American idol 
I had the last meeting of my American Philosophy class yesterday. On the last day of a class, I ask students to pick on one reading that they would recommend leaving out next time I teach the course and one reading that they would recommend definitely keeping. After they write down their picks, I tally votes by a show of hands. This allows me to do a post mortem on the course. I will teach American again eventually, and I try never to teach exactly the same course twice. More importantly, the questions force students to think back on the course as a whole.*

In nominating readings to drop, students ended up deprecating authors rather than specific articles. The tally:
  9 Emerson
7 Santayana
6 Lovejoy
1 James
Santayana's 'The Genteel Tradition in American Philosophy' did not add much to the class, so I probably won't teach it again. Lovejoy's 'Thirteen Pragmatisms' is dense and has a lot of philosophy in it; I am apt to include it next time. More on Emerson in a moment.

In voting for authors to keep, several students could not make up their minds and so voted for two. As a result, the total is larger:
 13 Peirce
13 James
9 Emerson
3 Parker
2 Dewey
As usually happens, there was a reading that polarized the class. There were as many trying to vote Emerson off the island as there were favoring his apotheosis. Most of the anti-Emersonians understood his position; they just didn't like it. This seems like a reason to keep leave him in.**

I was surprised that there was so much pro-Peirce sentiment and no anti-Peirce militancy at all. When questioned, students described Peirce as being clear and easy to understand. Several of them added that it was only easy to understand after we had covered it in class. Chalk that up as a success.


* They also direct them to think about the philosophy rather than about structural or incidental features of the course, unlike the more open-ended 'What did you like about this course?'
** One of the pro-Emerson students said that he liked 'Self-reliance' but that he thinks that 'The Oversoul' should be nixed. Having taught the first essay without the second before, I think that Emerson's doctrine of the Oversoul is required to understand why the call to self-reliance isn't just optimistic craziness. Other students suggested that 'The Oversoul' should be read first. So I may shuffle around the Emerson next time.

[ add comment ] ( 6200 views )   |  [ 0 trackbacks ]   |  permalink
Data: Bruno, Ilsa, Friedrich 
I am sometimes envious of philosophers of language, since any interesting turn of phrase can become a datum. Matt Weiner is especially good at turning bon mots into blog posts. I have been lecturing on Quine's 'Two Dogmas' in my American Philosophy class, however, which gives me an occasion to make such observations.

In the section on interchangeability, Quine briefly considers cases in which interchanging synonyms changes the truth of a sentence. Although Quine doesn't mention intensional contexts like belief or knowledge, I wanted students to be aware of them. Yet when I offered an example, some students disagreed with me as to how the English language works. In the course of discussion, I formulated three further examples and gauged student opinion.

Case 1: Bruno


Imagine that Bruno has some knowledge of the English language. He understands the words "unmarried" and "man" perfectly well, but he has not learned the word "bachelor." Bruno has learned that Karl is an unmarried man. I asked if it would be proper to describe the situation in this way: Bruno knows that Karl is an unmarried man, but not that Karl is a bachelor.

15 students said yes. 5 said no.

I think the majority have it right here. One of my colleagues suggests that the 'yes' answer just is the data for which philosophy of language must account. However, I find it interesting that a quarter of the students dissent.

Case 2: Ilsa


Ilsa has a similar command of the English language. She is told by a reliable source that Karl is a bachelor, but this is the first time she has ever heard the word "bachelor." She does not know that this means that Karl is an unmarried man. I asked if it would be proper to describe the situation in this way: Ilsa knows that Karl is a bachelor, but not that Karl is an unmarried man.

16 students said yes. 4 said no.

One might object to the majority: Ilsa knows that Karl is a "bachelor", yes, but the quotation marks are required. She does not know the meaning of bachelor, and so it would be false to say that she genuinely knows he is a bachelor (without the marks).

The most direct response to this is simply the show of hands. These competent English speakers accept the sentence without the scare quotes, so the scare quotes are not required.

Even philosophers are willing to attribute knowledge involving a previously alien concept. Judith Jarvis Thomson poses the following question:
Suppose we know absolutely nothing else about blogs than just that all present and past blogs have been purple. Would it not be reasonable to expect that the next blog to come into existence will also be purple?
This is all we know about blogs,* just as that was all that Ilsa knew about bachelors. No scare quotes required.

Case 3: Friedrich


Now imagine Friedrich, who understands words like "married" and "unmarried" and thinks he understands "bachelor." However, he thinks that "bachelor" is a synonym for "polygamist", a word which he understands full well. Friedrich believes that Karl has a whole harem of wives, and so Friedrich says that Karl is a bachelor. As in the previous cases, Karl is actually an unmarried man. I asked if it would be true or false to say: Friedrich knows that Karl is a bachelor.

Students all said that this would be false. Philosophers agree.


* I cannot resist saying: Whether a blog is purple or not just depends on its style sheet. Style sheets vary from blog to blog, so color is obviously not projectable. Thomson was writing in the mid 60s, and so she meant "blog" as a philosopher's made-up word. I wonder whether a young reader in fifty years, if she were to happen upon Thomson's article, would be puzzled by this.

In a recent lecture, I used the word "fnosterbon" as a stipulated, made-up word. We'll see if the internet can go 40 years without giving it some actual meaning.

[ 4 comments ] ( 1925 views )   |  [ 0 trackbacks ]   |  permalink
Give me a ping, Vasili 
Some cogno-intellectual blog monkey posts asking for people to link to him in the name of memetic science:
People write in general (typically truimphant) terms about how swiftly a single voice can travel from one side of the internet to the other and back again, but how often does that actually happen?

You can read the rest of it for yourself.

As I understand it, he wants to collect data on how many links he can score by begging for them and asking others to beg in his stead. If money were involved, it would be a Ponzi scheme. If he claimed that there would be mystic retribution for failing to link, it would be a chain letter. If he were google-bombing, it would be the Brian Leiter project. None of those antecedents obtain, so it is just an uncontrolled social science experiment that will produce some anecdotal numbers for a conference paper he is writing.

Even if it won't produce robust phenomena, linking to him costs nothing. As per instructions, I hereby encourage you to link.

I picked up the meme from Janet.

[ add comment ] ( 9466 views )   |  [ 0 trackbacks ]   |  permalink
War between the states 
A recent item in the New York Times asks if the present conflict in Iraq is a civil war or not. A "common scholarly definition" is given, which includes the operationalized requirement of at least 1000 dead including at least 100 from each side. These numbers give a gratifying formal weight to the pronouncements that, yes, it is a civil war. According to a dissenting scholar, a civil war requires having parties meet in "set-piece battles while wearing uniforms."

There is a good deal of distinction mongering, with various criteria entertained as perhaps necessary-and-sufficient for a conflict's being a civil war. This seems like the bread and cheese of philosophy...
Alcibiades: Please tell us, Socrates, about the ideal form of civil war?

Yet one may object that the game of discovering necessary and sufficient conditions, an eccentric preoccupation at the best of times, amounts to the worst wankery here. It matters not to the dead whether they died in a civil war. The article ends with an answer to this worry, offered by Stanford professor David Laitin:
Why should we care how it is defined, if we all agree that the violence is unacceptable? Here is my answer: There is a scientific community that studies civil wars, and understands their dynamics and how they, in general, end. This research is valuable to our nation's security.

His point is that identifying something correctly allows you to consult the right sort of experts in dealing with it. With the rubric civil war, one consults experts on civil wars. With the rubric financial opportunity or political posturing, one consults different people.

That is all a practical matter, and Plato scoffed at craftsmen. I am still puzzled about what makes for a civil war.

The OED lists 'civil war' on the same line with 'civil strife' and 'civil troubles.' The early specimens contrast civil war with external or foreign war. This suggests that 'civil war' is not sui generis, but rather a species of the more general 'war.'

Is the present conflict in Iraq a war? There is some debate about this, but the present US administration insists adamantly that it is.

Is the war foreign or civil? For the United States it is foreign, but the US is not the presiding power in Iraq. As the administration is quick to point out, Iraq has a nominally sovereign government. The conflict between that government and various military forces is certainly not a foreign matter. So the war is a civil war.

It might fail to be a civil war if one side is not a politically organized force, but then it fails to be a war at all. If it is a war, then it is a civil war. The curious dialectical situation is that the same parties presently insisting that the conflict is a war are also insisting that it is not a civil war. As a conceptual matter, that is untenable.

The war which is civil but not a civil war belongs in the philosophers' box of bric-a-brac along with chimera and the square circle. So it is our bread and cheese, after all.

[ add comment ] ( 821 views )   |  [ 0 trackbacks ]   |  permalink
3... 2... 1... Logic! 
Three items of forall x news:

1. I am teaching with again it this semester. Students have turned up a few typos, but nothing major.

2. For about a year, there were 2-3 downloads of forall x per day. Since mid-September, that has shot up to an average of about 15 downloads per day. Some of these may be by students in my Intro Logic class, but the class only has 50 students. Perhaps some downloads are by way of the Wikipedia entry on 'Logic.'

3. forall x has been selected for inclusion on the Liberty Textbook CD, a project in coordination with the PIRG affordable textbook campaign. By judging that it meets their criteria, they recognize that forall x is "a finished, high-quality book designed for practical use in the classroom."

4. A review of forall x will appear in the December issue of Teaching Philosophy.

5. Two of the items on this list do not count as news.

[ add comment ] ( 3742 views )   |  [ 0 trackbacks ]   |  permalink

<<First <Back | 70 | 71 | 72 | 73 | 74 | 75 | 76 | 77 | 78 | 79 | Next> Last>>