Topics are arranged alphabetically in the INDEX.

Wednesday, July 29, 2015

University of KY's Philosophy Summer Camp

By Rachel Lorch

(July, 28, 2015) - Students participating in the Department of Philosophy’s inaugural summer camp tackled a wide range of topics including the differences between animals and people, ethics and the self and the nature of change.

Sponsored by the Department of Philosophy and supported by the College of Arts and Sciences, the week-long camp was run by four Ph.D. students passionate about the field and eager to share their love for philosophy with others. The camp drew a group of students ranging from 11 to 17-years-old who possessed a variety of backgrounds.

Caroline Buchanan, a Ph.D. student in the UK Department of Philosophy, spearheaded the camp’s creation. Outlining her main goals for the camp, Buchanan stated that she wanted to expose kids to the field, to show them what philosophy does and what questions it asks. Buchanan was also interested in giving students a chance to dig in and do a little philosophy of their own, bringing their questions and perspectives to the table.

“We encouraged them on the first day to think of a question that had been bothering them, a question about anything at all that they were just kind of stuck on, or that they thought was interesting and would like to try to figure out,” Buchanan said.

Read it all here.

What a terrific idea!

Sunday, July 26, 2015

Gender Bias in Academic Philosophy?

Elizabeth Anscombe

This appeared in The Guardian
25 July 2015

Only 25% of philosophy posts in UK universities are occupied by women. So what, if anything, should be done to redress the balance?

Does philosophy have a problem with women?

Mary Warnock, philosopher and writer
This question has been debated by women and men in philosophy for years, and last week became the cover story in the Times Literary Supplement. Of all the humanities departments in British universities, only philosophy departments have a mere 25% women members. Why should this be? How can the balance be redressed? On the whole I am very much against intervention, by quotas or otherwise, to increase women’s chances of employment, whatever the field, and there is nothing intrinsically harmful about this imbalance. I certainly don’t believe it shows a conscious bias against women. Nor that it can be explained by the supposition that, philosophy being concerned above all with arguments, women are naturally less adept in the field.

There may be some women who think emotionally rather than rationally; but, heaven knows, there are some men who do as well. Nor do I think that women dislike the idea of philosophy because of its supposedly adversarial style, its devotion to winning an argument rather than seeking truth or consensus. For I don’t think this style, when adopted in academic dispute, is peculiar to philosophy. No, I think that academic philosophy has become an extraordinarily inward-looking subject, devoted not to exposing and examining the implications of the way we think about the world, but to exposing instead deficiencies in the arguments of other philosophers. If you pick up a professional journal now, you find little but nitpicking responses to previous articles. Women tend to get more easily bored with this than men. Philosophy seems to stop being interesting just when it starts to be professional.

Julian Baggini, philosopher and writer

I agree there is little or no conscious discrimination against women in philosophy. But that is not to say there isn’t a great deal of unconscious bias. The puzzle is why this should be stronger in philosophy than in other disciplines. The answer, I think, is to be found in philosophy’s self-image. Philosophers have tended to have an inflated sense of their ability to “follow the argument wherever it leads”, as Plato’s old saw has it. What matters is the argument, not the arguer, which means there is no need even to think about gender or ethnicity. Philosophers have thus felt immune to the distorting effects of gender bias. Logic is gender-neutral, philosophy is logical, ergo philosophy is gender-neutral. I suspect this has led to complacency, a blindness towards all the ways in which, in fact, gender bias does creep in. It is a well-established finding in psychology that believing you are an objective judge actually makes your judgments less objective, and I’m sure philosophy suffers from this. I admit that this explanation for at least part of the under-representation of women in philosophy is somewhat speculative, but I would be interested to hear what you make of it.

Read it all here. The comments are interesting.

Sunday, July 12, 2015

Popularity of Philosophy in Germany

In Germany, Philosophy appears to be gaining popularity. It is taught in high schools (Gymnasia) so many who choose to study it later already have had a positive experience.

According to this 2015 report in The Chronicle of Higher Education, the enrollments in Philosophy courses at Tübingen increased by nearly one-third, to 1,600, in the past three years. The philosophy departments at Albert Ludwigs University of Freiburg and Goethe University in Frankfurt am Main, now have to impose limits on enrollments in Philosophy classes.

At the German universities it is not the norm to major in Philosophy alone. Students usually have at least one other major.

Another factor is the free education at the universities. This means there is less pressure to major in subjects that will help pay back student loans.

The German media also appears to be more sympathetic to philosophy, perhaps in recognition of the great contribution Germans have made in Philosophy.

These factors make the study of philosophy much more attractive to German students. 

Monday, July 6, 2015

Alexis de Tocqueville’s Reflections on America

"Despotism may govern without faith, but liberty cannot."-- Alexis de Tocqueville

Alexis de Tocqueville’s four-volume Democracy in America (1835–1840) is commonly said to be among the greatest works of 19th-century political writing. Its daring conjectures, elegant prose, formidable length and narrative complexity certainly make it a masterpiece, yet exactly those qualities have together ensured, through time, that opinions greatly differ about the roots of its greatness.

Some observers cautiously mine the text for its fresh insights on such perennial themes as liberty of the press, the tyranny of the majority and civil society; or they focus on such topics as why it is that modern democracies are vulnerable to “commercial panics” and why they simultaneously value equality, reduce the threat of revolution and grow complacent.

Some readers of the text treat its author as a “classical liberal” who loved parliamentary government and loathed the extremes of democracy. More often, the text is treated as a brilliant grand commentary on the decisive historical significance for old Europe of the rise of the new American republic, which was soon to become a world empire.

Some observers, very often American, push this interpretation to the limit. They think of Democracy in America in almost nationalist terms: for them, it is a lavish hymn to the United States, a celebration of its emerging authority in the world, an ode to its 19th-century greatness and future 20th-century global dominance.

How should we make sense of these conflicting interpretations?
Read it all here.

Tuesday, June 30, 2015

Philosophers Discuss Supreme Court Ruling in Obergefell v. Hodges

The U.S. Supreme Court ruling in Obergefell v. Hodges reveals a lack of clarity as to what marriage is. The Court's language suggests that the equality of civil unions requires calling two distinct things by the same name: marriage.

Civil partnerships of same-sex couples and male-female marriage are now on the same legal footing in all 50 states. That does not mean they are the same thing, however. We have yet to see how the courts, U.S. corporations, the media, etc. will hold these distinct entities in balance. Will the balance tilt toward the equality of unequal pigs described by George Orwell?

The Supreme Court decision breaks with international precedent. Other countries call the same-sex legal arrangement a "partnership" or a "pact" and in these nations the issue was resolved much more quickly and justly. There was never the confusion about how marriage is properly defined.

Norway has had "registered partnerships" since 1993.

Sweden has called them "registered partnerships" since 1994.

Hungary and Iceland have had "registered partnerships" since 1996.

France has called them “civil solidarity pacts” since 1999.

In Denmark “registered partnerships” were first recognized in 1998 as an alternative to marriage and an option for heterosexual couples. Adoption by homosexual couples was approved in 2000.

The Netherlands, Finland and Germany have had "registered partnerships" since 2001.

It is clear that gay and lesbian couples deserve spousal benefits. The majority of Americans are for fairness. However, the legal waters are muddy and there will be more law suits.

Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton stated that hundreds of public officials in Texas were seeking guidance on how to implement what he called a flawed decision by an "activist" court. Thousands of county clerks in Texas who object to gay marriage can refuse to issue marriage licenses to same-sex couples, because while the Supreme Court justices had "fabricated" a new constitutional right, they did not in Paxton's legal opinion diminish, overrule, or call into question the First Amendment rights to free exercise of religion.

County clerks are elected officials. Many will refuse to issue licenses out of respect for the views of those who put them in office. Some will refuse on religious grounds to issue "marriage" licenses for same-sex couples. There will be more law suits.

The following philosophers have written brief comments about the Supreme Court decision:

Elizabeth Brake (Arizona State)
Cheshire Calhoun (Arizona State)
Clare Chambers (Cambridge)
John Corvino (Wayne State)
Brook Sadler (South Florida)
Edward Stein (Cardozo)
Kevin Vallier (Bowling Green).

Read what these philosophers have to say here.

Related reading:  Native American Tribes Ban Gay Marriage

Saturday, June 20, 2015

G. K. Chesterton on Drawing the Line

Sketch by Dan DeWitt, Ph.D
Dean of Boyce College
(From his book Clerihews)
"Art, like morality, consists of drawing the line somewhere."-- G. K. Chesterton. The Illustrated London News, May 1928

"What we dread about our neighbours, in short, is not the narrowness of their horizon, but their superb tendency to broaden it." -- G.K. Chesterton, Heretics

"Anarchism adjures us to be bold creative artists, and care for no laws or limits. But it is impossible to be an artist and not care for laws and limits. Art is limitation; the essence of every picture is the frame. If you draw a giraffe, you must draw him with a long neck. If, in your bold, creative way, you hold yourself free to draw a giraffee with a short neck, you will really find that you are not free to draw a giraffe. The moment you step into the world of facts, you step into a world of limits. You can free things from alien or accidental laws, but not from the laws of their own nature.

You may, if you like, free a tiger from his bars; but do not free him from his stripes. Do not free a camel of the burden of his hump: you may be freeing him from being a camel. Do not go about as a demagogue, encouraging triangles to break out of the prison of their three sides. If a triangle breaks out of its three sides, its life comes to a lamentable end. Somebody wrote a work called “The Loves of the Triangles”; I never read it, but I am sure that if triangles ever were loved, they were loved for being triangular. This is certainly the case with all artistic creation, which in some ways is the most decisive example of pure will. The artist loves his limitations: they constitute the thing he is doing. The painter is glad that the canvas is flat. The sculptor is glad that the clay is colourless." -- G.K. Chesterton, Orthodoxy, "The Suicide of Thought"

Wednesday, June 10, 2015

The Academic West Fails to Engage the East

In his recent Hippo Reads essay describing why he left academic philosophy, Eugene Park makes two important claims. First, he says most Anglo-American philosophy departments, especially those often considered the best, do not engage with non-Western philosophical traditions. Second, he says this is because “professional philosophers today often perceive non-Western thinkers as inferior.”

The first claim – that most Anglo-American philosophy departments don’t engage with non-Western philosophy – cannot be denied. It can be verified just by looking at the courses offered in most Anglo-American philosophy departments.

However, in a response to Park’s essay, Brian Leiter, a prominent philosopher at the University of Chicago and the embattled editor of an influential ranking of Anglo-American philosophy departments (whose resignation has been the subject of a recent petition), denies Park’s second claim. Leiter suggests the reason most departments don’t engage with non-Western philosophy is nothing as nefarious as their perceiving non-Western traditions as inferior. Rather, it is a matter of ignorance. Leiter writes: “My own impression, from having talked to a lot more philosophers than Mr. Park and for a much longer period of time, is that most Anglophone philosophers have no opinion at all about non-Western philosophy because they are simply ignorant of it.”

Read it all here.