The trends on Kant futures 
Last week we had the final class meeting for my 17th+18th Century Philosophy course. As I've discussed before, I ask them pick the philosopher they found best in terms of content, the most rewarding to think about; also, I ask them to pick the one that they found to be worst or least rewarding.

I also ask them which of the texts they found the most readable or fun to read; similarly, the least. These are questions about style and presentation, rather than content.

I instruct students to note their selections. Then I take a show of hands, and we discuss the results.

Now that I have the old blog post in front of me, I can chart some trends. Here are the results from this year's class, along with the difference from the results last time:
            yay     boo
Descartes 0 -4 6 +1
Locke 4 -1 1 -1
Berkeley 6 +3 13 +3
Hume 6 -1 0 -3
Kant 9 +5 0 -1

And for texts:
                          yay    boo
Descartes' Meditations 7 x 1 +1
Locke's Essay (selections) 6 +2 3 +3
Berkeley's Principles 2 -3 5 +4
Hume's Enquiry 9 +3 2 +1
Kant's Critique (abridged) 0 x 14 -9

Some observations:

Kant fared better than last time. He had more fans philosophically, and fewer detractors stylistically. Last time, almost everyone had him tagged for worst writer. The semester was two meetings shorter this time than last, and we spent one day fewer on Kant. A cynical hypothesis is that, in the bustle of end term, fewer people actually tried to read Kant this time. Students who haven't tried reading it are less likely to hate Kant's prose.

Berkeley was even more polarizing than before (on the side of content) but much less liked (on the side of style). I have no snarky explanation for this fact.

Perhaps the best remark from the discussion: If you confuse enough people, someone's going kill you.

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Petition repetition [or] Synthesiana ad infinitum 
It seems that April has become Blog About the Synthese Debacle month here. The debacle, a recap: There was a recent guest-edited issue of Synthese. The usual editors added a disclaimer to the printed version of the issue, distancing themselves from it and saying that some of the papers in it were insulting rubbish.

There are now three different on-line petitions, all directed at the editors of Synthese: Eric Schliesser has started two petitions.

Schliesser's first petition calls for the editors to allow Barbara Forrest the write a response to Francis Beckwith's response to her original paper. Her paper, recall, is the one that led the editors to apologize for the guest-edited issue of their own journal in the first place. In Beckwith's reply, he uses the editors' disclaimer as evidence that the original paper was incompetent!

Schliesser's second petition calls for the editors to explain how and why they allowed Beckwith to publish such a brazen reply.

The third petition, organized by Brian Leiter, demands that the editors retract the the disclaimer and apologize. Ingo Brigandt and Mohan Matthen provide strong arguments for signing it.

I have signed all three, although I worry that the grand buffet of petitions will dilute the appropriate outrage. One might object to Schliesser's first petition for procedural reasons, on the grounds that allowing Forrest a reponse would be the wrong form of redress, even if one thought that the editors well and truly cocked this up. Yet a weak showing for that petition might be taken as somehow vindicating the editors and Beckwith's response. Bleah.

I am still prepared to give mitigated support to a boycott of the journal, so petitions now are weak sauce. I'll sign them, though, and so should you.*

* Obviously, you shouldn't just sign them because I said you should. Follow some links. Read up on it. Then sign.

Update, 3May

Leiter's petition, which I think was the most important, has now closed. It will be delivered to the editors with roughly 470 signatures. Leiter provides a summary of signatories and comments.

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Analysis of the Synthese affair 
I was going to provide links to further discussion of the Synthese boycott, but John Wilkins is johnny-on-the-spot. Here's the omnibus entry at his blog:

Round-up of Synthesiana at Evolving Thoughts


The editors have now offered a response which fails to address the real issue.

Mark Lance and Eric Schliesser enumerate its shortcomings.

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Epistemic community and the Synthese boycott 
Brian Leiter is calling for a boycott of Synthese. He gives details of the case at his blog, but the gist of it is this: The January issue was a special issue on the theme Evolution and its rivals. It included a paper by Barbara Forrest excoriating intelligent-design mountebank Francis Beckwith. The ID flak machine went to work long before the issue appeared. There was discussion of adding a disclaimer or revising the paper, but (after much ruckus) the guest editors were assured that the issue would appear without such tampering. In the end, however, the print version of the issue contained an apology from the journal editors for breaches of the "usual academic standards of politeness and respect." Some of the papers, they say, "employ a tone that may make it hard to distinguish between dispassionate intellectual discussion of other views and disqualification of a targeted author or group."

The guest editors of the issue are understandably miffed. Leiter leads with the headline Synthese Editors Cave in to Pressure from the Intelligent Design Lobby, and that doesn't seem overblown. The editorial note basically condemns some of the papers in the issue for resorting to ad hominem. The editor who wrote it were bungling, craven, duplicitous, or some combination of these.

I have published in Synthese in the past, and I have a paper working its way through their editorial process right now. If my present paper were just a regular submission, I would withdraw it.

The bind for me is that my paper was prepared for a special issue. The issue is on the theme The epistemology of inclusiveness. I was invited to submit the paper, I would not have written it but for the invitation, and the paper does not really make sense out of that context. Indeed, it's titled The epistemology of inclusiveness (or) Particular epistemic communities are always a mess.

Of course, losing a publication for principle would not cost me too much. I have tenure, and one paper more or less won't make much difference for my CV. Yet the guest editors who invited me have put time into the issue, as have other authors. They may not be in a position to be as cavalier about it as I could be, and none of them were involved with caving in to pressure from ID hacks. So I think that I will not withdraw my paper from the special issue.

I will join the boycott to this extent: I will not submit anything else to Synthese or review papers for the journal until there is a satisfactory reckoning. An apology from the editors would help here, but what can they say?

Of course, I will also keep an eye on the case. The editors have not given their account of it publicly.

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Lo! -gos & episteme! 
My paper, Miracles, Trust, and Ennui, has now appeared in Logos&Episteme.


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