Sunday, August 31, 2008

Has Tom Nagel Jumped the Shark?

I've received several emails calling attention to Thomas Nagel's article in the new issue of Philosophy & Public Affairs, "Public Education and Intelligent Design." I read the argument as running roughly as follows:

ID is not non-science, but bad science. Bad science is a kind of science. Therefore, the Dover decision is incorrect.

I've read the piece only once and quickly, but it seems to me puzzling on many fronts. I'm struck buy how many times Nagel prefaces crucial moves in his argument with phrases like, "I'm not an expert, but...," and "To a layman, it seems as if...," and so on. Could someone out there who has read this essay with more care tell me: Has Nagel jumped the shark?

Friday, August 29, 2008


No doubt some will think that it should come as no surprise that the people running the McCain campaign are incompetent morons. For those not yet convinced of this, the pen above supplies some confirmation: Student's For McCain!

The pic has been corrected at the McCain online shop. But I know people who have the uncorrected pens.

Is it too much to ask of people that they learn the difference between possessives, contractions, and plurals?

Tuesday, August 26, 2008

Rawls and "Rawlsekians"

For those who feel like reading yet another underinformed and ultimately useless pop piece on the brilliant John Rawls.... check it. The author is interested in recent attempts by Hayekian libertarians to avail themselves of Rawls's ideas. He calls them "Rawlsekians." How cute.

There are several glaring failures in this piece. Notice especially that the author grossly misunderstands the public reason doctrine. Furthermore, the author claims early in the essay that libertarians are attracted to Rawls because they believe that some libertarian principle would be chosen in the Original Position, but then the author claims that libertarian interest in Rawls is due to the "inherent vagueness of the difference principle." Go figure.

Sunday, August 24, 2008


I suppose I'm sympathetic to some of the Sunstein-style arguments about the epistemic virtues of wikis and prediction markets, etc. (see Sunstein's Infotopia, if you're interested). But WikiHow seems to me to present highly compelling counter-considerations. WikiHow is an open source "how to" site, with entires on everything from "How to Make Ice Cream" to "How to Deal with Someone who has OCD." I've spent a few hours on the site over the past few days, and every article I've looked at strikes me as horribly wrong.

Just take a look at the vacuity and arguable incoherence of the entry on "How to be Good." Apparently being good is a matter of a mere 7 steps, each of which is nearly fully devoid of content: "Be Proactive"; "Be Balanced"; "Consider the Results"; "Consider the Greater Good"; "Give People the Benefit of the Doubt"; and "Be Good for its Own Sake"! Step 4 is particularly awe-inspiring: "Define what 'Good' Means to You."

Thursday, August 21, 2008

Ethics and the Death Penalty

The summer is almost gone, which means that my colleagues are returning to campus. I just had the misfortune of running into a colleague in department populated by people with no training or qualifications in philosophy who nonetheless take themselves to be philosophers. Upon hearing that this colleague is teaching a course on "the ethics of capital punishment," I asked for a rough sketch of the readings. The colleague then ran through some of the more obvious opponents of the death penalty. When I asked, "Who among the advocates will you be discussing?," the response was "None. People who are in favor of the death penalty have no ethics."

That's the sound of John Stuart Mill turning in his grave....

Sometimes it's damn hard to resist the thought that although David Horowitz is a loudmouth fraud and a fool with an idiotic proposal, there's some room for complaint about ideological biases of the contemporary academy.

Monday, August 18, 2008

Teachers and Guns

I'm probably way behind the curve on this, but just in case you missed this wonderful slice of DOOM....

From the New York Times:
A tiny Texas school district will allow teachers and staff members to carry concealed firearms to deter and protect against school shootings when classes begin this month, provided the gun-toting employees follow certain requirements. The community, Harrold, is about 150 miles northwest of Fort Worth. Ken Trump, a school security expert in Cleveland who advises districts nationwide, said Harrold was the first district with such a policy. For employees to carry a pistol, they must have a Texas license to carry a concealed handgun; must be authorized to carry by the district; must receive training in crisis management and hostile situations; and must use ammunition designed to minimize the risk of ricocheting bullets.

Tuesday, August 12, 2008


Thanks to my magisterial command of modal semantics and my Herculean ability to derive ought from is, I was able to secure for myself a free (well... almost free) flight to my old stomping ground. So I'll be away for a few days, making the most of the final weeks of summer. I'll be flashing the secret sign throughout my voyage, for those who might be interested. I'm sure I'll run into a few of you jerks.

Try not to miss me too much.

King Diamond

I've long hated the truly pathetic, maximally monotonous, and self-important Metallica. However, I've long been fascinated by the absurd extremity of Danish and Norwegian metal. So, although I find the music of Mercyful Fate unbearably bad, I took a detached interest in them and their lead singer, King Diamond. I've now changed my view: they all suck.

Here's a clip of Metallica being joined on stage by King Diamond for a medley of Mercyful Fate songs. This is truly awful. Note the exceedingly low-quality air guitar chops of Diamond. No metal singer should ever be permitted to play air guitar. Ever.

Prepare to be bored.

Monday, August 11, 2008

Job Market

I was just visiting the new APA website, marveling at how disorganized, clunky, and slow it is (note: not even an automatic redirect from the old site!), and I noticed that the kick-off for the 2008-2009 job hunting season is a mere 8 weeks away! The October Jobs for Philosophers gets posted on October 10, bitches.

Feel the bile rise. Is your dossier in order? Did you nail down a defense date? Which jerk is going to trash you in a (confidential) recommendation letter? Still no publications, huh? There probably won't be many jobs in your AOS this year anyway...

I remember very clearly the joy I felt my first semester at my first job. The JFP showed up, and I suddenly realized that I didn't have to bother looking at it.

For those not in philosophy, keep a sadistic eye on the always amusing pit of torment, the Philosophy Job Market Blog.

Sunday, August 10, 2008

Citing Unpublished Material

I just received a note from a recent graduate who is about to begin his first job. Naturally he has spent the summer writing and submitting. Anyway, he is now working on a paper that deals with a very specific debate in his main area of research. As it turns out, the state of the art in this debate turns crucially on... get this.... an unpublished paper by one of the Great Old Men (GOMs) in the area. According to the student, this paper is cited with exceptional frequency, especially among those who are also GOMs (or on their way to being such).

Several attempts to get a copy of the paper from a GOM who has cited the paper (btw: the GOM who wrote the paper is retired and GOMy enough to not use email... or apparently even a telephone) have failed: the claim is that, since the paper is unpublished, it cannot be circulated without explicit permission from the (unreachable) author.

This is bloody ridiculous. In fact it strikes me as a breach of a central academic norm: Anything that's cited in a substantive way (viz., not simply mentioned, but used) must be made public so that it (both the way it is used and the source itself) can be critically examined, challenged, and responded to, etc. In this particular case, the withholding of the GOM's paper has the effect of restricting access to the current debate on this issue.

Assuming that the principle of publicity for any substantively cited work is non-controversial, and given that the student is new to the profession, does anyone have any advice about what to do? For example: should the student alert the editors of the journals that have published papers with substantive citations to the unpublished paper? Would a note to the (alas, incompetent and impotent) APA achieve anything? Any views?

Saturday, August 9, 2008

Fuck the Police

From the Chicgo Sun Times (with thanks to 729):

A Chicago Police officer has been suspended and ordered into counseling after she was found guilty of demanding free Starbucks coffee from six different stores on the North Side from 2001 to 2004, sometimes flashing her badge, displaying her gun and screaming at employees.


In related news, I see that Sting survived the (allegedly) final show of the Police reunion tour, which took place on August 7 at Madison Square Garden . Which of you jerks dropped the ball?

Friday, August 8, 2008


From Reuters:

Fed up with his students' complete inability to spell common English correctly, a British academic has suggested it may be time to accept "variant spellings" as legitimate. [....]

"Instead of complaining about the state of the education system as we correct the same mistakes year after year, I've got a better idea," Ken Smith, a criminology lecturer at Bucks New University, wrote in the Times Higher Education Supplement.

"University teachers should simply accept as variant spelling those words our students most commonly misspell."

This is the dumbest thing I've heard in a long time. Someone please have at it. I'm paralyzed. Is it time we burned all of the universities to the ground yet?

Thursday, August 7, 2008


Would someone please sit this Johansson woman down and explain to her that she fucking sucks? I've heard better singing in a Jersey karaoke bar. And anyone should have sense enough to know that Tom Waits is sacred.

Wednesday, August 6, 2008


I can't explain this...

I received a total of four referee requests (from four different journals) today. Yes: four distinct requests in one day. What the hell is that?

I'm too busy, so I'm saying no to all. Also, I've done about half-a-dozen reviews this year already. Completing six reviews seems more than sufficient-- perhaps even supererogatory. In light of the discussion going on at Leiter, does anyone have a sense of how many ms reviews are sufficient to meet one's duty to the profession?

Monday, August 4, 2008

DOOM, early August edition

Police say the 42-year-old man dialed 911 twice last week so he could have his sub made correctly. The second call was to complain that officers weren't arriving fast enough.

Subway workers told police Peterson became belligerent and yelled when they were fixing his order. They locked him out of the store after he left to call police.

When officers arrived, they tried to calm Peterson and explain the proper use of 911. Those efforts failed, and he was arrested on a charge of making false 911 calls.

Peterson did not have a listed phone number.

Friday, August 1, 2008

Popular Philosophy: A Failed Attempt

On my way out of my building this morning, I shared an elevator ride with a young woman who was obviously on her way to work. She said to me:

I feel like it's Saturday.

I replied:

Do you meant that you feel the way you typically do on Saturdays, or that you feel that today is Saturday?

Obviously annoyed, she replied:

I work on Saturdays.

Silence for the rest of the ride.

Spiros, 0; Stranger on Elevator, 1

Philosophical Lexicon, 2008 edition

Maybe I'm way behind the curve on this, but I just discovered that a new edition of the Philosophical Lexicon has been released. For those who are insufficiently geeky, this document provides definitions of mock words typically formed from (or inspired by) the proper names of living philosophers. If you get even half of the jokes, you're off the scale in geekitude. Good luck!