Friday, October 29, 2010

Rec Letter Typo

I was just printing out a recommendation letter for a student. I had a sentence in it about how the student has a background interest in Philosophy of Law, and even has a paper accepted about some current work by Joseph Raz.

I'm glad I caught the typo in the sentence that said: "Ms. Y has recently had a paper accepted for publication at [very good journal name here] on recent work by Rza"

Then again, maybe I should have kept it in? It's about time that philosophers began giving serious attention to the Wu-Tang Clan.

Thursday, October 28, 2010

Philosophy's Biggest Losers

I just had a conversation with a colleague about what might be called philosophy's biggest losers. We were trying to come up with a list of 20th Century philosophers who, although they were considered to be absolutely top-notch in their day, are at present completely forgotten and unread.

We initially thought of A. N. Whitehead. A towering figure in his day; no one cares about him now. But then we were reminded of the "process philosophy" hangers-on. So Whitehead isn't the biggest loser after all.

Norman Malcolm then came to mind. Seriously. Does any other 20th C philosopher match him? He was a major force in his day. But now nobody reads a word. Not one essay is considered essential. Not one essay is even regarded as historically significant in the development of subsequent philosophy. Malcolm is Philosophy's biggest loser.

Other views?

Tuesday, October 26, 2010

Rec Letter Fuckedupness

Has it really come to this?

I recently wrote a recommendation letter for a student of whom I think highly. The letter was my usual, short and direct: The student has done impressive work, the forthcoming paper makes what I see as a real advance in the debate about x (and here's why), and the teaching record is solid. I ended with a sentence about how the student once had a hard time in dealing on his/her feet with a particular kind of objection, but now has developed a stronger response. I then said the stuff about "highest recommendation" and what not.

I just got a phone call from someone at another university asking how to interpret the letter. The simple and direct approach apparently now is taken as evidence of lurking defects. The lack of gushing praise about being "the best student in 40 years" or similar nonsense is now taken as an implicit assertion that the student is, after all, not especially good. And the claim about the student once having problems (now overcome) in formulating a real-time response to a particular kind of objection is now taken as the claim that the student's entire project is a crashing failure.

Apparently my letter got the application placed in the "no thanks" pile! Luckily, someone had the good sense to think twice, and I was able to set everything aright. But I can't help but worry about how my recommendation letters get read. I always avoid vapid gushing and useless hyperbole. And I always include some example of how the student has matured over the course of writing the dissertation. I'd been thinking that cutting to the chase, giving non-nonsense evaluation of the work, and saying something about how students improve was a good thing!

Perhaps there's a code word we could come up with that will indicate to letter readers that the short and direct approach is being taken, and should not be received as an implicit condemnation, like "No B.S." just below the signature?

Sunday, October 24, 2010

Best Ad in the JFP

The University of St. Thomas (#101) gets my vote for Best Ad of the October JFP. Consider the following sentence:
Applicants should have outstanding reasoning, teaching, and writing skills, and the virtues of collegiality.
That renders 95% of the profession ineligible for the position.

Tuesday, October 19, 2010

And one more thing....

Tom Bosley has a posse. Happy days.


Awesomeness by Omission

A colleague has just called my attention to the following slice of awesomeness.

From the Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy entry on "ontological arguments," describing Malcom's famous paper:

"Defence of modal ontological arguments by a famous ordinary philosopher.”

The author seems to have left out the word ‘language’ after 'ordinary', but then again....

SSRN "Bound Hard Copy" Option

A colleague just forwarded to me a note from the people who run SSRN. Apparently SSRN will soon make available to those who visit the site an option to "purchase a bound hard copy" of anything that's posted there that's between 19 and 240 pages, for a marginal fee.

There's a way for authors who post on SSRN to opt out of this service. At first blush, opting out seems like a good thing to do. I thought that SSRN was a place to post work in progress, or drafts, conference-length versions of papers which will eventually be expanded to article-length. Placing a draft between two covers and selling the result somehow seems to me rather like publishing the piece.

Any views?

Monday, October 18, 2010

Stealing Brandom

I was just out at a small coffee shop reading Brandom's most recent book on Reason in Philosophy. I got up for get a refill on my coffee, and foolishly (as it turns out) left my book on the table where I was sitting. When I got back to the table (maybe 2 minutes later), the Brandom book was gone!

That's right: someone stole a Robert Brandom book. I also had on the table an almost-new copy of Putnam's Reason, Truth, and History, which was untouched.

What are the appropriate inferences?

Wednesday, October 13, 2010

Job Seekers: Don't Do This!!!

A year ago, I commented on a paper at a conference. The paper was pretty good, and I said so in my comments. The author of the paper was a younger philosopher just finishing a dissertation. We had lunch with a few other people. Over lunch I mentioned again that I thought the paper was very good, and offered the usual encouragements.

Today I got a note from one of those online confidential document handlers instructing me to upload my letter of recommendation for this younger philosopher. I was never contacted by the younger philosopher directly; I was never asked about my willingness to write a letter. And, more importantly, that conference paper is the only thing I've ever read by that younger philosopher. So even had I wanted to write a recommendation letter, I'd not have enough time to read other material (which would be necessary in order to write a decent letter). What's worse, the confidential document handler email does not give instructions for denying the request for the letter.

This strikes me as unacceptable and rude. I'm tempted to send in a brief letter explaining how inconsiderate and clueless this person is.

Saturday, October 9, 2010

October JFP

I have not had the opportunity to scrutinize it carefully yet, but the JFP looks pretty bad-- at least as bad as last year's. Although the overall number of ads seems like an improvement, there seems to be a sizable portion of open rank positions and non tt positions. Moreover, many of the "web only" ads are repeats of the summer ads, and I'll bet that may of the remaining "web onlys" will be reappear in the November JFP.

Ongoing trends seem to be: Ethics, Social & Political, and Philosophy of Law seem disproportionally well represented, as does Ancient.

If anyone has had the chance to study closely the JFP, please feel free to share your findings.

Insane Clown Posse, Christians

The Insane Clown Posse are Christians.
ICP have a fearsome reputation, fostered by news reports showing teenagers in juggalo T-shirts arrested for stabbing strangers and lyrics like "Barrels in your mouth/bullets to your head/The back of your neck's all over the shed/Boomshacka boom chop chop bang."All of which makes Violent J's recent announcement really quite astonishing: Insane Clown Posse have this entire time secretly been evangelical Christians.
I don't see what's so "amazing" about a pair of lying idiot opportunists being Christian. The really hilarious part is Violent J's claim that he and Shaggy "think for a living."

Thursday, October 7, 2010

Jack Vindicated

On NPR today, Steve Inskeep interviewed one Michael Norton of Harvard Business School about popular beliefs about wealth inequality in the US. Turns out (no surprise) that people greatly underestimate the degree of inequality. But (surprisingly) people think that wealth should be distributed far more evenly than they think it currently is. Apparently Norton got comparable results across the usual political divides (Democrat / Republican and the like). Norton says:
If you think again in percentage terms, so the top 20 percent, as I said, have 85 percent of the wealth, most Americans want them to have roughly 35 percent of the wealth. You're talking about 50 percent of all the wealth in the United States, which as you can imagine is a very, very large number. People would like that to be more evenly distributed across people with less income.
Go, Jack, go!

Sunday, October 3, 2010


I just read the following sentence:

"Judicial review insures that democratically enacted laws are constitutional."

Am I right to think that the third word is incorrect? Shouldn't it be "ensures"?

This mistake seems to be getting increasingly common-- in professional publications. Views?

Friday, October 1, 2010

Ironic? It Didn't Seem So...

"Dude, but I totally get everything I ever read by Hegel... Fuck you."

--One undergrad in a crooked baseball cap to another, entering the building on campus.