone reliable and tested- someone I can set my watch to.

Ad for Nietzsche:

Ad for Kierkegaard:

Thursday, September 18, 2008

NEH apparently clueless about philosophy

It was in complete disbelief that I read a colleague's email this morning with the announcement of a new NEH grant called "Enduring Questions: Pilot Course Grants ( Here's the program description:

Grant Program Description
The purpose of the Enduring Questions grant program is to encourage faculty and students at the undergraduate level to grapple with the most fundamental concerns of the humanities, and to join together in deep, sustained programs of reading in order to encounter influential thinkers over the centuries and into the present day.
Enduring questions are, to an overarching degree, pre-disciplinary. They are questions to which no discipline or field or profession can lay an exclusive claim. Enduring questions can be tackled by reflective individuals regardless of their chosen vocations, areas of expertise, or personal backgrounds. They are questions that have more than one plausible or interesting answer. They have long held interest for young people, and they allow for a special, intense dialogue across generations. The Enduring Questions grant program will help promote such dialogue in today’s undergraduate environment.
What are these enduring questions? The following list is neither prescriptive nor exhaustive but serves to illustrate.
  • What is the good life?
  • What is justice? Mercy?
  • What is freedom? Happiness?
  • What is friendship?
  • What is dignity?
  • Is there a human nature, and, if so, what is it?
  • What are the limits of scientific understanding?
  • What is the relationship between humans and the natural world?
  • Is there such a thing as right and wrong? Good and evil?
  • What is good government?
  • What are the origins of the modern world?
  • What is liberal education?
The Enduring Questions grant program will support new humanities courses at the undergraduate level: their design and preparation, teaching, and assessment, as well as ancillary activities that enhance faculty-student intellectual community. Courses may be taught by faculty from any department or discipline in the humanities or by faculty outside the humanities (e.g., astronomy, biology, economics, law, mathematics, medicine, psychology), provided humanities sources are central to the course.
NEH Enduring Questions courses:
  • must give evidence of “pre-disciplinary” character, encouraging reflection on human experience and avoiding extensive specialization;
  • must focus on an explicitly stated question or questions, pursued in a disciplined and deliberate manner;
  • must draw on significant readings from prior to the twentieth century and may draw on later works, with a preference for reading books in their entirety or near entirety;
  • may draw on artworks (e.g., music, plays, sculpture);
  • must reflect intellectual pluralism, anticipating more than one plausible or interesting answer to the question(s) at hand;
  • must be open to all students regardless of major or concentration;
  • may not be offered for graduate credit; and
  • require a letter of institutional support from the president, provost, dean, program chair, or department chair, attesting to the course being new and committing to offering the course at least twice.
My question is: Has anyone at the National Endowment for Humanities ever heard of introductory philosophy courses? This is not only outrageous in the ignorance it shows about philosophy--the mother discipline of all humanities, and sciences--and about what is going on at universities around the country, it is also offensive to the discipline of philosophy. If I were on the board of the NEH, I would be utterly embarrassed.

Friday, September 12, 2008

Applying to Phd programs?

I want to start a post for those of us who will be applying to PhD programs this fall. My hope is that we can share advice and keep each other accountable for reaching our application goals. I know that I need someone to push me a little bit, and I would hope I could push someone else (in a good way). We can post links to informative websites, thoughts about writing samples/personal statements, and so on.

Tuesday, September 02, 2008

Philosophy of Literature Fall 2008

I wanted to create a post where those of us in Anna's Philosophy of Literature Seminar (and others) can write about class discussions and so on.

Friday, August 29, 2008

The State of the Vocation

In case you missed it, Brian Leiter has an interesting new article assessing the state of our profession here.  It seems right on to me, but I wonder whether others (including my more experienced colleagues) would agree.

Wednesday, August 20, 2008

Linguistic Oddities of the South

While emailing a friend today, I noticed something odd:  I take it that a honky tonk is a kind of rowdy bar found in the southern U.S. that plays to a mostly working-class clientele.  Is anyone offended by the name "honky tonk"?  Why or why not?  Isn't the word "honky" still a racial slur toward whites?  Clearly "chinky tonks" or "kikey tonks" would be offensive.  What's the difference?

Friday, May 30, 2008

Wednesday, May 14, 2008

TTU Faculty Member Commits Canadian Human Rights Violation

Canadian Human Rights Act, Section 13. (1) It is a discriminatory practice for a person or a group of persons acting in concert to communicate telephonically or to cause to be so communicated, repeatedly, in whole or in part by means of the facilities of a telecommunication undertaking within the legislative authority of Parliament, any matter that is likely to expose a person or persons to hatred or contempt by reason of the fact that that person or those persons are identifiable on the basis of a prohibited ground of discrimination.  R.S., 1985, c. H-6, s. 13; 2001, c. 41, s. 88.

Notice that the Canadian government's own online posting of this statute is self-violating.

Update: Here is an interesting NYT article about the relevant case in Canada, and how the US differs from much of the western world with regard to hate speech protection. So do *we* have it wrong?

Thursday, April 17, 2008

A Challenge for our resident aestheticians

Maybe it's because I drank too much coffee this morning, but I literally felt ill after reading this article (click on the link for the article itself). Apparently this art student at Yale intentionally impregnated herself multiple times, inducing miscarriage each time, and made the results of her miscarriages (including blood) into an art project. Her goal was to "spark conversation and debate on the relationship between art and the human body." The exhibit will include recorded footage of the student having her miscarriages.

The student said that she felt her project is in keeping with the true goal of art, which is to be a medium for politics and ideologies and not just a commodity. I have not particularly studied anything relevant to the intersection of ethics and art, but my questions to our aesthetics experts (and others interested in responding) would be:

1) Is the real goal of art simply to be a medium for "politics and idealogies?" My intuition would be no- this view would seem to preclude art for art's sake. While you cannot divorce art from its socio-political or historical context, it would be a stretch to say that the purpose of all art is to comment on such things.
2) I don't know a lot about the intersection between ethics and art, but I can't help but think that some boundary has been crossed. Does anybody write about the intersection of the body with art? I would intuitively put forward the principle that "it's wrong to abuse your body in order to make art," but of course "abuse" would have to be defined accordingly. At the very least, I agree with the views mentioned in the article that it trivializes the decision to have an abortion and the act itself.
3) In general, if we know that an artwork has been created on the basis of some unethical action (assuming her actions were unethical), should that bear on the way we judge the art itself? I'm not an ideal critic, so I can't seem to separate art from process in this case. What if, for instance, a woman decided to become bulimic in order to make an art project, using both the vomit and footage of her purging in the exhibit? Should we judge the relevant aesthetic features (perhaps the patterns made by the vomit) apart from how the art was made? Perhaps these scenarios are not analogous, but it at least gets me thinking.

At any rate, I would love to hear your thoughts on this question, and any other issues it brings up for you.

Monday, April 14, 2008

Brain Reading...

This wired article reports on an experiment in which researchers were able to predict the decisions of the subjects up to seven seconds in advance of the subjects' actions. The scientists and the article's author make several philosophically dodgy inferences about free will, but the result is interesting in itself....

Wednesday, March 12, 2008

NY Times: "Brain Enhacement is Wrong, Right?"

Is it right to take Adderall to write a term paper or do well on a test? How is it different from taking steroids to do better in sports? There is a discussion brewing in the news about the ethical implications of taking such drugs to improve cognitive performance both in high school and universities (by both students and professors) and in the workplace. The NY Times article is linked from the title of this post.

Have you ever taken such drugs? Do you know people who have? What do you think of the practice? In the interests of confidentiality, this time alone ANONYMOUS posts WILL be allowed.

Thursday, March 06, 2008

brain reading may be right around the corner

Berkeley scientists have made significant progress:

The scientists used a functional magnetic resonance imaging machine -- a real-time brain scanner -- to record the mental activity of a person looking at thousands of random pictures: people, animals, landscapes, objects, the stuff of everyday visual life. With those recordings the researchers built a computational model for predicting the mental patterns elicited by looking at any other photograph. When tested with neurological readouts generated by a different set of pictures, the decoder passed with flying colors, identifying the images seen with unprecedented accuracy.

Sunday, February 10, 2008

When Women Rule

I thought I'd share this interesting piece by NY Times columnist Nicholas Kristof. I'd love to hear what people think--do the studies mentioned by Kristof show what is claimed they do? Could there be other explanations? Do people find evidence of such prejudices in their daily lives--do they find themselves, even, thinking and acting on this type of prejudice? If the studies' conclusions are right, could this explain, at least in part, for instance, some of Senator Hillary Clinton's losses in the Democratic primaries? How about the classroom? Do students tend to think less highly of their female professors than of their male ones? Do they tend do evaluate them less highly at the end of the term? If so, what could be done to remedy this situation?

NY Times, February 10, 2008
Op-Ed Columnist

When Women Rule

While no woman has been president of the United States — yet — the world does have several thousand years’ worth of experience with female leaders. And I have to acknowledge it: Their historical record puts men’s to shame.

A notable share of the great leaders in history have been women: Queen Hatshepsut and Cleopatra of Egypt, Empress Wu Zetian of China, Isabella of Castile, Queen Elizabeth I of England, Catherine the Great of Russia, and Maria Theresa of Austria. Granted, I’m neglecting the likes of Bloody Mary, but it’s still true that those women who climbed to power in monarchies had an astonishingly high success rate.

Research by political psychologists points to possible explanations. Scholars find that women, compared with men, tend to excel in consensus-building and certain other skills useful in leadership. If so, why have female political leaders been so much less impressive in the democratic era? Margaret Thatcher was a transformative figure, but women have been mediocre prime ministers or presidents in countries like Sri Lanka, India, Bangladesh, Pakistan, the Philippines and Indonesia. Often, they haven’t even addressed the urgent needs of women in those countries.

I have a pet theory about what’s going on.

In monarchies, women who rose to the top dealt mostly with a narrow elite, so they could prove themselves and get on with governing. But in democracies in the television age, female leaders also have to navigate public prejudices — and these make democratic politics far more challenging for a woman than for a man.

In one common experiment, the “Goldberg paradigm,” people are asked to evaluate a particular article or speech, supposedly by a man. Others are asked to evaluate the identical presentation, but from a woman. Typically, in countries all over the world, the very same words are rated higher coming from a man.

In particular, one lesson from this research is that promoting their own successes is a helpful strategy for ambitious men. But experiments have demonstrated that when women highlight their accomplishments, that’s a turn-off. And women seem even more offended by self-promoting females than men are.

This creates a huge challenge for ambitious women in politics or business: If they’re self-effacing, people find them unimpressive, but if they talk up their accomplishments, they come across as pushy braggarts.

The broader conundrum is that for women, but not for men, there is a tradeoff in qualities associated with top leadership. A woman can be perceived as competent or as likable, but not both.

“It’s an uphill struggle, to be judged both a good woman and a good leader,” said Rosabeth Moss Kanter, a Harvard Business School professor who is an expert on women in leadership. Professor Kanter added that a pioneer in a man’s world, like Hillary Rodham Clinton, also faces scrutiny on many more dimensions than a man — witness the public debate about Mrs. Clinton’s allegedly “thick ankles,” or the headlines last year about cleavage.

Clothing and appearance generally matter more for women than for men, research shows. Surprisingly, several studies have found that it’s actually a disadvantage for a woman to be physically attractive when applying for a managerial job. Beautiful applicants received lower ratings, apparently because they were subconsciously pegged as stereotypically female and therefore unsuited for a job as a boss.

Female leaders face these impossible judgments all over the world. An M.I.T. economist, Esther Duflo, looked at India, which has required female leaders in one-third of village councils since the mid-1990s. Professor Duflo and her colleagues found that by objective standards, the women ran the villages better than men. For example, women constructed and maintained wells better, and took fewer bribes.

Yet ordinary villagers themselves judged the women as having done a worse job, and so most women were not re-elected. That seemed to result from simple prejudice. Professor Duflo asked villagers to listen to a speech, identical except that it was given by a man in some cases and by a woman in others. Villagers gave the speech much lower marks when it was given by a woman.
Such prejudices can be overridden after voters actually see female leaders in action. While the first ones received dismal evaluations, the second round of female leaders in the villages were rated the same as men. “Exposure reduces prejudice,” Professor Duflo suggested.
Women have often quipped that they have to be twice as good as men to get anywhere — but that, fortunately, is not difficult. In fact, it appears that it may be difficult after all. Modern democracies may empower deep prejudices and thus constrain female leaders in ways that ancient monarchies did not.

Copyright 2008 The New York Times Company

Sunday, January 27, 2008

Linguistic Intuitions Gone Badly Awry

The intuition that the derogatory content of an epithet scopes out of every linguistic context, regardless of its occurrence (e.g. embedded under negation, in quotation, in fiction, etc.) has lead to the racial harassment charge against Professor Donald Hindley at Brandeis University for his apparent mention, not use, of the term 'wetback'.  In his Fall 2007 Latin American Studies course, Hindley said:

Mexican migrants in the United States are sometimes referred to pejoratively as 'wetbacks'.

Notice that what he said was not only true, but informative and relevant in a discussion about racism.  For details, see Bill Poser's recent entry on the Language Log.

Before we start burning Twain novels from the university library, let's all reread Frege's 'On Sense and Reference' (1892), paragraph 6, along with the First Amendment, shall we?

Update, this quote seems particularly relevant:

“Experience should teach us to be most on our guard to protect liberty when the Government’s purposes are beneficent.  Men born to freedom are naturally alert to repel invasion of their liberty by evil-minded rulers.  The greatest dangers to liberty lurk in insidious encroachment by men of zeal, well-meaning but without understanding.”

Justice Louis Brandeis, U.S. Supreme Court (dissenting opinion) Olmstead v. United States, 277 U.S. 438, 479, 72 L.Ed. 944, 957, 48 S.Ct. 564, 66 ALR 376 (1928)

Thursday, January 24, 2008

Theories of Beauty - Spring 2008

The blog is open...

Saturday, January 19, 2008

Robot Liars and Altruists!

This is amazing if true. It seems that these bots, programmed only to learn to find "food" and avoid "poison" in competition with other bot-tribes, learned to lie in order to improve their chances. Other bots evidently committed suicide for the sake of their kind!

Thursday, January 17, 2008

Why are our intuitions supposed to have some sort of privileged epistemic status?

I'm not an epistemologist, and my first pass through epistemology as an undergrad mostly left me confused. But I've had this question for a while now: What's so cool about our intuitions? Why is it, in (analytic) philosophy, that if something goes along with our intuitions, it provides some evidence to believe that it may be a more plausible? I noticed last semester that Kripke uses intuitions to get some good work done in Naming and Necessity, and I've heard a couple different professors use intuitions as a basis for some theory they're attempting to advance.

One interesting point is that the "intuitions" that we're supposed to have aren't always shared by everyone, especially non-Westerners. The article I linked to discusses this point in the context of "experimental" philosophy. Specifically, the bottom of page one and the top of page two.

At any rate, I just need someone to explain to me why intuitions do so much work for philosophy. It doesn't seem that other fields (like medicine) would accept people's intuitions as readily, and rightly so. Intuitions can be wrong, and I certainly wouldn't accept someone's intuitions as evidence when it comes to my health or something like that.

Also, it seems to me that such emphasis on intuitions only makes sense given some sort of foundationalist epistemology. At any rate, kindly remove me from the cave on this issue. Thanks.

Wednesday, January 16, 2008

Something Stinks....

Philosophers of mind have been debating for many years whether there are subjective properties of experience --- it is sometimes said that those subjective properties are what make it true that there is "something it's like" to have an experience. (Have a look, for an example, at Thomas Nagel's "What Is it Like to Be a Bat?", Philosophical Review, pp. 435-50.) Well the article in Time magazine (linked from the title of this post), called "My Nose, My Brain, My Faith," reports on some new research suggesting that there may be something it's like to believe and to disbelieve, at least insofar as the brain regions associated with believing and disbelieving also seem to be active when we respond positively or negatively to smells. But philosophers have not traditionally thought that these states have a subjective character.