Saturday, May 30, 2009

While you're at it

Since it came up in the comments on the previous post, what about language requirements? My own view is that they're useless in Philosophy as a departmental requirement. To explain: students working on dissertations on, say, Aristotle, certainly need to acquire a serious command of Greek, whereas students working on, say, deflationism probably have no use for any foreign language at all (they'd be better off learning more logic). So students working on dissertations in areas which require work in foreign languages should be required to acquire them at the level appropriate for their work. But these are matters for a student's dissertation committee to decide. Foreign language competence should not be regarded as a requirement for advancing to the dissertation (or "prospectus") stage.

In other words, the old school line about how working knowledge of a foreign language is essential to doctorate-level research is bunk.

Thursday, May 28, 2009

Comprehensive Exams

I find myself with an invitation to be an external reviewer for a department that I take it aspires to climb the Leiterometer. And I'm hearing word from my own department that it's time to update our own program. Fair enough. Questions especially for those freshly out of school:

What would you say is the purpose of comprehensive examinations? Should they track traditional areas, plausible AOSs and AOCs, problems, or historical periods, or something else? Does it still make sense to group certain areas together such that there's one exam in, e.g., "metaphysics, phil mind, logic" and another in, e.g., "epistemology, phil language, phil science"? What about oral examiantions? Should all comps be oral? None?

Please opine freely.

Tuesday, May 26, 2009

Overheard at Starbucks

Two early 50s men, discussing their Memorial Day activities. The one says,
Yeah... my kid spent all day in side playing Guitar Hero.

The other says,
Mine too. I'd object, but at least it teaches them how to play guitar.

The first, authoritatively,
Well... indirectly it does.

Monday, May 25, 2009

Attack of the Docs

Does anyone have any insight into the cause of the proliferation of music documentaries? I'm sure you all know about the one about the failed but persistent Canadian metal band Anvil. And there's apparently an Iron Maiden documentary out now.

But do we really need a documentary about the Insane Clown Posse and their fans, who call themselves juggalos? Has anyone seen this?

Monday, May 18, 2009

Natural Epistemologists

Next time I hear some nonsense about how Epistemology is dead or useless, I'll recall what I heard at a coffee shop this morning from an elderly couple:

Ms.: That's what you always say, but you're always wrong. I don't believe you.
Mr.: I'm tellin' ya... I saw it.
Ms.: You just think that's what you saw.
Mr.: No! Really! I swear on my mother's grave.
Ms.: You "swear on your mother's grave"? What good is that? That don't make it true!
Mr.: It shows you how certain I am.
Ms.: It don't. It shows how certain you think you are. You think you're right. But you're not.
Mr.: But what else can I do besides tell you what I saw?
Ms.: Become a better witness, so I can believe what you say.

Thursday, May 14, 2009


From The Guardian (thanks to some jerk for the pointer):

An unexpected kind of comic book hero is set to emerge this autumn: Bertrand Russell, the philosopher, logician, mathematician and Nobel prize for literature winner who wrote the seminal work on mathematical logic, the Principia Mathematica.

That's right. A graphic novel starring Lord Bertie and pals (e.g., Whitehead (before he got dumb), Wittgenstein (before he got dumb), Hilbert), chronicling their quest to understand. Check it.

Please Explain

I just saw a bumper sticker that says:

Research Takes Brains

Would someone please explain?

Tuesday, May 12, 2009

For Those About to Puke...

Just in case you need to puke, check out Steve Earle's latest album, a collection of Townes Van Zandt covers. It's god fucking awful. What makes people think that they can do this kind of thing? Is this really that much different from Scarlett whatever-her-name-is doing the album of Tom Waits covers? Well... admittedly it's a little different. But not much. Earle should be ashamed. Poor Townes is turning in his grave.

Sunday, May 10, 2009

What I'll be doing this summer

I was just aimlessly wandering around the part of my city that's most overtly catered to the soon departing college students, and I came across a post bearing a flyer advertising the following (verbatim):
Ninja Lessons!!! BE a Ninja!!!

*Fight Multiple Enemies
*Standard and unusual Weapons
*Defy gravity
*Heightened Perception
*See into the future
*Assassination Techniques

Beginner and Advanced Classes Forming Now
Email: [xxxxxx]
I'll let you know if I get a reply to my email query.

Tuesday, May 5, 2009

Teaching Evaluations: Ignore Them

I spent an hour or so this morning talking to a young colleague who had just made the mistake of reading her teaching evaluations for the semester. She was upset, antagonized, demoralized, and stricken with anxiety. The student criticisms ranged from silly and irrelevant (e.g., comments about the instructor's shoes) to simply mean. No doubt she'll carry all of this into her classes next semester, thereby enabling the all too familiar self-fulfilling downward spiral from mere unpopularity to truly ineffective (because fixated on the evaluations rather than the subject-matter) teaching. Why do we put faculty through this exercise in intimidation and humiliation?

So when she asked me what she should do, I told her that the answer was simple: stop reading your evaluations. Ignore them. Seriously: Has anyone has learned a damn thing of value from student evaluations?

Saturday, May 2, 2009


What the fuck's up with "only"? The following two sentences seem to me significantly different:

(a) I only go to the mall on weekends.
(b) I go to the mall only on weekends.

Now, I understand that in ordinary conversation we accept a for b, allowing the pragmatics to render negligible the difference. But in written communication-- especially written communication that aspires to be precise-- it's best to reject a when b is meant. Or so I think. I'm dealing with a copyeditor who insists not only that a and b are equivalent, but that a is preferable to b!


(c) The utilitarian only cares about the total sum of pleasure.
(d) The utilitarian cares about only the total sum of pleasure.

It seems to me that c is false, and d is true. It also seems to me that c states a "serious error of fact." But, hey, what do I know?

Friday, May 1, 2009

Copyeditor Blues...

Oi... I've been doing battle with a copyeditor over the past few days. Maybe I'll find the strength to post a few of the... um... corrections she has tried to introduce into my text, but I wouldn't count on it if I were you.

One thing that has my ire up, though, is a disagreement with her about the scope of the second conjunct in the instruction to "confine [my] corrections to typesetter's errors and serious errors of fact." Serious errors of fact? Is there an error of fact that's not serious?