Saturday, October 25, 2014

Jack Bruce Posse, etc.

Jack Bruce has a posse.  Here.

Finally some good news out of Oklahoma.  Here.

How to Use the Philosophical Gourmet Report

A longer version of this memo to undergraduate philosophy majors has been circulating in my department for some time.  I myself happen to think that the PGR is more useful and reliable than this piece suggests.  But I see nothing in the following to strongly reject.  At the very least the tips below provide a solid place to begin.

Applying for graduate work in philosophy is a time consuming and trying process.  There are many good PhD programs, and there is a lot of variation with respect to requirements, timelines, levels and length of support, etc.  Moreover, not every good department is good in every subfield of philosophy.  Many departments that are strong in, say, contemporary european philosophy are embarrassingly weak in mainstream fields like epistemology, philosophy of language, and ethics.  The same goes for departments with strengths in specific subfields: and excellent department for metaphysics or philosophy of mind may offer little to those with interests in social and political philosophy or logic.  It is safe to say that the excellence of any department is always relative to some specific intellectual subset of topics/areas/periods within philosophy. Yes, there are some programs that are strong overall (they can train students excellently in a wide range of subfields), but none that are equally strong in all areas.  In deciding where to apply, one must exercise one’s judgment.  Schools that may sound impressive (like Yale or Harvard) do not have the best all-around philosophy programs, and given your specific interest and goals, some less impressive sounding school (for example, Arizona, Maryland, or UC Davis) might be far better than, say, Columbia or MIT.  

Since choosing where to apply requires an exercise of your judgment, you will need to find ways to inform yourself about what the various PhD programs in philosophy have to offer.  Important information (requirements, support, teaching opportunities, placement, average time to degree, and much else) can usually be found on departmental websites.  Use the APA’s guide to graduate programs to see what programs there are.  Still, one can waste a lot of time googling departments.  It could help also to narrow, at least initially, the range of schools you’re considering to those that seem to have a reputation within the discipline for strength in the areas that are of most interest to you. Remember: given certain interests, the schools with the most impressive sounding names will not have the best graduate programs in philosophy. 

There is an online reputational ranking of philosophy PhD programs called the Philosophical Gourmet Report (PGR).  The PGR is controversial within some philosophical communities. Some think it useless, others claim that it is deceptive or biased, some say that it is methodologically unsound and corrupt.  The more severe objections to the enterprise are overstated. The PGR is certainly not perfect (what is?), but it is not the blight upon the profession that some claim.  If you take the time to read the PGR website’s explanations of its aims, methods, and limitations, you will find the PGR to be a helpful resource.  

Here are a few tips.
1. Learn what the PGR is. Read the sections on the PGR website about its methodology carefully. Read the website’s section on how it should be used.  Think about what kind of information it is providing.

2. Learn what the PGR is not. In light of the methodological and other caveats presented on the PGR website, keep in mind that the PGR is not a list of the best departments for you.  It’s not a list of the places you’ll be most welcome.  It’s not a list of the places where graduate students are most happy. It does not tell you which departments have the best or most conscientious professors. It does not measure the professional success of the PhD’s produced by any department.  It does not track placement. In short, the PGR is not a substitute for your own judgment.  

3. As it is not a substitute for your own judgment, the PGR is a place to begin thinking, investigating, and deliberating about graduate study.  It provides information of a very specific kind; it does not provide all of the relevant information there is.  Use the PGR to craft an initial list of departments that look suitable, given your interests.  Bring that list to the philosophy faculty members who know you best.  Use it to start a discussion, not settle one (or avoid one).

4. Do not place too much importance on the overall rankings, and disregard slight numerical differences among closely-ranked departments.  The rankings in the subfields are often more useful for identifying (again, initially) the some of the programs that are well regarded in a given area.  

5. Cross-reference the subfield rankings.  Your philosophical interests will likely change during your graduate training.  In some cases the change will be drastic.  You may discover that your currently favorite philosopher has been subjected to a decisive criticism, or that the philosophical problem that currently fascinates you has been solved.  You may discover that your interest in moral responsibility is really better addressed within metaphysics than ethics, or that phenomenology is methodologically bankrupt.  There’s no way to inoculate against the most drastic changes (in fact, sometimes they should be welcomed).  But you can try to account for the more likely shifts by looking for programs that are strong not only in the area you’re presently most interested in, but also have strengths in your other interests and in subfields that are closely related to what’s presently most important to you.  

6. Have lots of conversations with your professors about all of these matters.  

Wednesday, October 22, 2014

Satan In Vancouver

The statue has been dismantled, and the Kickstarter campaign to have it rebuilt has failed (I pledged what would have been the cost for attending the Pacific APA this year). 

Still no word from the APA in response to the injustice of it all.  Boycott is still on.

"Enough! I gave you enough!”"

A few people have sent this my way, and there's only one reply:

Fuck you, Billy. 

Monday, October 13, 2014


I would guess that most people are fans of the PhilJobs site. It's a major improvement over the old JFP.  But an administrator this morning asked me if the job market in Philosophy shows any sign of improvement over the past three years.  How to answer?

Friday, October 10, 2014

Jan Hooks has a posse

Jan Hooks has a posse.  Who?


Tuesday, October 7, 2014

Boycott the Pacific APA

I hereby call upon the profession at large to boycott the upcoming Pacific APA, which is to be held in Vancouver, in protest of that city's recent stance on public Satanist art. 

If you must attend the Pacific, at least contribute to the Kickstarter campaign.   

And in other news, the Satanists in the US once again are on the side of sanity on church/state issues.  The Satanic Temple in Florida is handing out coloring books to children.

Friday, October 3, 2014

No Objections to the PGR

I'm not sure what conclusion to draw from the fact that no one has actually stated a good objection to the PGR in the previous thread.  There are, to be sure, various ways in which the PGR could be improved upon.  No one denies that there are such critiques of the existing methods and processes.  This is why the mechanics of the PGR have evolved.  But some of the rhetoric used by the PGR's opponents claims much more than this.  Often it is suggested that the PGR is flawed in some fundamental and irremediable way, and some claim that the PGR is so deeply flawed that it's actually doing damage to the discipline.  

I'm still wondering what the basis for these stronger claims is.  One suspects that there may be no basis, and that much of the more pronounced anti-PGR talk is really just a proxy for anti-Leiterism, and a strategy for co-opting the PGR and putting it in the service of other ideological agendas.  

I also wonder how much agreement there really is among those who are joining the boycott and protests.  Some explicitly want to see the PGR continue roughly as it is, but only under a different editor.  Others call for Leiter to fully disassociate from the endeavor, but also what it to continue otherwise unchanged.  Others want changes in the editorial processes, but see no problem with Leiter's continuing editorship.  Still others call for more sweeping changes, including the elimination of the PGR.  The differences among these different collections of actors are significant. 

Why aren't the more radical opponents of the PGR (those who not only want editorial changes, but want Leiter to disassociate and to replace the PGR with some other kind of tool) stop wasting time and just get on with their real objective -- the establishment of a rival ranking / survey instrument that avoids all of the flaws they find with the PGR?  Why don't the put their effort into building a tool that is not what they allege the PGR to be, namely a cliquey, ideologically-driven, methodologically-unsound, and wholly-misleading piece of propaganda?

Oh wait... they did.

Wednesday, September 24, 2014

The PGR Challenge

I won't bother to link to or report on the madness that is currently unfolding regarding Professor Leiter, his opposition, and the PGR.  I instead ask in seriousness: What's really objectionable about the PGR?  The purported objections I commonly hear fall into at least one of four classes:

1. Objections based on a mistaken characterization of what the PGR is (its methodology, how it is produced, what it aspires to track, etc.).  (E.g., "The PGR is just a small group of Brian Leiter's friends desperately trying to uphold analytic orthodoxy in the profession" -- actual quotation, by the way.)

2. Objections, also based on a mistaken characterization of what the PGR is (and its objectives), that claim that the PGR fails to satisfy its own objectives.  (e.g., "The PGR, being just a small group of Leiter's friends, can't possibly be an objective measure of actual faculty quality" -- actual quotation,)

3. Objections to the effect that the PGR is harmful because it is too easily misunderstood/misused by faculty, students, and administrators.

4. Objections to the very idea of surveys / rankings / reports of the kind that the PGR is.

I think these are all nonstarters.  Objections of kinds 1 and 2 are obviously failures.  3 is really no objection to the PGR, but a critique of the reading and comprehension skills of academic administrators, and a call for better advising from faculty to undergrads who aspire to go to grad school.  4 is especially odd, since everyone in the profession walks around with some such reputational ranking of various programs in philosophy (Program A is better than B for ethics... no one at program B does epistemology...), and most often these individual and informal rankings are outdated (because not fully informed about the latest faculty moves, etc.), yet we are frequently called upon to advise students about such matters.

So, seriously, sticking strictly to the PGR, and leaving aside all the other noise: Can someone name a good criticism of the PGR that doesn't fall into at least one of the categories above?

Monday, September 22, 2014

Evaluting Evaluations

A few of you have sent this my way: a recent study of student evaluations.  It purports to show that "teacher effectiveness is negatively correlated with the students’ evaluations of professors."  Please share with the most celebrated teachers in your department.  No one actually learns anything form from them. Ever.    

Friday, September 12, 2014

Satanists Oppressed

What else is new...

Satanists are holding a public black mass in Oklahoma later in September, and the event is sold out.  However:
In order to comply with local laws, the group had to make a few changes to the ritual. Instead of using urine, participants plan to use vinegar. Instead having a naked woman on an altar, she'll be wearing lingerie. And instead of spitting on a consecrated host, they will spit on an unconsecrated one. 
 On the issue of the consecrated host, apparently "The group was reportedly in possession of a stolen consecrated host, causing the local archdiocese to sue."  But don't the assholes who insist that children who are in no way related to them call them "father" give those crackers away anyway?  Can something that is given away be stolen?  Maybe the Satanists simply acquired the consecrated host in the wrong way?

Someone local to this event: Please show up at church this Sunday, sit through the hilarious nonsense, and get those Satanists a consecrated host to spit on.  

Thursday, September 11, 2014

Cancelling Criticism

I've received several notes about this, and I know that some will receive this query as yet another knock against their favorite philosopher or style of philosophizing, or whatever.  But it's a somewhat serious question, and not peculiar to the particular example used here.

Here goes: Some philosophers seem to enjoy a kind of cult-like inoculation from critique; their fans proceed as if it were true that to study (or be sympathetic to) the philosopher in question is to never directly raise a criticism or him or her.  Of course, there are philosophical cults, where the true believers speak only amongst themselves, and never dream of criticizing their philosophical lord. But a slightly different-- perhaps even more disturbing--  trend seems increasingly common.  Here, the insiders often do raise criticisms, but then very quickly cancel them, as if to indicate that no criticism is ever properly targeted.  One might say they only mention criticisms, and never use them.

Here's a recent example, from an NDPR review of some new book by Derrida that I have no intention of reading:
It must be said, however, that the seminar on the death penalty will, to a large degree, be found somewhat unrewarding. . . . In many of the sessions, Derrida spent considerable time reading lengthy passages from works by [other] authors . . . often offering his listeners, and now his readers, little in the way of a detailed exegesis or explication, and rarely proceeding to flesh out possible relations with his own conceptual constellations, or with those of other thinkers. Accordingly, the reader is left with the feeling that considerable work remains to be done.  This, of course, should not be seen in an overly negative light. 
This is truly puzzling.  I take it that no criticism should be taken in in "overly negative light," if by "overly negative" one means excessively negative.  Each criticism should be seen in a light that is negative to the appropriate degree.  What else is new?  But the claim that the book consists largely of Derrida reading from the books of others, and then not offering commentary on those passages, strikes me as  a considerable defect. What was the point of mentioning this at all, unless one wants to raise it as a problem? Why mention it and then cancel it, as if it were no big deal?  Couldn't the reviewer just come out and say: "The lectures are flawed in that Derrida spends a lot of time quoting lengthy passages from other thinkers, without offering reason for doing so"? What the hell?

Monday, September 8, 2014

Herzog's Guide for the Perplexed

Werner Herzog: A Guide for the Perplexed  is not  the latest title in that Continuum series of introductory philosophy books, but rather a collection of interviews with Werner Herzog, spanning most of his career.   A short review is here. 

A lot of the "no bullshit" advice he offers to aspiring filmmakers can pretty easily be transposed into advice for tose pursuing a career in philosophy. 

I recommend that you buy a few copies and strategically leave them around your department lounge

Friday, September 5, 2014

The Aesthetics of Punk Rock

Several people have sent this to me, newly published at Philosophy Compass, "The Aesthetics of Punk Rock," by Jesse Prinz. I like the opening line:

"Philosophers should listen to punk rock."


I might post a more detailed reaction, should I have one, once I've had time to read the essay.

Thursday, September 4, 2014

Joan Rivers Posse

Joan Rivers has a posse.  (Here.)

Betty White is alive.

Both are funnier than Robin Williams.

Why isn't Billy Joel dead yet?