Category Archives: stand-up philosophy

December 31, 2013, 12:52 am

Right vs. Law

From the comments to this post, Mark Lafue’s quite reasonable comment:

I am perhaps groggy and not thinking clearly, but are there ways in which freedom of speech is protected by laws not derived from the constitution? There are and always have been laws that protect rights to property, life and liberty from non-government actors, but off the top of my head I can’t think of any that cover freedom of expression.

And my response: There are laws that Mark is not thinking of, such as international treaty laws that protect freedom of expression, but my point is to separate the idea of “freedom of speech” as a right with the laws passed to protect that right. Rights – in the constitutional sense – are not created by the laws. They exist independently, and the laws are there to protect them, not to establish them. That’s why the First Amendment reads, in part, Congress shall make no law…

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December 2, 2013, 9:04 pm

Everything Was New Once

A random tweet

led to a snarky response on my part:

I decided to go back and look at the Beloit mindset list from its early days. For those who don’t know, Beloit College published a “College Mindset List” for its entering class. They explain it this way:

What started as a witty way of saying to faculty colleagues “beware of hardening of the references,” has turned into a globally reported and utilized guide to the intelligent if unprepared adolescent consciousness. It is requested by thousands of readers, reprinted in hundreds of print and electronic publications, and used for a wide variety of purposes. It has caught the imagination of the public and has drawn responses from around the world, including more than a million visitors to the website annually.

From the 2017…

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November 16, 2010, 11:14 am

But what about the Frege-Geach problem?!

Am I understanding this right? A teacher starts talking to a guy in a bar, tells him a story about how another teacher used the word “nigger,” and this results in the storyteller getting into trouble?

The intuitive sense of unfairness comes from the fact that we all understand the difference between genuinely asserting and using the same language in a way that doesn’t assert. You might overhear me utter the phrase “Ari is so handsome” as I’m in the midst of saying “Only Mrs. Kelman could think that Ari is so handsome,” for example. While the phrase itself retains its meaning in the two contexts, the sentences mean very different things.

As I recall, Frege’s general point about this is that there’s no operator that indicates what follows is being asserted. Phrases like “I’m genuinely asserting that….” are themselves subject to the same problem– they can be put in contexts where…

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November 2, 2010, 6:54 pm

We’re ignoring the possibility that there was a time traveler, who planted the film in an effort to discredit believers in time travel.

I am not teaching Hume on miracles for the foreseeable future, but if you are, here is a doozy of a toy example to make you with it and hip:

Time travel may be possible, but epistemology is a bitch.

October 6, 2010, 5:50 am

Making visible the invisible.

A neat project at the behest of the Women in Philosophy Task Force: stories of what it’s like to be a woman in philosophy.  If you’re a woman and you have a story to share, you can submit it here.

What’s interesting is that while some of the stories are overtly horrid, some are cases where there are good intentions that don’t lead to good results.  Maybe this should go under Neddy’s request for “facts about human nature that explain a lot”, but I think there’s a strong tendency for people to imagine discrimination as something that goes on not only overtly, but with lots of bells and whistles and an identifiable villain snarling on screen, so that if there is discrimination occurring, it will be obvious to the casual (male) observer.   Thus, if he doesn’t see the problem, it must not exist.

August 27, 2010, 6:46 am

A prologomena to all future blathering about gender on the Internet

It’s striking, when one reads female philosophers from the early modern period, how little the arguments that a given trait belongs solely to women or to men have changed over the years.  In the 17th and 18th centuries, no one used the term “genetic” or “evolutionary” or “long end of the tail” or “back on Ye Olde Veldte”, but instead argued in terms of “natural” or “innate” differences.  What particular traits belong in the set “innate to women” or “innate to men” have changed according to social fashion, but what’s curious is that the form of the argument hasn’t:

Girls are from their earliest infancy fond of dress.  Not content with being pretty, they are desirous of being thought so; we see, by all their little airs, that this thought engages their attention; and they are hardly capable of understanding what is said to them, before they are to be governed by talking to them of what …

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July 23, 2010, 1:47 pm

In conformity with the best and most complete…

I’ve been enjoying the NYT series The Stone, but not primarily for the quality of its articles, which both have been good introductory nibbles  and have in general satisfied my selfish requirement: if my mother reads this, will she be assured that it is still unlikely that my discipline requires hallucinogenic drugs?

Rather, I have enjoyed the comments to the articles, for amidst the gloaming where philosophy and philosophers are condemned as of little interest, reasons glimmer like fireflies.  But the writer didn’t think of… What about this?… You’ve overlooked…. Maybe this shows that instead we should…

It makes me smile.  Thou art the man, thou art the man.

December 10, 2009, 8:59 am

What philosophers think

A friend passed on some survey results about philosophers’ opinions on Big Issues. Some surprises: a full 66% accept or lean toward accepting a priori knowledge! Only 30% accept or lean toward moral anti-realism! These are sublime and funky results indeed.

December 7, 2009, 6:30 pm

We can’t say we weren’t warned.

Epictetus warned us not to go to graduate school twenty centuries ago — even if we could always go to law school become tax men as a back-up:

Thus, some people, when they have seen a philosopher… wish to philosophize themselves.  Man, first consider what kind of business this is.  And then learn what your own nature is; can you bear it?… Do you suppose you can do these things and keep on eating and drinking and enthusing and sulking just as you do now?  You will have to go without sleep, labor, leave home, be despised by a slave, have everyone laugh at you, have the worse in everything, in jobs, in lawsuits, in every trifle.

-Encheiridion, 29.

November 28, 2009, 8:10 am

In which I chomp on some bait.

Oh, Holbo.  I know you’re not baiting me, but it feels like you are.

John has a problem that everyone who has to teach history of early modern has to face.  The standard story explains 17th and 18th century philosophy as a debate between two epistemological factions.  The rationalists Descartes, Spinoza, and Leibniz meet the empiricists Locke, Berkeley, and Hume in the octagon!   Who will emerge victorious?  KANT!  Thesis, antithesis, synthesis.

The virtues of the standard story are these.  Having a narrative that unites the whole period and builds towards contemporary thought helps give a survey course some thematic unity, which is important given the difficulty of the readings.  It’s also the standard story that almost every practicing philosopher has encountered, which makes it both very easy to teach and the conservative option.  Given that the students are almost certain…

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November 11, 2009, 12:58 pm

The cranky, it’s been broughten.

I enjoyed this outburst.

I just don’t get it. I give up. I’m, like, off the bus.

However, a confession: It struck me as I was writing this that Tye simply couldn’t be saying what I was taking him to say… It struck me that nobody could believe that. So I went and tried it out on a couple of philosophy friends … and they agreed that nobody could believe what I was writing that Tye believes. Fair enough, but then, what is one to make of such a passage as this: “An object’s looking F . . . [isn’t] a matter of an object’s causing an experience which represents simply that something is F [sic]. The experience one has of the seen object is one into whose content the seen object itself enters” (my emphasis)….

Now, I’m kind of a Tarskian about meaning. I don’t do “radical interpretation”. So, when someone writes “the experience one has of the seen object is one…

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October 17, 2009, 5:31 pm

Reductio ad abdomen.

September 8, 2009, 9:45 am

Up, down, top, bottom, strange, charmed.

Thanks to everyone who voted Dana’s treatment of Leibniz and Spinoza for the Quark; she came in fourth and is a semifinalist. Next,

The daily editors of 3 Quarks Daily will now pick the top six entries from these, and after possibly adding up to three “wildcard” entries, will send that list of finalists to Professor Dan Dennett on September 11. We will also post the list of finalists here on that date.

Cross your fingers.

August 10, 2009, 5:39 pm

A Portrait of the Scholar as a Young Procrastinator

Today  I:

1.  Thought of Aristotle’s failure to succeed Plato at the Academy in terms of a proto-tenure-denial, which makes the founding of the Lyceum a totally sweet vindication.

2. Reflected further that if Aristotle didn’t get tenure, it was probably due to teaching and not scholarship (“Outside letters compared his writing to rivers of gold.”)  Pondered what his evaluations must have been like  (“Paces too much during lecture.”)

3. Recalled, while reading Plato, a theory expounded by one of my undergraduate professors that, according to some scholars of ancient philosophy, Plato’s dialogues were originally intended to be performed.  This theory permits the interpretation of some parts of Plato as addressing the audience directly, and allows bits of dialogue to be taken as asides to the audience, or read as intended primarily for humorous effect rather than philosophical value…

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July 27, 2009, 1:50 pm

And on the mirror in blood was written “Aren’t you glad you didn’t turn on the light?” and other collegiate tales

A great illustration of an urban legend I’ve heard in various forms since, oh, sometime in high school.   This is one of those things meant to show the power of the noble Christian David over the godless academy Goliath.  I’ve heard it set in a philosophy classroom, in an evolutionist’s class room, in a  chemistry classroom, at Harvard, Yale, Berkeley.   I had it told to me in church youth group.  I had it told to me by friends, and by professors who had heard the story set at their PhD granting institution.

(Sobering thought:  perhaps this Wandering Atheist Professor is an adjunct…)

I think the course is clear.

Next semester, I’m getting some chalk….