Thursday, August 30, 2012

Jumping the Shark... Twice

Can one person jump the shark twice?  Arguably yes, given the latest from Thomas Nagel....

Here.

46 comments:

Anonymous said...

Dualism is transubstantiation. You can deal with the choice simply, one way or the other, or you can make a career out of obfuscation. If you choose materialism you choose science; if you choose dualism you choose religion; if you choose obfuscation you choose the arts. If there's no free will they might as well have chosen you.

Your field gives credence to all three without really being any of the above.

Pound Foolish said...

Nagel might not know what it is like to be a bat. But, if he has any self-awareness at all, he knows what it is like to be batty.

Anonymous said...

As a believer in evolution, I believe that Nagel has insulted me, so it seems appropriate to punch him in the mouth.

Anonymous said...

Terrific. So let's gear up for a round of scientists putting philosophy in its place by declaring that the arguments challenging evolution are "interesting as philosophy (i.e., a discipline in which there are no correct answers), but not really scientific." We philosophers just don't understand all that mathematical, scientific, objective truth stuff.

Anonymous said...

"We philosophers just don't understand all that mathematical, scientific, objective truth stuff."

You say that as if Nagel understands all that mathematical, scientific, objective truth stuff in this case.

Anonymous said...

5:06, scientists will not say that this is interesting as philospophy. They will say that this is evidence that philosphy is bullshit.

Answer to Spiros's question. No. One can only jump the shark once. One can decline into senility for a long time, though.

Anonymous said...

Not that this has anything to do with Nagel's anti-materialism, but maybe some of you should read Lewontin.

Anonymous said...

9:01 - are you implying that Lewontin offers any support for ID? Or for Nagel's claims that ID offers insights that the new synthesis does not? If so, I think you should read him, not us.

Lewontin is a good critique of hyperadaptationist thinking. Hyperadaptationism does not equal the new synthesis. It is no strike against the new synthesis that some people throw around just so stories.

Anonymous said...

Before we pass out the torches and pitchforks, perhaps we should examine the source of this claim. Evolutionnews.com is obviously a pro-ID site, and it seems to me they're severely misrepresenting what the focus of the book is. According to them, it's 144 pages of Nagel praising intelligent design. According to Amazon, it's about how "[t]he modern materialist approach to life has conspicuously failed to explain such central mind-related features of our world as consciousness, intentionality, meaning, and value. This failure to account for something so integral to nature as mind, argues philosopher Thomas Nagel, is a major problem, threatening to unravel the entire naturalistic world picture, extending to biology, evolutionary theory, and cosmology."

This looks to be a book about why a materialist approach is flawed, and it briefly mentions evolution and ID. Of course a website like EvolutionNews is going to want to depict it as "Famous philosopher writes groundbreaking book about why we're right!" even if that's not what it's actually arguing for. But with what the Amazon blurb said, and the quotes of the article, it seems like he's just arguing that a purely materialist, Darwinian outlook is insufficient to explain all of reality.

As a non-professional philosopher, I have to ask, is taking this stance against materialism really considered "jumping the shark" in academia?

Anonymous said...

Anon 10:50 - there is a lively debate about whether "materialism" (I guess Nagel means physicalism) can account for mind, and no one thinks that people who claim that it can't are crazy or dumb. But anyone who thinks that any of this raises the slightest problem for evolutionary biology or cosmology has got something badly wrong. Shark jumping seems apt. Plus of course Nagel has form as a defender of ID.

Glaucon said...

This sounds more like shark-catapulting, or shark-being-shot-out-of-a-circus-cannon than mere shark-jumping. But even so I'm calling Nagel "Fonzi" from now on...

Anonymous said...

9:20, Lewontin has written quite a bit more than Spandrels in the less technical realm. Doesn't some of his other stuff touch on bias and objectivity in the biological sciences? If I recall, some of it has to do, specifically, with political influence in science. Maybe that's what 9:01 was suggesting. These writings would be far more relevant to the ID controversy than Spandrels.

Anonymous said...

Nagel is being a good philosopher. Folks who leap to the conclusion that he has jumped the shark are not good philosophers. Nor, I suspect, are folks who ask the interwebs whether or not he has jumped the shark again. I confess I have never had a very high opinion of Spiros. But my opinion of Spiros just dropped a lot.

Now go back to beating your adorable little drums, folks.

Signed,

ABD Atheist

Anonymous said...

Signed
ABD Atheist (NYU)

Anonymous said...

"Signed
ABD Atheist (NYU)"

Ah! Well, if he's from NYU, we should definitely pay attention.

Anonymous said...

1.14 - how is the argument supposed to go? Lewontin has pointed to subtle kinds of bias in evolutionary biology, therefore we ought to take the loons from the Discovery institute and their propaganda seriously? Or Nagel, who takes the loons seriously because he doesn't know wtf he's talking about?

Anonymous said...

There we go. The adorable little drum beaters (such as Idiot 3:58) have returned.

Anonymous said...

3:58, my point wasn't to suggest that Lewontin gives us any reason to take ID seriously. Just that some of the stuff he has written is *more* relevant to ID than Spandrels. Not that interesting of a point, really.

But depending on how serious non-truth conducive bias in the biological sciences is, then, yes, bias could give us reason to take competitor theories more seriously. That's not to say ID is a serious competitor. And I suspect it's unlikely that the biases at play in evolutionary bio are troubling to that degree. Evolutionary psych and behavioral genetics are probably another story, though.

Anonymous said...

I'm 3:58. Can you tell me what was idiotic or drum beating about my comment, 5:02. I really have no clue what was wrong with it. Maybe you can help me be a bit less of an idiot?

Glaucon said...

Folks who leap to the conclusion that people who think Nagel has jumped the shark are not good philosophers are not good philisophers. Nor, I suspect, are folks who think anyone gives a shit that they're ABD ay NYU.

But then again, I don't want to work; I just want to bang on my adorable little drum all day.

Anonymous said...

I've read the book, it is really quite poor, and the subtitle just makes it fodder for the ID proponents. The rumor is that NYU begged Tom not to retire a decade ago since he helped their reputation when the program was building up. But now they need him to retire.

Anonymous said...

"As a non-professional philosopher, I have to ask, is taking this stance against materialism really considered "jumping the shark" in academia?"

Hi 10:50. There's a vocal contingent among us who think talk of God is talk of nonsense. They're also the sort of people who tend to accept a certain blind and meaningless view of the universe. As such, they're often rather snarky with those who think notions of value, rule, and purpose inhere in nature.

But you're right to remark that Nagel's book can be thought of as a contribution to the working out of a new view of Darwinian selection principles and the semantic resources needed to comprehend their operation. In this, folks are right to look to Lewontin (I suppose "The Units of Selection" is the place to go?). Lots of work downstream from that have come to question aspects of the new synthesis. For my money, some of the most interesting criticism has come by way of pointing out how dominant and one-sided has been their reconstruction of the last couple hundred years' biology. That there might actually be some conceptually sophisticated views on nature in so-called 'ID' literature would, if sufficiently warranted, reinforce the impression that the new synthesis has not been in all things to the good. Of course, for those who have begun to question the new synthesis' grip on our understanding, the fact that there would be processes of selection and end-directed development at work in the sciences themselves is not surprising. If science is to be self-conscious we must periodically recast our history so as to incorporate the fruits of its rational development into our own understanding, even those fruits not in favor according to the current fad.

It's fair to say lots of folks still don't think we've properly situated notions like teleology and the evaluative modalities in our thought about biological evolution, not to mention the place of their successor concepts in domains like language, personal agency, and social institution. If Nagel's working at that, more power to him.

Also, the first commenter to this thread should be ashamed of her/himself.

"Dualism is transubstantiation. You can deal with the choice simply, one way or the other, or you can make a career out of obfuscation. If you choose materialism you choose science; if you choose dualism you choose religion; if you choose obfuscation you choose the arts. If there's no free will they might as well have chosen you.

Your field gives credence to all three without really being any of the above."

This is such a myopic, squinty-eyed view it's amazing anyone can walk around with it and think they have anything intelligent to say. It takes a sledgehammer to a task that requires surgical skill. A proper treatment of the normative sciences requires much more care than this. If this is a reflection of the state of our profession, I weep for our culture.

candid_observer said...

"But you're right to remark that Nagel's book can be thought of as a contribution to the working out of a new view of Darwinian selection principles and the semantic resources needed to comprehend their operation."

What on earth does this mean? I find nothing in your further remarks that clarifies the comment.

Anonymous said...

Anonymous 8/31 11:25
I pity an academic culture that needs to justify an engagement with formal logic with the terminology of value, so you end up with titles such as "Rethinking the Good", while at the same time arguing that moral and political philosophy are of little use in discussions of real politics. Mathematicians don't worry about these things, but language has baggage.

Here's Lewontin

Scientists are practicing, not theoretical empiricists. They're happy enough to muddle through the world of perceptions and or facts. Philosophers want "Truth" . Cleanliness is next to godliness but there is no god and the world we live in is dirty. We're dirty.

The only philosophy in a world without gods (absent the possibility of theology) is the philosophy of action. There is no philosophy that does not deal with behavior and ethnography. Plato wrote dialogues. He wrote fiction. In the American 20th century, Faulkner is his descendent more than Quine and Kripke.

Mathematics and formal logic; the empirical sciences; the arts and humanities, study and practice. You want it all. You want to rage at arguments against evolution while arguing over metaphysical abstractions founded in faith as absurd as any other. Do you ever wonder why almost every post and comment on this page reads like it was written by a desperately undersexed adolescent engineering student? The sex life or lack thereof of mathematicians is irrelevant to mathematics. No aspect of human behavior is irrelevant to philosophy.

I stand by what I said in comment 1

Anonymous said...

11:25 here.

""But you're right to remark that Nagel's book can be thought of as a contribution to the working out of a new view of Darwinian selection principles and the semantic resources needed to comprehend their operation."

What on earth does this mean? I find nothing in your further remarks that clarifies the comment."

I was referring to the ongoing debate within biology and the philosophy of biology concerning how we ought to think about the semantic commitments we take on when we talk of essences, natural kinds, and selectional processes. In particular, debates concerning the place of teleology and normative evaluation in thinking about the individuals and kinds that undergo selectional development. It has been common for synthesis historiography (as Amundson calls it) to suppose that talk of essence was talk of fixed natural kinds, and that both sorts of discourse were Platonist holdovers that Darwinian natural selection, when wedded to genetics in the middle of the 20th century, finally helped clear our heads of. People like Ron Amundson have shown, convincingly to my mind, that such a reading of the history of talk of essence and kind-identities just doesn't square with how these concepts were used. And that goes for Aristotle just as much as it does the German idealists. Still more for someone like Peirce.

12:23:
"I pity an academic culture that needs to justify an engagement with formal logic with the terminology of value, so you end up with titles such as "Rethinking the Good", while at the same time arguing that moral and political philosophy are of little use in discussions of real politics. Mathematicians don't worry about these things, but language has baggage."

You've addressed this to me, but I have no idea why you suppose this picks up with anything I said. I certainly wasn't suggesting that anyone needs to "justify an engagement with formal logic." Nor was my defense of an investigation into the normative sciences (talk of value in its aesthetic, logical, and ethical dimensions) meant to offer such a justification. Talk of the sex-life of mathematicians seems even more ungrounded. I'm still of the mind that, as evidenced in the trichotomy you set up in your first post, the categories you're working with are distorting your understanding.

candid_observer said...

Anonymous 1:08

Honestly, I just don't get the importance of what you are claiming here, as it applies to biology itself as a science.

Does talk of natural kinds or teleology -- or the refusal to do so -- really do anything for biology qua science? Why? Isn't that actually a philosophical concern alone? What insight of a scientific nature does introducing such concepts add? What have those biologists who have refused to talk of such things missed? Why is it important that they should embrace a conceptual framework in which such things as natural kinds and teleology are included? Why should they care whether or not "natural kinds", say, was meant by Aristotle or anyone else as a fixed essence?

Anonymous said...

Hi Candid observer. You write:

"Does talk of natural kinds or teleology -- or the refusal to do so -- really do anything for biology qua science? Why? Isn't that actually a philosophical concern alone? What insight of a scientific nature does introducing such concepts add? What have those biologists who have refused to talk of such things missed? Why is it important that they should embrace a conceptual framework in which such things as natural kinds and teleology are included? Why should they care whether or not "natural kinds", say, was meant by Aristotle or anyone else as a fixed essence?"

I'm still in process about these things myself, and I don't think I have anything to say about what practicing biologists are missing. The debate, as I am construing it, concerns the way in which people like Ernst Mayr set the tone for the historiography of the biological sciences in the second half of the 20th century. It's clear that these sorts of stories set the intellectual frame within which the sciences have been taught and practiced. One of the values of approaches like Amundson's is that he takes seriously the advances in molecular biology, and their connection to earlier views in biology, that 'synthesis historiography' overlooks and simplifies.

As a student of philosophy I happen to think (along with the German idealists and the classical American pragmatists) that the project of comprehending the organic kingdom is essential for squaring away the categories with which we ought to think about the place of persons in nature. It is for this reason that when someone like Peter Godfrey-Smith casts his work as a contribution to the 'philosophy of nature' I suspect that contemporary philosophy of biology is coming around to a more sympathetic appraisal of the work that was done by, say, Hegel and Schelling under the banner 'philosophy of nature.' That PGS should have a view so situated within what Amundson calls 'synthesis historiography,' railing against essences and kinds in just the way Amundson finds problematic, while nevertheless advocating for a philosophy of nature in this manner, suggests that the intellectual environment of the biological sciences is indeed ripe for a new synthesis. And I'm optimistic it will be one where what Peirce called 'the three normative sciences' begin to receive their proper due.

Anonymous said...

How the fuck am I supposed to read all these long comments?

CTS said...

@ 5:51 PM:

:-)

Jesu Christo, make the ganglia twitch. said...

11:25 here at 1:08
Jesus suffering fuck.

"The Normative Sciences"

Anonymous said...

"No aspect of human behavior is irrelevant to philosophy."

Philosophy: the study of human behavior at the expense of its practice.

Anonymous said...

Philosophy: the study of anal sex, inter alia.

Anonymous said...

Philosophy: where most tools who think they have a half a brain wind up.

Anonymous said...

Using that logic, and going by GRE scores, there probably isn't one whole brain among the entire lot of academics!

Philosophy: tools providing TOOLS with reductios of their positions.

Anonymous said...

In other news: Rev. Moon has a posse:

http://news.yahoo.com/unification-church-founder-rev-moon-dies-92-185236876.html

Anonymous said...

Speaking of shark jumping. Jerry Coyne has lost his marbles while attempting to wax philosphical. That's not really news, though, since he's been doing that for awhile.

https://whyevolutionistrue.wordpress.com/2012/09/04/eddy-nahmias-apostle-for-free-will/#comment-278296

Anonymous said...

Yikes! University of Chicago may want to look into his cognitive stability, especially as an educator and faculty member (more generally). Certainly wouldn't want to deal with such a child crank in my department.

Anonymous said...

Does he not have anything better to do with his time? Does he realize how unbelievabley moronic and senile his screeds have been judged to be by academics?

Anonymous said...

"Experimental philosophy is an oxymoron."
And Dualism is transubstantiation.

I wrote the second not the first, but I'm going to steal it.



Anonymous said...

Nagel reviews Plantinga's book on science and religion in the new issue of the NYRB. It's subscription only so I haven't looked at it, but I'll admit that I'm a bit scared to do so.

Anonymous said...

Plantinga and Nagel are more sane than Coyne, both in general and particularly in philosophy. Indeed, that I find myself even mentioning Coyne regarding philosophy is absurd. The previous comments should not have been allowed. Whatever Coyne is ranting about it can't possibly be philosophy... his thoughts on the subject are that awful. So, reminding yourself of the above should weaken your fears 5:55.

Glaucon said...

Wayne Coyne, on the other hand, is beyond reproach.

Anonymous said...

Glaucon wins another one.

Anonymous said...

"Indeed, that I find myself even mentioning Coyne regarding philosophy is absurd."

"Coyne received a B.S. in Biology from the College of William and Mary. He then earned a Ph.D. in evolutionary biology at Harvard University in 1978"

Well, I guess you're right.

You can't separate philosophy, as an independent subject, from theology.
This thread begins in the absurdity of the post.
Pot/Kettle
Philosophy jumped the shark before Fonzie did

Anonymous said...

"You can't separate philosophy, as an independent subject, from theology."

2:27 has become S. Edenbaum.

Anonymous said...

I always was.
From the first.