Friday, December 29, 2006

The death of Gerald Ford

Now the mourning has begun. We find countless stories of a man described as 'good', 'honest', and 'principled' by friends and colleagues, both Democrats and Republicans. What a pity that such a good and honest person would make such a deeply unpopular decision, namely, to pardon Richard Nixon he crimes he did (or may) commit.

Many people have voiced views on all sides, but have a different slant. The question of whether Ford should have pardoned Nixon got us talking about Ford as president. What the hell was an unelected person doing as president in the first place? Presidents before have served terms where they lacked a vice president. The fact that Nixon sacked Spiro Agnew did not then hand whatever mandate Agnew had to his office to someone of Nixon's choosing. Ideally, Nixon should never have had a second vice president and when he was forced to resign the country should have held a special election. I genuinely think this is the big wrong. There are lots of good, decent, hard working people in the United States (and elsewhere). That doesn't qualify someone to assume the presidency of the US shortly after becoming appointed. The trouble with Ford is not merely the pardon business, but that he would ever have thought it acceptable to assume an elected office by appointment knowing full well that he was about to become America's unelected president.

Friday, December 22, 2006

The collapse of "the hierarchy of esteem"?

A recent report by the Higher Education Policy Institute claims that students select universities from a "hierarchy of esteem," choosing the most prestigious universities that will admit them. However, HEPI also claims that students could choose to live closer to home when studying and so that could challenge this "hierarchy" in higher education. The report argues (reported by the BBC):

"....It says there is a widespread and probably accurate perception that degrees from some universities are more valuable in the job market than others. Although it may be regrettable, students tend to apply to the most prestigious institutions that they think they can get into, it adds. Institutions then select the most able and employers favour candidates for jobs from those institutions. This it describes as "a vicious (or virtuous) circle that perpetuates the hierarchy of esteem". The memo says that while factors may play a part in breaking this pattern, the only way to ensure it is broken would be for the government to control admissions to universities and deny freedom of choice to students. This could mean admissions based on catchment areas as in other countries....."

For one thing, until students choose universities because of location rather than quality or esteem, then it seems this "hierarchy of esteem" will continue. Moreover, it is far from certain why this will be the case if HEPI reminds us that the thought that some degrees at universities are more valuable than others is "widespread and probably accurate"---if it were inaccurate, then perhaps there might be a problem. But that is not the case. Indeed, students rightly choose the best places to go and this, in turn, is recognized by employers. Ok. So when employers are correct to identify students from certain programmes as more capable than others it helps reinforce the good work behind creating, maintaining, and fostering such degrees. A highly successful programme will be just that and it will make it challenging or more difficult for new competition. New competition is often a good thing. However, why should we wantonly punish successful university programmes because they, well, succeed? It is insane. Some programmes do better than others in the RAE, supported by the government. Either the government supports its best programmes or it does not. I never fail to be amazed at the number of fairly radical schemes proposed for any number of bodies to alter higher education in the UK, whether it be the new 1-4 RAE scale or metrics debate or now this. Something as important as higher education surely demands greater thought and support than what we have seen lately. The mind boggles.

Brooks Blog Readership

The current readership of this blog is:

United States - 66%
United Kingdom - 18%
Germany - 3%
Italy - 2%
Canada - 2%
"Unknown country"(!) - 2%
Sweden - 1%
Kenya - 1%
Israel - 1%
France - 1%
Finland - 1%
Colombia - 1%
Austrai - 1%

These figures are based on the last 100 visitors to the blog. General information can be found here.

Wednesday, December 20, 2006

Who needs "a coalition of the willing" when you can get your paws on "an alliance of moderation"?

...or so Tony Blair asks us today. He argues that "moderate" Muslim states should form "an alliance of moderation" to keep states like Iran in check. The BBC reports him saying the following (so it must be true!):

"We must recognise the strategic threat the government of Iran poses - not the people, possibly not all of its ruling elements, but those presently in charge of its policy. They seek to pin us back in Lebanon, in Iraq and in Palestine. Our response should be to expose what they are doing, build the alliances to prevent it and pin them back across the whole of the region."

Ok. So Blair doesn't like the Iranian President. Blair and Bush have done everything possible to discredit him (and his wide popularity in Iran), even going so far to claim he was one of the persons chiefly responsible for the hostage taking of US embassy workers in Iran many moons ago. I find two things hilarious about Blair's position. No, ok, three things.

First, the choice is between "moderation" and "extremism"---are these the only two paths for Muslim states? Not only is this categorization a bit patronizing, but suggests that Muslim states cannot aspire beyond moderation without being some kind of totalitarian terrorist state. It's nonsense.

Second, Iran is not the cause of the world's problems. I have argued before (admittedly whilst a graduate student in grad journal) that Iran may be a helpful place to look at if one wants to spread democracy in the region. Iran and Turkey have held regular elections for some time now---we may not like how they select candidates, but then again we don't like how buckets of money select candidates for us in liberal democracies either. There are at least half a million things I dislike about Iran. But their elections are not won by persons holding 90 or more percent of the vote, as we'd find in Egypt and the good ol' days in Iraq. Not only is Iran not the source of the world's problems, they show that elections can take root and be taken seriously in the region. It is true: they could be done better. So guess what? Our task should be to help them develop what they have, perhaps rather than castigate them for the progress they have made over their neighbours. If we believe in democracy, we want to foster it--not accept it only when it agrees with what we think is right.

Third, who are the lucky states in this "alliance of moderation"? Afghanistan, Iraq, and Saudi Arabia? If so, not so moderate are they...?! Heck, Afghanistan and Iraq aren't even in control of their full territories yet, so we have some pretty nifty folks to help keep the torch of "moderation" (whatever this is) for the region shining bright.

In the end, it is all madness. Rather than working with the world as we find it and---to borrow a phrase from Ronald Dworkin---"making it the best it can be" our political leaders seek to denigrate its enemies even where they could become far more useful allies than the totalitarian nightmares, erm, "alliance of moderation" we are now being sold. The general public must get wise to this nonsense. And the sooner, the better.

Tuesday, December 19, 2006

A new approach to marking!

One alternative to a previously discussed method of marking exams is this one, compliments of Leiter's Law Reports. Frightening stuff---I prepare using stairs to shotguns!!!

Monday, December 18, 2006

How could a third be wrong....?

A third of UK graduates believe they have chosen the wrong degree. (Full story is here.) An excerpt:

'A third of graduates believe they studied the wrong course at university, a survey from the Chartered Institute of Personnel and Development suggests. Most of these said, with hindsight, they would have taken a more scientific or technical course, a business-based or a professional qualification ... The survey found that within 12 months of graduating, 63% are paying into a pension. But evidence of a gender gap emerged again, with only 57% of women who graduated in 2005 saving for a pension compared to 70% of men. The poll found two-thirds of those surveyed felt their university could have offered better career advice'.

So why exactly did any student think anything went wrong? The worry seems to be that in the end far fewer started in careers with a proper pension scheme. Does this mean that students genuinely think they made a mistake of what to study at university? I doubt it. See the following excerpt from the same news piece:

'.....The overwhelming majority of respondents were positive about their time as a student - 90% said they would go to university if they had their time again. And 84% said their time at university had been helpful in gaining independence and life skills. Three-quarters said it had helped them in terms of communication skills, presentation skills, team-work and confidence...'.

The problem seems to be not that students thought they spent their time poorly, but that their expectations for post-graduation were unrealistic. Then perhaps they might be right to think they could have received better advice to lower unrealistic expectations, but it isn't entirely clear that they would choose their degrees differently otherwise. Given how few students apparently take maths at A-level, it is hard to believe so many honestly think they should have studied science. Don't get me wrong! I think if this was true, it would be great: I nearly pursued a minor in chemistry myself---I loved it. However, it seems too implausible.

The Philosopher's Carnival #40

Welcome to this 40th edition of the Philosopher's Carnival! I highlight some of the many great posts appearing across the web these past few weeks:

The Wages of Ignorance has a terrific post on method. A taster: 'What I really like about Williamson's armchair philosophy though is not just its insistence on rigour, persistence, and patience in using our philosophical methods, but that we must embrace an accompanying intellectual honesty in evaluating how far we have fulfilled the requirements of good philosophical work'.

Thoughts, Arguments, and Rants goes after category mistakes. The discussion is great, although I am not surprised to discover the Wikipedia gets it wrong!

The Splintered Mind has some wonderful reflections on Chalmers and modal rationalism. A taster: 'Now, actually, I’m quite happy with that, but I’m not sure Chalmers should be, and it isn’t the tenor of The Conscious Mind as I read it. And if materialism is true, then I’d say it’s not -- or shouldn’t be -- construed as a metaphysical thesis at all, but rather as a scientific thesis, a claim only about the “laws of nature”, and not a claim about Kripkean “a posteriori metaphysical necessity” or the like'.

Are democracy and liberalism inseperable? There is a debate here at Blackthumb. Hmmm. My view? Well, I had thought Zakaria had conclusively shown that illiberal democracies exist all over the world. If so, democracy and liberalism are at least distinct. Thus, the two can (and do) come apart. The discussion is interesting with great comments. Elsewhere, we find debates on problems between power and liberty well worth a look as well. The n-Category Cafe looks at MacIntyre on rational judgement that will be of interest, too.

Brains has interesting thoughts on heterophenomenology (did I get the spelling correct...?!). An excerpt: 'We can (defeasibly) infer whatever (descriptions of) mental states our best evidence tells us we can infer. It may be that we infer (descriptions of) beliefs, but we may also infer (descriptions of) desires, chunks of information stored in working memory, conscious experiences, or whathaveyou. If we infer (descriptions of) beliefs, our descriptions may or may not match the subject’s descriptions, and the same is true of any mental states. For instance, when my daughter tells me she is not hungry, I rarely if ever infer that she has a belief that she is not hungry (as mandated by HF). Sometimes I infer she is not hungry, whereas other times I infer she doesn’t like what she is eating. It depends on what other evidence I have. Furthermore, I have evidence that my inferences are pretty reliable, even though they go beyond what HF allows (though in other ways, they are more prudent). In short, what data about mental states we extract from first-person reports should depend on the total evidence we have (linguistic, behavioral, and neurological)'.

PrawfsBlawg has some teriffic posts on shame punishment, including here, here, here, and here. For those still open to shame punishment, see my papers on Nussbaum either here or here.

Over at the Leiter Law Reports, Leiter posts a wonderful paper on interdisciplinary appointments in law. I strongly encourage readers to see this and the ensuing discussion. Apt comments follow over at meditations71 as well.

Is the blogosphere imploding? One should definitely check out this post and discussion over at Crooked Timber on this.

What about Chinese philosophy in the US? The Leiter Reports has an excellent post and discussion here. My view? Well, as our world continues to shrink, philosophers everywhere will simply have to learn more about each other's tradition. Today, few programmes seem to teach Chinese (or other Asian) philosophy. I doubt this can remain the case in twenty years.

Other fine posts around the web:

Larry Solum on path dependency--an excerpt: 'The phrase "path dependency" is used to express the idea that history matters--choices made in the past can affect the feasibility (possibility or cost) of choices made in the future. This entry in the Legal Theory Lexicon introduces this idea to law students, especially first-year law students, with an interest in legal theory'.

Brood comb on familiar faces -- an excerpt: 'This a priori relation of possibilities is there, be it if what we characterize as two is in front of us, or if as in the case with the experiment done with the kids mentioned in the other post, one or both of the things are tracked (as hidden behind the screen), or even if we have imaginary gestalt. This is, I think, what is behind our intuitive understanding of what we express by 1+1=2. The equation shouldn’t be taken as identifying two separate sides, namely a)1+1 and b)2 , but as expressing that the whole, if it is characterized as two, can be also characterized as one and another one. The identity is in the whole, and the equality is expressing the necessity that in every possible world the whole which is 2, is also 1+1 and vice versa'.

Lemmings on context sensitivity---a taster: 'What would a normal or standard location be anyway? To account for the 'the evening sky' part it thus seems that we need to contextualize after all. Perhaps a mixed approach will do. On a mixed approach, 'x is the brightest object in the evening sky' is true at a scenario iff x is the brightest object to a standard observer located at the center under standard conditions. Even though we appeal to the center here, we do not run into trouble, as the analysans is a modal claim'.

Knowability looks at 'taking epistemology seriously': 'You might think that I’m illicitly assuming that for any pair of consecutive rows the question ‘Do they have the same alethic status?’ has an answer. Sadly, no! Most everyone will agree that ‘true’ goes in the first row, and they’ll agree that ‘Do the first and second rows have the same alethic status?’ has an answer: ‘yes, they do have the same status’. And most everyone will agree that that ‘Do the second and third rows have the same alethic status?’ has an answer: ‘yes, they do have the same status’. It doesn’t take a genius to see where this is going. If one is like Michael Tye, for instance, one will agree with what I just said about the first three rows, but one will hold that ‘Do the nth and (n + 1)st rows have the same alethic status?’ sometimes has an answer but sometimes it doesn’t. Fine: when does it first not have an answer? We know it has answer for the first three rows. Does it first fail to have an answer for rows 10,000 and 10,001? Then that’s our sharp cutoff. That is, whereas the pumpkin claim was true and not false when evaluated with respect to S10,000, there is no answer to whether it’s true and not false when evaluated with respect to S10,001.Eventually, we take seriously both epistemicism and nihilism!'

If we blog alone in the forest and no one reads it, does it exist? I suppose the answer is 'yes' if God takes a peek. Of course, that requires that God exists... Speaking of God, have a problem with the Ten Commandments? Then you will appreciate Phil for Humanity's post here.

A puzzle on fictional names is discussed over at 'what is it like to be a blog', not a bat. An excerpt: 'Now I agree with Woods that there is a difference between fictional entities and nonesuches like the present King of France. I think there is a genuine puzzle here which cries out for explanation. I am not sure how to approach explaining this puzzle. I’m happy to hear what you, dear reader, think'.

Frankipedia argues that all existence is linked to technology here. Problems with evolutionary psychology are discussed here.

Matrix fans will enjoy this post from neurophilosopher.

Honourable mention goes to Hell's Handmaiden, the Voltage Gate, Balanced Life Center, and Sportive Thoughts. Let me also acknowledge this post on multiple selves.

I would also like to note a new blog I have just discovered, Epistemic Virtue, cared for by the great Duncan Pritchard. It is well worth a careful look!

Finally, Julius Speaks mentions the top ten books to influence him. When I think about the top ten books to influence me, I immediately think of certain historical texts (in no particular order):

1. Plato's Republic
2. Hobbes's Leviathan
3. Locke's Letter (oooh, I hear you all say--not the Two Treatises..? Well, if it was a top 11...)
4. Kant's Groundwork
5. Kant's Metaphysics of Morals
6. Hegel's Science of Logic
7. Hegel's Philosophy of Right
8. Mill's On Liberty
9. Green's Lectures on the Principles of Political Obligation
10. Bosanquet's Philosophical Theory of the State

Yes, yes, I know: millions of others belong in such a list as well. However, when I think of a top ten since, I am more likely to name papers by folks such as Martha Nussbaum, Bob Stern, Leif Wenar, or maybe Fabian Freyenhagen, rather than books. The times they are a-changin'. Articles seem the way to go these days. We all know classic papers that become important books, but it's through papers we often make our names, not books. That is one sign o' the times. (How often do you catch Prince references in a philosophy post...?!?!)

The 41st edition of the Philosopher's Carnival will take place in 2007 at Westminster Wisdom. Many thanks for taking the time to drop by the Brooks Blog. I hope you come back again!

Wednesday, December 13, 2006

Simon Caney to Oxford

This may be old news to many of you, but perhaps mentioning now that it is officially announced on Oxford's main website. Professor Simon Caney (Political Theory) is moving from Birmingham to join the Politics Department at Oxford University. An official announcement is here. Simon is one of the very best in global justice. His latest work is Justice Beyond Borders: A Global Political Theory published in 2004 by Oxford University Press. He's a dear friend who once worked at Newcastle. He is a major catch for an outstanding department.

Friday, December 08, 2006

Famous people from Connecticut

Are here:

Dean Acheson statesman, Middletown
Ethan Allan American Revolutionary soldier, Litchfield
Benedict Arnold American Revolutionary general, Norwich
P. T. Barnum showman, Bethel
Henry Ward Beecher clergyman, Litchfield
John Brown abolitionist, Torrington
Samuel Colt inventor, Hartford
Oliver Ellsworth jurist, Windsor
Eileen Farrell soprano, Willimantic
Charles Goodyear inventor, New Haven
Nathan Hale American Revolutionary officer, Coventry
Robert N. Hall inventor, New Haven
Katharine Hepburn actress, Hartford
Collis Potter Huntington financier, Harwinton
Charles Ives composer, Danbury
Edwin H. Land inventor
Annie Leibovitz photographer, Waterbury
John Pierpont Morgan financier, Hartford
Frederick Law Olmsted landscape designer, Hartford
Kenneth H. Olsen inventor, Stratford
Rosa Ponselle soprano, Meriden
Adam Clayton Powell, Jr. congressman, New Haven
Benjamin Spock pediatrician, New Haven
Harriet Beecher Stowe author, Litchfield
Noah Webster lexicographer, West Hartford

Wednesday, November 22, 2006

The Stern Review on Climate Change

...can be found here with the "frequently asked questions" section found here. I am no expert in this area, however, what I see sounds quite sensible at first blush. The Review recommends that we reduce our CO2 emissions substantively in order to avoid continued warming of the planet. Failure to do so will lead to potentially catastrophic consequences by the end of the century. The cost in making the reductions will amount to about 1% of Gross Domestic Product by the middle of the century (+/-3%). A brief excerpt:

====
".....Global GDP is currently around $35 trillion, so if the full 1% were applied to the current period, it would imply around $350 billion in costs. Global GDP is likely to be around $100 trillion by 2050, so this would mean annual costs in the order of $1 trillion by then.

These costs are not trivial in absolute terms, but they will not disrupt economic growth. The overall impact can be thought of as equivalent to a one-off increase in the average price level of 1%. Since it may be interpreted as a cost or price index we should see the 1% as applying to either consumption or income.

The costs of inaction would be likely to be much more significant in terms of damage to the world economy......

....The cost may be unevenly distributed amongst countries. For equity reasons, rich countries may at least initially need to take on more of the costs. For illustration, if the costs of mitigation are 1% of global GDP, then if the rich countries agreed to pay 20% more in the initial decades (1.2% of GDP), then this would allow poorer countries – accounting for 80% of the world’s population – to pay only 0.2% of GDP.

If some countries take action that is much more significant than others over long periods of time, this may lead to impacts on the competitiveness of some firms or sectors, particularly in energy-intensive industries. It is important to use quantitative analysis to assess the size of these impacts, and to find ways to reduce the problems. If all countries act in a broadly similar way, there will be no impact on competitiveness or on firms’ decisions to invest in particular locations. For some industries, a global sectoral agreement in advance of a broader international agreement could offer opportunities to co-ordinate efficient and effective action.

Taking no action to reduce emissions will also penalise some sectors more than others – for example, as the climate changes the spatial distribution of tourism and agriculture....."
====

What I found interesting about this is that the cost to us---1% of global GDP---is similar to the cost that Thomas Pogge claims wealthy countries should pay to end severe poverty (1% of GDP from affluent states). Thus, for less than 2% of global GDP we might eradicate global poverty and avoid global warming. Such a sum of money would be far from insignificant and difficult to manage and allocate effectively, but not beyond all possible hope. The solution to both problems may be easier than many may think...at least in terms of costs.

Giving up the dollar

We now learn the Federal Reserve will try once more to get Americans away from dollars and towards coins, introducing (again) the one dollar coin. The idea is that dollars simply don't last as long as coins: coins get more bang for one's buck...literally, in this case. Will it catch on? I have been used to one pound coins for years and can see others doing likewise. The problem may lie with American wallets: when friends and family see my wallet, they notice it has a place for coins. American wallets for men lack these. Moving to coins will mean more than getting used to something different, but involve entirely new lines of wallets as well. Not a problem to end all problems, but perhaps another reason to doubt Americans are ready for this move.

Wednesday, November 15, 2006

The Cafe Philosophique

is a creature I haven't had interaction with before. However, I am now happily on the bill with my colleague Peter Jones. We'll be debating positive and negative freedom, where I'll be arguing in favour of a conception of positive freedom and Peter in favour of negative freedom. It should be fun and I nothing but wonderful things from colleagues who have participated in these events in the past. We'll be live at The Trent's World HQ in Newcastle on February 5th (a Monday).

Sunday, November 12, 2006

The personal cost of prisons

...is well demonstrated in this Hartford Courant piece on how imprisonment has effected the children of those in prison. At the moment, one in six children living in my home state's capital of Hartford has a parent in prison. It makes for sober reading.

Thursday, November 09, 2006

The Philosophy Family Tree: who is in your family?

Josh Dever's wonderful "The Philosophy Family Tree" is something else. You can look up your supervisor and see who supervised them and so on. Like a family tree, the philosophy family tree lists a name (as if one's parent) and then lists their students (as if their children), their students' students (as if their grandchildren), etc.

And so what did I find out? Several terrific facts. I had two Ph.D. supervisors: Robert Stern and Leif Wenar at the Department of Philosophy at the University of Sheffield, UK. Here are my family trees:

(Stern line)
Thom Brooks
-Robert Stern
--Edward Craig
---Jonathan Bennett
----Arthur Prior
-----John Findlay
------Ernst Mally
-------Alexius Meinong
--------Franz Brentano
---------Friedrich Adolf Trendelenburg
----------Karl Reinhold
-----------Immanuel Kant
------------Martin Knutzen
-------------Christian Wolff
--------------Gottfried Leibniz

Not a bad tree, huh? Cousins and great-cousins include Alfred Tarski, Kit Fine, Alastair Norcross, and Mark Sacks.

Now onto my tree with Leif. Leif was supervised by both Robert Nozick (family line A) and T.M. Scanlon (family line B). My trees here:

(Wenar line A)
Thom Brooks
-Leif Wenar
--Robert Nozick
---Carl Hempel
----Hans Reichenbach
-----Emmy Noether
------Paul Gordon
-------Karl Jacobi
--------Enno Dirksen
---------Johann Meyer
----------Abraham Kaestner
-----------Christian Hauser
------------Johann Wichmannhausen
-------------Otto Menche
--------------Gottfried Leibniz (again!)
(Distinguished cousins and great-cousins include Elijah Millgram, Matthias Risse, and Tamar Gendler.)

Now onto (Leif line B)
Thom Brooks
-Leif Wenar
--T.M. Scanlon
---Burton Dreben
----W.V.O. Quine
-----Alfred Whitehead
------John McTaggart
-------James Ward
--------Hermann Lotze
---------Christian Hermann Weisse
(Here distinguished cousins include Charles Beitz, Gary Kemp, and Stephen Yablo.)

Simply amazing stuff. Key figures come to life as never before!

Monday, November 06, 2006

Great news for Queen's University Belfast

I have just heard from my old chum Stefan Andreasson that Queen's University Belfast has joined the prestigious Russell Group. For those who do not know the group, it is essentially a lobbying body representing the top (now) 20 research-led universities in Britain, including Birmingham, Cambridge, Manchester, Oxford, Sheffield, UCL....and Newcastle, of course. QUB's recognition as a member of this club is long overdue. I'm delighted.

Monday, October 30, 2006

Carnegie ethics

...is online here. Highly recommended!

An honour few universities achieve

...is happening at Queen's University Belfast. Numerous people associated with QUB from former students and teachers to security guards have written poems about the university. These poems are being put into an anthology. It is a major event, too, including work by the great Seamus Heaney. If only we did that at Newcastle.........

Friday, October 27, 2006

Post 500

Wow. I'm already at my 500th post. I can't believe how well this blog has taken off since I started blogging in June earlier this year. There are so many to thank, not least Stefan Andreasson, Larry Solum, and, most especially, Brian Leiter. As I creep towards 10,000 hits, a few reflections.

I often hear from some colleagues that blogging is a mistake, that it can be a mistake. I suppose that's only true if spreading company secrets and betraying trust, something you'll never find here. I've found blogging wonderfully liberating: we're not alone. I enjoy little more than finding some engaging comments each day to previous posts across so many areas, from shame punishment to deliberative democracy. I recommend blogging to everyone.

Finally, I must most sincerely thank you, the readers. I hope this blog continues to give you something of interest. Always feel free to let me know how it can be improved or more helpful.

UPDATE: In autumn 2010, this blog changed to more narrowly focus on ethics, politics, and public policy. As a result, many of the earlier posts have been deleted.

Now on to 10,000....

Friday, October 13, 2006

The Nobel Peace Prize goes to...

...Muhammad Yunus (an economist) and the Grameen Bank in Bangladesh! The full story is here.

Monday, October 02, 2006

"Pogge and His Critics" - November in Newcastle

The conference website is now online. The event will take place on Monday-Tuesday, November 20-21, 2006 at the University of Newcastle. Speakers include Liz Ashford (St Andrews), Thom Brooks (Newcastle), Paula Casal (Reading) tbc, Lisa Fuller (Sheffield), Carol Gould (Temple), Tim Hayward (Edinburgh), John Tasioulas (Oxford), Leif Wenar (Sheffield), and Andrew Williams (Warwick), with individual responses from Thomas Pogge (Columbia).

Please contact me if you have any questions on how you can attend.

Friday, September 29, 2006

Bad news: terror bill passed

This is dreadful news (BBC report here) that President Bush is about to approve legislation removing protections for terrorist suspects. We may feel nothing wrong with immediately locking up actual terrorists (although all are due a fair trial), but there is something very wrong about a system that would rather imprison the innocent than acquit the guilty. This safeguard is a bedrock of common law. Bush and our political leaders are about to tear this to pieces. (Excellent commentary at Crooked Timber and Leiter Reports.) Expect torture against US hostages to rise in response.

Life is never easy for the biggest kid on the block: there are plenty of nasty states. However, when you're the most powerful, you set a powerful example to others. If your conduct is (let's just say) less than exemplary, it's a green light to others and undermines your (moral) authority to do the right thing. What a mess.

Monday, September 25, 2006

The kindness of philosophers

One topic I rarely see discussed is the kindness of philosophers. We are an oft overworked, unpaid lot spending our time trying to solve puzzles and rethink timeless issues and concerns. From the beginning, I have been genuinely blown away by the generosity (in advice and time) by all members of the profession, both in individual conversations and in scholarly matters (pertaining to journal/book refereeing). What is most rewarding about being a philosopher? Being part of a wonderful and oft supportive community of philosophers. This more than compensates from the weak financial incentives to join.

Monday, September 11, 2006

Balzan Prize: Quentin Skinner

Quentin Skinner (Cambridge) has been awarded one of four Balzan Prizes for 2006 for his contributions to political thought (access is subscription only).

Metrics to hit the Arts and Humanities in Britain...?

The Times Higher reports that a working group has recommended a metrics based system to assess arts and humanties departments in future. At the present, these departments are assessed through peer review. Peer review panels decide, effectively, the quality of departments such that the higher a department's quality, the higher funding the department will receive from the government. Over recent years, higher quality meant higher funding only with scores of 5 (and 5* and 6*) out of 5.

The government has been looking for ways of bringing metrics into the mix. The current proposal is the latest version of this. It is worrying. We learn:

"Research output productivity---the number of publications, performances, exhibitions or books---would also be worth up to 30 points. Organising research conferences or editing collections of essays would also count here."

This is worrying because whereas the RAE has concerned itself with quality through peer review, this metrics approach brings in only a worry about quantity. I doubt this is the best way to see getting the most out of what little public money we receive. It is true that peer review has some place---grants awarded (normally peer reviewed) will also be given much weight---but one must be sceptical about trying to come up with fixed numbers for something that defies such quantification....

It always astounds me. British universities try so hard to compete successfully with American universities. Yet, the time we spend in Britain worrying about standards may well be best spent on improving the standards of our work...instead of constantly spending more time on thinking about how best we might try to assess the standard. Harvard and Yale don't use a RAE---why us? All that extra time we lose is spent by competitors doing what we want to do--produce first rate work. Some things I have sympathy for---such as second markers---but some things I do not.

(Full story is here.)

Tuesday, August 29, 2006

SSRN changes - political science

It has come to my attention that changes at the SSRN are on the horizon. Readers will already know of their helpful databases concerning law, business, economics, and accounting. The SSRN, however, is expanding in two ways. First, they are trying to make greater inroads outside the US. A new series in European law will be under way soon (if not already). I am hoping Newcastle will soon have a series on SSRN in a shortwhile too, as more British universities post paper series on SSRN.

Second, the SSRN has decided to expand their database to a new subject: political science. It will be interesting to see how this takes shape. I quite appreciate the SSRN as an invaluable vehicle for disseminating research, especially in rough draft form. However, much of my work fits well into law generally defined. I will be curious to see how quickly this new database expands and takes root. I'll certainly trumpet the idea around Newcastle's Politics department.

Saturday, August 26, 2006

Happy Hegel Day

Happy Hegel Day to one and all---well, on Sunday, 27th August that is! Georg Wilhelm Friedrich Hegel was born this day in 1770, now 236 years ago. Surely, one of the finest philosophers of all time. Even if his views on speculative logic are a bit too hard to swallow....

Thursday, August 24, 2006

Feminist legal theory resources

Ann Bartow has posted a terrific set of resources at Feminist Legal Theory For Beginners?. Many thanks to Larry Solum for the link.

Monday, August 21, 2006

The legacy of John Rawls...has arrived!

Fabian Freyenhagen and my The Legacy of John Rawls is doing alright: we should be going paperback by January with a new edition....if sales stay strong. See Amazon (US or UK).

Friday, August 18, 2006

UK philosophy and politics jobs

In general, the best place to access information on jobs in the UK in philosophy and politics can be found at http://jobs.ac.uk -- if you click on philosophy or politics, I've linked directly to the relevant part of the site.

In addition, readers may want to check out the jobs sections at the Guardian and with the Times Higher Education Supplement.

Monday, August 14, 2006

Philosophical Writings

I have just accepted an invitation to the editorial board of Philosophical Writings, edited by Michael-John Turp. Their website can be found here. Information about the journal is here:

Philosophical Writings, the journal for advanced postgraduates and newacademics, is currently accepting essays for the next issue. Submissions are invited on any area of Philosophy so long as they are treated in an analytic style. Founded in 1996, Philosophical Writings is an international journal published tri-annually in the University of Durham's Philosophy Department.Submission guidelines are available on our webpage:http://www.dur.ac.uk/philosophical.writings

Submissions should be sent to: The Editors, Philosophical Writings, Department of Philosophy, 50 Old Elvet, Durham, DH1 3HN, United Kingdom. Tel: 0191 334 6550 / Fax: 0191 334 6551 /Email: mailto:Philosophical.Writings@dur.ac.ukk

Tuesday, August 08, 2006

Belated congrats to Freyenhagen, Hough, and Ryan

Belated congratulations to Dr Fabian Freyenhagen, Gerry Hough , and Dr Doug Ryan wo have recently, formally received their PhD's from Sheffield University's Philosophy Department. In recent years, Sheffield has done incredibly well in placing graduates in permanent and temporary positions across the UK and Ireland. For example, the following have all graduated recently from Sheffield (noting current position):

There are surely far more on the way. A truly remarkable list of recent success, bound to grow quickly. My guess is Doug Ryan is next. So if anyone knows a department that needs a fantastic philosopher of colour/metaphysician....

Welcome to Tynemouth


I live in the beautiful city of Newcastle upon Tyne, in the North East of England. What does it look like? Well, the city centre looks a bit like the above. I've just moved this past weekend to Tynemouth on the North Sea coast. What does it look like? Well, this is what I see just 20 mins walk from my home. Paradise.

Good news for bad students

Good news for bad students. Often students worry that performing poorly in their studies will reflect badly on their hopes for seeking employment. Luckily for these poor souls, employers only rarely care which university you go to (14%) and what degree classification you've earned (24%). Phew! Now let's have a second round of pints....

Monday, August 07, 2006

How many universities are too much?

Jo Wolff posts the following:

======
This question is prompted by visits to a number of smaller (in terms of population) countries in the past year or two: what counts as a saturation point for a country in terms of having enough universities? To focus the question, consider only those universities - call them research universities - which can award PhDs, and actually do so on a regular basis. Of course universities differ in size, but still, based on nothing more than a few alcohol-fuelled conversations with philosophers from Estonia, Denmark, Norway, Ireland, Croatia, Hungary, Israel and Portugal, here is my thesis: a country is unlikely to be able to sustain much more than one research university for each million of its population.

By this calculation the US should have about 275 research universities, the UK about 60, Canada 30, and Australia 20. You can check out the populations of the countries of the world here. I don't know how to check how many PhD awarding institutions there are in different countries. The figures work out reasonably well for the UK. There are more than 60 universities, but some of these barely have a research mission. Canada and Australia can't be too far off. As for the US, is 275 a reasonable estimate of the number of research universities?

Of course there are many developing countries which have nothing like one university per million. But I'm interested to know whether this is a reasonable maximum. Are there countries which manage to have more than (roughly) one PhD awarding institution per million? And has there been any discussion of this question?

=====

My reply? Well, I say only the following:

This is a fascinating question. For one thing (against the view of one commentator above), I think it ridiculous to assume there should be only one university....but it looks like a troll message so I'll just leave it at that.

My guess is that perhaps (as much as I am all in favour of the expansion of higher education) one university for every one million people is a bit much. Thinking only of my beloved state of Connecticut, the major research universities are clearly Yale followed by UConn and then by Wesleyan, Central SCU, and Southern SCU, perhaps CT College, too. That's two admittedly very major PhD awarding universities followed by a handful...and I simply don't know if all the others award PhD's or not (and my apologies for not knowing). In terms of research universities, I would have thought that my home state of 5+ million people had two or three...although a great many other colleges/universities of note (not least Trinity College, etc.).

All that said, it is a good question. How much should each country have? Do some countries support too many or too few? No easy answers.

Monday, July 31, 2006

Looking to submit an article to a law review...?

Over at the Leiter Law Reports, Brian has posted some excellent items on publishing in law reviews both here and here. For those less familiar, law reviews work very differently than other academic journals.

When submitting a paper to an academic journal, personal information is deleted from the paper. One's qualifications, professional job title, etc. will be of no importance at all. Refereeing is almost always anonymous and double-blind. Referees will be experts in the field from all over the world. Decisions may take at least two months.

Law reviews are entirely different. Many require you provide personal information: one's qualifications, professional job title, etc. may help/hurt chances of publication. Refereeing is not always anonymous and double-blind. The referees are often graduate students studying law at said university law review. (Thus, The University of Chicago Law Review's referees will be graduate students studying law at Chicago's law school.) Because the referees are largely limited to one small pool of students, the norm for authors is to submit to a large number of law reviews at once. This is acceptable because there is no chance that the same pair of eyes will referee the paper for different journals. Decisions can often be quite quick, although perhaps non-existent elsewhere: I have submitted papers to journals that never acknowledged receipt (nor denied it) nor ever made a decision.

The websites above have useful information for anyone looking for more specific advice on submitting papers to specific law reviews.

Saturday, July 22, 2006

Next academic year

I am already looking forward to the next academic year and for good reason: I've just learned that I'll have the year off on research leave (thanks in part to winning a research leave grant from the Arts & Humanities Research Council). This will allow me to complete a pressing book on Hegel---Hegel's Political Philosophy: A Systematic Reading of the Philosophy of Right (Edinburgh University Press)---and projects on the philosophy of punishment and the right to trial by jury.

Whilst I won't be teaching/supervising nor continuing as co-director of our Ph.D. programme, I will continue to look after our excellent weekly seminars in political philosophy: the Newcastle Political Philosophy Workshops (often held with the support of Newcastle Law School). Past speakers have included Richard Bellamy (UCL), Chris Berry (Glasgow), David Boucher (Cardiff), Rowan Cruft (Stirling), John Horton (Keele), Duncan Kelly (Sheffield), Brian Leiter (Texas), Wayne Martin (Essex), Matt Matravers (York), David Miller (Oxford), Monica Mookherjee (Keele), Brian O'Connor (University College Dublin), Shane O'Neill (Queen's Univ Belfast), Soran Reader (Durham), Alison Stone (Lancaster), Leif Wenar (Sheffield), Jonathan Wolff (UCL), postgraduates in politics at Newcastle, as well as my Newcastle colleagues Peter Jones, Ian O'Flynn, Derek Bell, Graham Long, me(!) and Richard Mullender (Law)---together one of the biggest groups of political philosophers in a British department. Speakers for this coming year include Jerry Cohen (Oxford), Wayne Davis (Georgetown), Andrew Dobson (Keele), Matthew Festenstein (York), John Gardner (Oxford/Yale), Dudley Knowles (Glasgow), Serena Olsaretti (Cambridge), Joseph Raz (Columbia/Oxford), Robert Stern (Sheffield), and Adam Swift (Oxford), kicking off with a visit by Henry Richardson (Georgetown) in September.

I will also be organizing conferences on Hegel's early writings in Oxford and Thomas Pogge's work in Newcastle.

Making Money in Philosophy

This site has had a lot of traffic since Brian Leiter plugged my memo on ALCS. I've decided to re-post this memo here---and, again, my thanks to Jo Wolff for telling me about the ALCS in the first place.


I recently received the following email from the ALCS:
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Dear Dr Thom Brooks,

ALCS would be grateful for your help in communicating the benefits of membership of ALCS to your colleagues. Many of them may have been contacted already but we feel that recommendations from existing members is the most positive way of reaching writers for whom we are holding funds.It would be helpful if you could mention us, for example, at your departmental meeting or on your departmental bulletin board, directing them towards our website (http://www.alcs.co.uk/) or passing on our telephone number/email address. Please mention that anyone with an ISBN to their credit, either as author, editor or contributor, is eligible to register with ALCS. We are aware that we are holding fees for many of these writers and even if they don’t currently have educational photocopying royalties, there are various miscellaneous payments which are made every March. Also, those who have contributed articles to journals with ISSNs from 2003 onwards can register their credits and receive their share of photocopying royalties available. We would be grateful if you could forward the email below to your colleagues encouraging them, like you, to become a member of ALCS.

Many thanks for your attention and any help you can give. If you have any concerns about forwarding this email, we would be happy to hear your views.

Yours sincerely

Colette Scourse

Membership Services Manager

Please forward this section----------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------
Dear Writer,

ALCS is the UK Collecting Society for royalties earned through the educational photocopying of books. There are licensing schemes, administered by the Copyright Licensing Agency, in place in UK Schools, Colleges and Universities and also licences for Business, the NHS and Government. Additionally, there is a new scheme for the photocopying of Journal (Serial) articles.

This email has been passed to you by a current member of ALCS.Anyone with an ISBN to their credit, either as author, editor or contributor, is eligible to register with ALCS. Even if there is currently no educational photocopying royalties for your specific titles, there are various miscellaneous payments which are made every March – but only to registered authors. The journals scheme is for anyone who has contributed articles to journals or magazines with ISSNs from 2003 onwards. The registered credits generate a share of photocopying royalties available. If you would like more information, please do not hesitate to contact us, by email at membership@alcs.co.uk or by phone on 020 7395 0600 (ask for ‘membership services’). Alternatively, you can visit our website at www.alcs.co.uk.

Yours sincerely


Colette Scourse
Membership Services Manager
--------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------
I strongly encourage all UK readers to join immediately. Joining ALCS allows you to collect monies already due to you from copyright royalties. You can't collect, if you don't join. One philosopher I know has earned £3,000 this past year in copyright royalties paid to him by the ALCS. Needless to say, I joined immediately..........

It's so hard to say sorry....British juvenile justice reforms

The Lord Chancellor, Lord Falconer, now has the solution for tackling juvenile crime: make them say sorry to their victims (story here). He is quoted as saying: "A face-to-face apology is often quite difficult for a young person to do ... Getting a young person to apologise face to face and make amends is an important part of their learning."

It is certainly true that recognizing one's harm to others can have a rehabilitative moment, namely, instilling guilt in wrongdoers who lack it. This is something I've written about in a paper on Martha Nussbaum's work. Her claim is that shame can instill guilt in those who lack guilt. This is certainly true (and, as she notes, guilt can shame as well). However, she argues that we should not use shame punishments because of the damage to dignity (amongst other reasons) it causes. I counter this by arguing that shame punishments that did not damage dignity can be a rather good thing on her own count: they would instill a sense of guilt in the remorseless (which she commends) and they honour an important aspect of our humanity---after all, Nussbaum thinks we ought not be Hiding from Humanity.

This paper makes this case by defending U.S. v. Gementera. (I have discussed this case previously.) In this case, Shawn Gementera had committing more serious crimes more frequently. He didn't feel remorse because he believed his crime---stealing mail---was victimless. The judge "sentenced" him to stand in front of a post office in San Francisco with a sign reading "I stole mail. This is my punishment" (picture here). There were a number of safeguards that had to be satisfied:
  • The post office was not in his neighbourhood.
  • He was to hold his sign outside during the day, not at night.
  • He was to have a parole officer ensuring that the dignity of Gementera, the general public, and postal employees were not damaged. The exercise was to end if anyone was damaged. Thus, if a member of the public became distressed, Gementera's punishment was to end even if he was benefitting from it.
  • He was to have a security guard present to protect him, the public, and postal employees.

I was relatively impressed with this long list of safeguards. It was the case at the original trial that Gementera did agree to this in exchange for avoiding a prison sentence.

What was the result? Well, Gementera is now in prison. The reason? He went back to stealing post. It seems that this attempt at shaming him failed: he did not feel guilty about his actions. Nor did he seem damaged: he simply went back to what he had been doing. I doubt this tells us shame punishments don't work: it is only one case. Perhaps the safeguards were too strict. My advice will be to continue following these guidelines in future cases. Sometimes they may not work, but they could do much good if they did.

How to find work in the UK

Some readers have asked me about advice on gaining employment in the UK, particularly from the US. Of course, British academic jobs are posted with the Chronicle of Higher Education's and the American Philosophical Association's (member's only) websites. That's the part everyone knows.

However, you can also search for jobs on the Guardian's website (it is a major British newspaper) and---the best place to search---http://www.jobs.ac.uk/ An additional resource is the UK-based listserv philos-l which posts new jobs, conferences, journal/book calls for papers, and so on for philosophers.

Those who know the American scene know the following: jobs are generally advertised in the autumn. First interviews are often conducted at APA division meetings, the Eastern Division (27-30th December each year) in particular. Second interviews are held afterwards. You will almost never be interviewed alongside fellow candidates. The process takes quite a while, too.

The UK is entirely different. Jobs are advertised throughout the year, although primarily in the spring. In general, there are not first and second interviews: there is one interview. All interviews will happen in the department and not at a conference or hotel.

In Newcastle, we invite all candidates up to our beautiful city for a meal with academic staff the night before the big day. The candidates will all be together. This is effectively a social interview: etiquette is very much like sitting at high table at Oxbridge. For example, most of the conversation during my meal concerned jazz clubs in the area and musical tastes. We did not chat about philosophy much at all. The next morning candidates enter one by one to give 20 odd minute presentations of their work followed by 10-15 minutes of questions from staff. A buffet lunch follows where candidates can mix with academic staff. The afternoon consists of formal interviews with individual candidates. Decisions are usually made in 24 hours or less.

If hired, the usual relocation package follows, etc etc. One interesting UK vs USA difference is how tenure works. In the USA, facts differ from institution to institution. Normally, there is an expectation that successful candidates will publish x articles and/or perhaps a book (normally one book is required for political theorists in political science departments) over a number of years, varying from about four to as many as eight---all very roughly speaking.

In the UK, publications do not aid/hinder tenure. My probation period was set at three years. During this time, I had to complete a boring Postgraduate Certificate in Academic Practice: essentially, three graduate courses in education. I didn't get anything out of it, but it was paid for by my department, I was compensated for much of my lost time in our workloading model, and that was it---that's all I had to do.

Unlike in the US where one might publish to gain tenure and then no longer publish unless seeking promotion, the Research Assessment Exercise (RAE) in the UK ensures that all British academics are producing roughly one article (on average) per year. I will post on this in future. Suffice to say, publish or perish remains the name of the game. We all know persons who have gained employment in some part due to their great promise, but without publications. Hiring people without publications is no longer heard of in the UK: these people will bomb in the RAE. Thus, the very best advice for getting work in the UK is publishing---you need articles, you need not have taught before.

One final point is worth making. Gaining a work permit in the UK is fairly difficult for most people. This is not true with university positions. I had hardly any trouble at all gaining my work permit---I am an American citizen. Nor do most UK academics look down on Americans applying: in fact, our qualifications are held in very high esteem.

I hope this post addresses some of the queries I've received. Please feel free to comment below if there's anything I've left out.

Wednesday, July 19, 2006

Postgraduate Advice on Publishing

I encourage readers to check out my guide to getting published. Most graduate students are intimidated by both the pressures to publish and the barriers to publishing. This article explains step by step how they can begin successful academic careers. I hope this advise will prove useful. I am currently writing a newer draft.

Comments are most welcome.

Same Sex Marriage Ban Off the Cards

For some time, American Republicans have attempted to ban same sex marriages---often claiming that permitting these marriages may (a) undermine traditional marriages and/or (b) their peculiar and hotly contested understanding of religious texts leads them to the far from certain view that God jus' don' like it. President Bush had made a constitutional ban against same sex marriage an odd key plank of the midterm election campaign----after all, what else did he have to run on? Declaring we're in World War III?

Some good news at last: not only had the Senate voted against this bill, but now the House of Representatives has voted against it as well. By 47 votes, too. Not only does failing to permit such relationships seem to clearly violate the human rights of many people (clearly discriminating against them), the courts have finally begun to pick up on this. A constitutional amendment would have to have been created.....urm....because the constitution's principles support it (and even with an amendment the discrimination continues to be unlawful). A great victory for liberty.

See the story here.

Tuesday, July 18, 2006

Jason Stanley on philosophy & the humanities in the US

Over at the Leiter Reports, Jason Stanley has an interesting post:

***"In my last few posts, I have been raising a contentious issue. Consider the CVs of philosophers in the United States working in the 1970s and 1980s publishing on core metaphysical and epistemological issues of the sort discussed by Plato, Aristotle, Aquinas, Descartes, Berkeley, Hume, and Kant, or issues in philosophical logic and philosophy of language of the sort discussed by Aristotle, Abelard, Ockham, Frege, Husserl, Brentano, and Russell. You will see that they had good success rates in national competitions for humanities fellowships. And why not? After all, philosophy is a distinctive human intellectual pursuit, and a core humanities subject. But if you look at, say, the past ten years, you will find that philosophers working on such issues have been particularly unsuccessful in similar competitions. The philosophers who do achieve some success have been those working primarily in ethics related topics, historians of philosophy, or philosophers who have related their work to art or literature. The latter are subjects which, since Plato’s time, have been traditionally opposing kinds of humanities disciplines to philosophy. Yet the only way for a philosopher working on skepticism or the nature of universals to obtain funding from an American humanities institute is to link her work with literary criticism, painting, or French cultural anthropology.

This is just an indication of a broader problem in the humanities in the United States. The problem is that we have a generation of humanities academics in this country who have no sense at all of what the discipline of philosophy is. They have no sense of what kinds of considerations have been advanced for and against skepticism, no sense of the traditional problem of universals, and no sense of the development of logic beyond the syllogism. Not only do they have no conception of what is happening now with such discussions, they have no understanding of the detailed intellectual work done by the great philosophers of the past; they simply don’t know how to read philosophy. Spending two months trying to figure out the argument in, say, Hume’s “Of Skepticism with Regard to the Senses”, or Kant’s Second Analogy, is a completely foreign pursuit. Far from being ashamed of this lack of knowledge, they seem to revel in it. One might wonder how a successful academic who has worked on T.S. Eliot could boast of their complete ignorance of (say) Bradley’s regress problem, when Eliot wrote his dissertation on Bradley (under the tutelage of Bertrand Russell, among others), but I have met in fact met such a person.

Ignorance breeds contempt. When I meet a philosopher who boasts of her ignorance of (say) Roman history, Wallace Stevens, or Emily Dickinson, I’m embarrassed for her. I’m similarly embarrassed for the professor of comparative literature who boasts of her ignorance of G.E. Moore or is proud that she has no idea what contributions Gottlob Frege has made to philosophy. Of course, it’s perfectly fine for a philosopher to confess that she doesn’t enjoy poetry, and it’s equally in order for a literary critic to confess that she doesn’t enjoy the topics discussed in Aristotle’s metaphysics, or Frege’s Foundations of Arithmetic. What would not be acceptable is for a philosopher who doesn’t enjoy poetry to mount a campaign against poetry. But that is exactly what is happening in the United States today; academics with no detailed knowledge or interest in the humanities discipline of philosophy are using whatever resources are at their disposal to delegitimize it. Just as it is embarrassing to be confronted by an American academic who scoffs at the study of Shakespeare or Chinese history, it’s equally embarrassing to be confronted by an American academic who scoffs at the study of vagueness, skepticism, or the problem of intentionality. Ignorance or disinterest in a subject is not something one should seek to legitimize by eliminating the study of the subject matter."

These posts have all been largely complaints that large humanities funding bodies are giving money to historians, historians of philosophy, ethicists/political philosophers, but not "analytical philosophers." I had something to say to this:

"I have found these posts both interesting and informative, but can't help but point out a worry with them all: is "analytic philosophy" no more than metaphysics & epistemology, mind & language?

We are told in all posts that there is a division between the "analytic philosophers" and those who do the following:

1. Philosophy of art & literature
2. History of philosophy
3. Ethics/political philosophy

By this score, Ralph [Wedgwood]'s fears are realized: analytic philosophy is not about hsitory of philosophy (apparently). In addition, if any of us do political philosophy, we're strangely *not* analytic philosophers.

I think rather than adhere to this fairly crazy understanding of what analytic philosophy is, we would be better off talking about "analytic philosophers working in mind and language" instead. It is crazy to say you can't be an analytic philosopher and work in the history of our field or in ethics, etc.

In any event, the problems of "analytic philosophers working in mind and language" earning grants may be a simple one (although it would be interesting to see some data on this). From the previous posts, it seems fairly clear that all successful applicants had projects that were interdisciplinary in some sense. It is certainly true that more interdisciplinary grant applications in the UK seem to be assessed more positively than not. Perhaps analytic metaphysicians don't do this? I don't know. Again, we'd need to see the data...

One final thought: it is most certainly the case that we probably all could "sell" (for want of a better word) our discipline better. Philosophy in general had a different feel and character in journals, such as Mind and the Int'l Journal of Ethics, before the first World War than our journals now. I miss this primarily because I am interested in British Idealism, however, I don't see how the field has been damaged by the clear changes in direction that come with every new generation."

Whilst I applaud Stanley's insistence we all should know our canon, I do share the suspicion that perhaps a fair number in analytical mind & language have a relatively less complete knowledge of the history of philosophy than others. Of course, I have met many people whose knowledge far exceeded my own, but this has been relatively rare. For one thing, as a Hegel scholar, it is never persons working in law, philosophy of law, politics, ethics/political philosophy, nor history/history of philosophy (nor philosophy of history) that are ignorant of Hegel. If ignorance breeds contempt, is this why I get funny looks from metaphysicians when I claim to enjoy the German and British Idealists....

NOTE: I am off Thursday to see two dear friends earn their Ph.D.'s from the University of Sheffield---friends who work in analytical mind & language. I certainly have nothing against this field of philosophy. I simply question Stanley's views that these scholars are at least as well read --- and perhaps the only ones able to claim "analytic philosophy" for themselves.

Thursday, July 13, 2006

Ouch! The Lives and Loves of Castrado Singers

The BBC reports in this story that "the world's most famous castrado...is to be exhumed"---the singer is Farinelli. What makes him so famous? Well, the fact that he's the only castrado that we have any recordings of. Actually, we only have one recording of a short song. (Want to here it? Listen here.)

Castrados were famous between the 16th century until 1870 (when the practice was banned) because male vocal chords are thicker than their female variant. On average being physically larger, men also tended to have larger lungs. When a young boy is castrated (ouch!), he grows into a man who can sing like a soprano with (allegedly) greaterlung capacity and a richer sound (because of thicker vocal chords).

These men were also well known lovers. Who'd want to sleep around with a castrated man? Well, lots of people once upon a time. Recall that in the 16th and 17th centuries there was no contraceptive pill, condoms, etc. Sex between a traditional couple would generally carry the risk of pregnancy (and getting found out). Yet, castrados were the closest thing to "no strings attached" as one might find a few centuries ago. If you listen to castrados, it's definitely not the voice that is wooing the fans...

Was it all worth it? I very much doubt it. The evidence is rubbish---we have only one recording of what (to me) sounds like a terrible song. Was that worth castration and years of practice? No. Thousands of boys would have this operation in the hope of becoming a famous castrado. Thank goodness this madness has come to an end.....

Wednesday, July 12, 2006

What is an appropriate amount of teaching for graduate students?

There are contradictory stories on teaching by graduate students in the current issue of the Times Higher Education Supplement (effectively, the Chronicle of Higher Education for those of us in the UK). Both relate to a recent conference at the University of Aberdeen in Scotland.

The first story is "PhDs Told to Avoid Too Much Teaching" (subscription only). An excerpt:

"Postgraduates must resist pressure from managers to take on a teaching load so heavy that it affects their research, a conference has heard. John McKenzie, a PhD researcher and teaching assistant in Aberdeen University's sociology department, told a national postgraduate conference held at the university this week that postgraduate teaching experience could have positive and negative effects. Mr McKenzie, who is in the third year of a part-time PhD on contemporary spirituality in Scotland, does up to 12 hours of tutoring and 20 hours as a care officer a week in addition to his research."

Yet, then there is a story "Postgraduates Told: Those Who Can, Teach" as well (subscription only). An excerpt:

"Engaging with students is a matter of integrity, and it can improve promotion prospects, reports Olga Wojtas from a conference of postgraduates. Research is not the be all and end all in higher education so if you don't want to teach then don't bother becoming an academic, a postgraduate conference was told last week. [Professor Trevor Salmon] also warned that teaching was one of the criteria for promotion. "A lot of people think it's research, research, research. Maybe it is if you're a Nobel prizewinner, but if you're an ordinary mortal and you're poor at teaching, that hurts your promotion prospects."

Which gives the best advice? Should a graduate student teach only to gain a bit of experience or is it a shining path leading to a pot of gold?

When I was a graduate student only a few years ago, my supervisors recommended taking on minimal teaching only---if I wanted a job, the goal was to keep publishing. Better still was advice given to a friend of mine (and stated at graduate conferences elsewhere): if given the choice of publishing one article or teaching one course, take the article each and every time.

A bit of experience is very important; indeed, teaching is very important. This is true wherever one goes. However, entry level academic positions need not require extensive teaching. Those with a publication or two and only a dose of teaching experience will almost always see off applicants with plenty of teaching experience and no publications. There is a balance between the two, often tilted towards publications. It is therefore important to get this balance correct.

It is somewhat disingenuous to suggest that graduate students should be teaching plenty now so that they might earn promotion later. I know of no instance where past teaching as a graduate student helped earn promotion for a tenure-track staff member later in his/her career. We all know of stories where past publications have benefitted (and rightly so) people for some time post-publication and (in some cases) throughout his/her career. Yes, successful promotion applications normally demonstrate at least competence and often better teaching abilities. Yes, these skills are not learned overnight. However, a graduate student should be receiving advice that will help him/her gain a job. Promotion advice is only helpful for those no longer students. Plus, the best promotion advice is to publish in premier journals and engage in high visibility endeavours.

I am reminded of the late Professor Warren E. Miller (Political Science, Arizona State University), formerly President of the American Political Science Association. His students recanted that lectures consisted of reading chapters from his book: when time elapsed, he asked students to read the rest of the chapter. And on it went. Yet, he was the kind of fellow who could get away with it, a leading figure (indeed, towering figure) in the field and full of terrific advice I've continued to benefit from.

Always best to be a better researcher than teacher, although better still to be a good teacher. This is advice for one's career. The best advice for graduate students remains: teach no more than a course and publish, publish, publish.

The Geography of the Brooks Blog

The country stats for the Brooks Blog are as follows (covering 352 readers):

United States - 49%
United Kingdom - 28%
Canada - 7%
Germany - 3%
Australia - 3%
New Zealand - 2%
France - 1%
Iceland - 1%
Italy - 1%
Mexico - 1%
Netherlands - 1%
Singapore - 1%
Sweden - 1%
Taiwan - 1%

Many thanks to all of you for visiting this site.

Thank you, Leiter Reports!

A warm thank you to---everyone's favourite blog---the Leiter Reports ---for this brief report on this blog. Yesterday, we reached a record 170 visitors in one day: virtually all directed to us from Brian's site. I am incredibly grateful.

Monday, July 10, 2006

British Academy Honours

The British Academy has recently announced new fellows. Chief amongst these is Robert Adams (Oxford) in Philosophy. Phillippe Van Parijs (Leuven/Harvard) was awarded a well deserved "corresponding fellowship." Sincere congrats to both!

Friday, July 07, 2006

Is Legalizing Drugs a Good Idea?

Over at the Leiter Reports, Jo Wolff (UCL philosopher and JMP board member) has an interesting post on the legalization of drugs (full text: here). An exerpt:

"I’ve been reading The Legalization of Drugs: For and Against, by Douglas Husak and Peter de Marneffe. Fascinating stuff... Simplifying dramatically, Husak’s argument is that even if it can be shown that taking drugs is very bad for you, it is still hard to see the argument for locking people away, sometimes for many years, as punishment for harming, or risking harm, to themselves. In response, de Marneffe’s first restricts the discussion primarily to heroin, and argues, plausibly enough, that it is a very bad idea for adolescents to take heroin as this will adversely affect at least their emotional development, and perhaps much else too. It is also very bad for children if their parents are addicts, as this is likely to lead to abuse and neglect. These risks are so severe, he argues, that they amount to an argument that heroin should not be legalized.

So how does de Marneffe respond to Husak’s argument? It seems he accepts it! (p. 129) He agrees that no one should go to prison for taking heroin. On de Marneffe’s view production and sale should be illegal, including dealing, but no one should be punished simply for using. And if this applies to heroin – de Marneffe’s worse case – it must apply more generally."

Jo then concludes with the following question:

"Now, if the ‘for’ and ‘against’ positions converge on the judgement that no one should be jailed for using drugs, does this merely mean that de Marneffe was simply the wrong person to argue the ‘against’ case, or is it rather that there are no good arguments to defend the current law in all civilized countries?"

And then a good intuitive puzzle:

"On the issue of harm, here are some fascinating figures from a UK report, which quotes a Cato Institute Paper. The following are ‘Deaths from Drug Use Per 100,000 Drug Users’. Tobacco: 650. Alcohol: 150. Heroin: 80. Cocaine: 4. Marijuana: 0. (p. 38 of overview report).
Of course I know it isn’t as simple as this, but these are thought-provoking numbers."

What can be said in response? Well, let's start with the numbers and move backwards. I am not sure they tell us much at all. It is true that (a) where something causes many deaths we should look at it seriously and (b) there are plenty of relevant, important harms other than death. (And I'd be curious to know if the cocaine death figures are for powder cocaine or if it includes deaths from crack cocaine.) Many people die each year from bee stings, but we can't outlaw bees and allergies----this truism points to the fact that we simply can't regulate as well as might like some considerable harms to people.

That said, we can say more in response. My liberal heart is for legalization insofar as regulation of the illegal drugs trade seems a terrific goal. Many of us enjoy legalized drugs of different sorts---alcohol, tobacco, etc.---and it would seem extending this would be a great idea. People can overdose and die from drugs like alcohol or drugs like heroin. With regulation might come greater public awareness of risks: this seems a good thing.

On the other hand, in practice, I know that I would much rather be walking down a street with people a bit tipsy from drink than a street littered with bloody needles and heroin addicts. Just because we allow one vice does not necessarily mean that we should allow all vices. We have enough trouble with alcohol and tobacco---extending legalization may well expand the problem.

In the end, I'm a liberal sceptic. I would vote for legalization, but only if heavily regulated and monitored. I would do so reluctantly as well. The issue seemed so clear cut when I was a teenager...

Monday, July 03, 2006

New Law School Blogs: Chicago and Georgetown

My thanks to Brian Leiter for pointing out new blogs at the University of Chicago Law School and Georgetown University's Law School. Both are discussing the recent Hamdan v Rumsfeld case.

Leiter's Reports are currently running pieces on the 30th anniversary of the Supreme Court decision Gregg v Georgia (1976) which reintroduced the legalization of capital punishment so long as there was a two tier trial of (1) determining guilt or innocence and then (2) determining the punishment (if guilty). The problems had been (a) apparent arbitrary sentencing where ethnic minorities were being sentenced to death at far higher rates and for the same crimes as whites and (b) some juries found defendants innocent because finding them guilty meant an automatic death sentence and some juries would rather a guilty person walk free than feel responsible for their death.

Some readers may be interested in my "Retributivist Arguments against Capital Punishment" published recently in the Journal of Social Philosophy here.

Thursday, June 29, 2006

Political Studies Association election

A big of recent news: I have been elected to the Executive Board of the Political Studies Association (PSA). The PSA is the top professional body for academics working in Politics in the UK. I will be chairing the PSA's Awards and Prizes Committee, and sitting on the Awards Ceremony Committee and Education Committee. It is a genuine honour to join such a terrific organization at this level so early in my career. My sincere thanks to everyone who voted for me. I will send updates as and when they happen.

Monday, June 26, 2006

The Trouble with Rights in Britain

You must love Lord Falconer, the Lord Chancellor of the United Kingdom. Upon hearing the news that the Conservative Leader David Cameron would support a Bill of Rights for Britain (Ronald Dworkin must be smiling and whinging all at once!), Falconer is quoted by the BBC as saying that the Tories are trying to re-write human rights whenever "they seem inconvenient" (see here).

The only proper response to this is to wonder which planet Lord Falconer inhabits. Whatever one's view, there are several inconvenient facts about human rights and Lord Falconer:
  • He saw nothing inconvenient about Guantanamo Bay when it first erected. Many commentators thought its construction ghastly. Not so with the Blair government which delayed trying to free British citizens from "Gitmo"----imagine the Americans doing that....no, you can't imagine that happening either.
  • He saw nothing inconvenient about the Iraq War. No human rights abuses here: Lord Falconer was a staunch supporter.
  • He saw nothing inconvenient about scrapping the right to trial by jury. It is a curiosity that in the land that introduced the modern trial by jury, the same land would try to effectively end it in virtually every case. A post on the jury trial on this blog will be forthcoming, suffice to say there is simply no good reason to get rid of it and every reason to expand it. (See my own papers here and here.)
  • Finally, he saw nothing "inconvenient" about scrapping his own office on the back of a napkin in recent reforms......until he saw how difficult it would be as it hasn't happened yet. As has been widely reported, the office of the Lord Chancellor was to be scrapped. This was agreed by Tony Blair on the back of a napkin. Granted: the office is peculiar and raises serious issues about separation of powers. My complaint is not that it should be scrapped. Instead, it is rather curious that a thousand years of having a particular office would be scrapped overnight, reported as nothing special, and then nothing comes of it is, well, as odd as it gets.

In short, this Lord Chancellor has found human rights highly inconvenient, indeed. From Gitmo to the rights of the accused to fair trial and beyond, he has sought to change the rules when it might benefit his party. He's certainly no one can cast a stone in this glass house....

...nevertheless, one can hardly be surprised by politicians who cry foul when others play the same game they are. One only hopes that the British public see the Lord Chancellor's fib as just that.

Thursday, April 20, 2006

Does philosophy deserve a place at the US Supreme Court?

"Does Philosophy Deserve a Place at the Supreme Court?"

http://ssrn.com/abstract=881521

This Comment demonstrates that policy judgements are not masked by philosophical references, nor do philosophers play any crucial role in contentious judicial decisions. Neomi Rao’s study is flawed for many reasons: incomplete content analysis, poor assessment of data, and an inadequate definition of philosophy. She should be criticised for hypocritically praising Court philosopher references in some instances and not others, especially with regard to the Court’s early development. This Comment searched unsuccessfully for an instance where philosophers were cited just once in controversial cases regarding racial integration, capital punishment’s abolition and re-legality, and the 2000 Presidential election. Philosophers are peculiarly absent from major controversial cases. Rao claims the Court’s majority decisions avoided the “Philosophers’ Brief” because the philosophers’ argument was grounded in theory, not substantive legal argument surrounding issues of judicial precedent. This Comment challenges Rao’s use of “philosophy” as something entirely abstract and steeped in metaphysics. Philosophy is presented as a large umbrella covering diverse sub-fields, two of which are philosophy of law and political philosophy. These sub-fields are of great use to law. Thus, the Court has not illegitimately used philosophers to support personal policy preferences. Nor is the use of philosophy incommensurable with judicial decision-making.

This originally appeared in the Rutgers Law Record, Vol. 27, No. 1, 2003

One of the most surprising things about Rao's original article is that it has been used several times by more conservative lawyers to make "the case" for keeping philosophers out of judicial decisions. However, my claim is that they are truly grasping at straws: not only do Plato and friends count for nothing in the legal decisions they don't like --- thinking now particularly of Row v Wade --- but their arguments simply don't hold up to scrutiny, as I demonstrate at some length. Better to claim the opponent won for the wrong "reasons" (e.g., using Plato's Republic) than overlook the fact the opponent's decision actually respects judicial precedent as that record is recorded --- with all of its attendant peculiarities --- than one's own view, I suppose.........

Comments are open!

Wednesday, April 19, 2006

Is Hegel a retributivist?

"Is Hegel a Retributivist?"

http://ssrn.com/abstract=869534

Originally published in the Bulletin of the Hegel Society of Great Britain, Vol. 49/50, pp. 113-26, 2004

The most widespread interpretation of Hegel’s theory of punishment is that it is retributivist, as the criminal punished is demonstrated to be deserving of a punishment commensurable in value to the severity of his crime. Thus, Hegel’s theory is individualistic because the only factor involved in determining a punishment’s magnitude is the criminal’s action itself. The problem with this interpretation is that it is limited to Hegel’s preliminary discussion of punishment within his theory of abstract right. In this paper, I take seriously the structure of the Philosophy of Right to underscore the relationship between Hegel’s treatment of punishment in abstract right and his later treatment within his theory of civil society. This reading produces substantive new insights, presenting us with a theory which determines the severity of punishments commensurable with the threat a criminal act poses for civil society.