Wednesday, March 31, 2004

More on a 'non-canon' requirement....

Brendan: I agree with you (and Chuck - sorry Chuck, I'd missed your comments) on the need for the department to do much more to drive home the importance of doing work outside the department: e.g., with taking courses in something along the lines of in the linguistics, cog. sci., physics, psych., Af.Am., Lat.Am. departments. But I think this importantly distinct from the what I'm on about. If we cast the net very broadly as you suggest, a distinction will get run together and we'll end up with just a type of 'get out of the department' idea. The distinction is this: The non-philosophy department departments that seem to me (and you) of particular merit for us to be exposed to cut, roughly, two ways - 'sciences' (hard and social) & and (ugly term) 'cultural/identity studies' (Women's studies, African-American Studies, Latin American studies....). Just 'getting out of the department' would miss the real need to be exposed to both sides of this division (it'd also risk missing that neither side of the divide is 'distant' - people in our dept. already, of course, do both). It's worth noting that we already do have a distribution requirement that necessitates our doing something on the science side - the Sci/Math requirement. It's not mandated at all that we leave the department to fulfill it, but, still, it's mandated that we're exposed to the (very broadly construed) 'area'. My suggestion is just that we recognize the importance of being exposed to the (still ugly term) 'cultural/identity studies' (very broadly construed) 'area' too - and so build in a requirement to be exposed to it.

To the worry of "So long as postmodernism is represented at the university, does it really matter which department does it?": Logistically, we certainly could never be in a position to cover all non-canon areas in our faculty, even if we went out hiring to be able to cover more non-canon philosophies. So, we'll have look to some other departments for (some) courses. But if important philosophical thought of real philosophical value is being done outside the canon, then it's to our detriment not to be exposed to it. My suggestion is that there very clearly is such thought (with non-canonical philosophies appilcable very widely across canonical areas of philosophy) - done by profs inside and outside our department - and that its exclusion from our requirements is an importantly negative thing. Does it matter if philosophers have some exposure to non-canon thought if there's other departments covering that thought? I think very much yes. Our topics ('our' here being canon and non-canon phil.) are often highly interrelated and I think we impair ourselves (and our students) if we have no exposure to perspectives outside the canon's walls. As you rightly point out, talking across the canon/non-canon divide may in instances be difficult. But such a difficulty (that's not always there and, when present, admits of widely varying degrees) is outweighed by the positive benefits of exposure, and the thought that the talking divide will lessen with increased exposure (as divides often do). Importantly (and as you point out with linguistics), talking divides (also, I think: that aren't always there and, when present, admit of widely varying degrees) exist on the science side of the divide too - and I don't think we'd take that as a reason to think the Sci/Math requirement unimporant and eliminable. Quite the opposite, I suspect - the talking divide is something important to be exposed to, congnizant of, and to try to sort though.

Jeremy - Nitpicking appreciated. I knew what you said about Linda, but not Laurence. I've not been exposed to much of his work, only 'Moral Deference', in which philosophical issues of race arise.

Thanks again to Brendan, Mark, Chuck, and Jeremy for comments

Hiddleston's paper page up

As Brian notes at TAR, our own Eric Hiddleston has a page of papers/drafts/pictures/research interests up here, mostly of course on phil. science and causation. Y'all should check it out.

Tuesday, March 30, 2004

Replies all well-received, thanks kindly to Brendan, Mark, and Jeremy. I'll try to formulate a couple replies:

1) Brendan wrote the following:

"...if the standard for distribution requirements is whether one will use the things learned in one's later work, then I don't see why logic should be out but (for instance) classical chinese philosophy should be in. You may never publish a paper in logic, but I probably won't every publish a paper on Confucius."

In a sense, I agree. But, I don't think it too accurate to give my arguing for some requirement of non-canon philosophy as saying that you should be made to learn anything very particular - e.g., Confucius. What would seem more useful for an E&M person to study in the non-canon are, say, Feminist Epistemologies or African Metaphysics - in other words, something non-canon that's directly related to your areas.

2) Brendan again:

"...I take it you're suggesting that studying non-canon philosophy may breathe fresh life into old issues. I think the same could be said for logic, though."

Again, I agree - I certainly don't think logic useless. It can breathe new life and so can non-canon work. But, there are two big things to consider: (i) Requiring logic and nothing non-canon is a very strong privilege of the developmental power of logic over the developmental power of anything non-canon - this seems a great error to me; (ii) The situatedness of logic WITHIN the canon places an important limitation on the new life that it can breathe into the canon - there is great potential for a different kind of new life to be breathed in by a source outside the canon, in part because the non-canon stands as 'other' and in part because it is in large untapped material. It may well be that logic should be maintained as a requirement - I'm not quite sure of this. What seems to me of particular importance is problem of the strong inclusion of logic and exclusion of everything non-canon.

3) From Mark:

"You're not recommending all, or some of the non-canon classes become required, do you? Then they would certainly be canon."

No, I'm not recommending that - just recommending a move to an explicit requirement for us to at some point delve into the non-canon. Also, I think there worse things than expanding 'the canon' the bring non-canon stuff in. Feminists, for example, would gladly give up their 'non-canon, alternative' status if it meant the canon developing enough to include them. A globally inclusive canon would be a whole different kind of canon.

4) Again, Mark:

"It's not surprising, however, that the department focuses on giving its students what it, and what it thinks the majority of phil. departments, thinks are the most important/central subjects. .... Perhaps the best you can hope for is a reasonable coverage of the Western Canon and more contemporary Anglo-American philosophy which will hopefully give you the tools to be able to delve into whatever interests you have."

No, it's not surprising. But I do think it sad. It only leads to a perpetuation of the exclusion of and the failure to appreciate the real importance of studying non-canon work. I do hope for more. I don't see how what you've given as the best I can hope for is any different than what currently exists and what I have a problem with.

5) And again, Mark:

"Really, though, you cannot be a good philosopher without using logic. Logic isn't just the manipulation of 'p's and 'q's etc., you're using it whenever you're arguing with ordinary language, and certainly philosophy shouldn't step away from examining the form of our ordinary language reasoning and being on the lookout for mistakes we make with it."

I agree. But I'm not so sure that the good logical skills that we really need and that we frequently apply are precisely those taught in logic classes. I've done very little logic, but my papers are well received and so too my comments. I think the logical reasoning that's vital is something that I and many learn as we sort through so many dense papers. It seems quite crazy to me that even if, say, I was in my last term of taking classes, doing very well, and even published I could still be made to take a logic class for the reason that I need to work on my logical reasoning skills.

A story: Angela Davis was asked to give a description of a fairly complicated logical principle (I can't remember which) by a white supremacist logic prof. at UCLA in her job interview there (this is when she was just starting out). Clearly, it was an irrelevant question: Formal logic was distant from what she worked on. The question was asked as a way to disarm her, to show that she couldn't hack it and do real philosophy because she couldn't work through this principle (and this might help keep her, as a black woman the white supremacist didn't want in, from the department).

I think we've come past this: I hope at least. But I wonder if the logic requirement isn't still indicative of a 'you must talk THIS talk to do real philosophy' or 'this is what philosophy relly is, so you must study it'. And surely such an idea is silly: Or else no one who's not trained in logic or, indeed, who wrote before logicese came about would be doing real philosophy.

6) Lastly, Jeremy

"I still don't think it's as central for what someone getting a Ph.D. should know. Part of this is a merely descriptive attitude toward how I think of what counts as philosophy in our context. So it almost trivially falls out of it that non-canon stuff is fringe and therefore not what must be mastered for a Ph.D. The problem with thinking this way, though, is that somehow it needs to be worked into the canon if it's to become part of what's mastered for a Ph.D. So it's a catch-22."

I think we agree a fair bit. I want to question, and of course I am, whether what counts as philosophy in our context isn't in need of improvement. Great potential, I think, lays for coming to improvement by working out into the non-canon. As in reply to Brendan, reworking what counts as canon to include what's non-canon today seems to me a much positive and important thing to do. Also, I'm not really calling for mastery of non-canon work to be required. Just an exposure. I think mastery of some non-canon work would be great, but such a thing starts with just exposure - and there's part of my reason for questioning our distribution requirements.

7) Lastly again, Jeremy:

"Charles Mills has argued that the best way to do it isn't to require or even have specialized classes in African-American, feminist, or whatever other kind of philosophy you have in mind. The best way to do it is to have mainstream courses that include this material. I think that would be very hard for our department to pull off. After all, how many of our metaphysicians besides Ishani can teach the metaphysics of race?"

I certainly agree with Mills - that would be ideal. A good way to work towards that seems to me to be teaching graduate students non-canon work precisely so that it can be worked into their courses when they/we are professors. That may be a positive step towards including non-canon work in undergraduate curriculums and slowly working on canon philosophers to study and take up non-canon philosophies.

And though we're by no means in a great condition, we may well have enough faculty members to start something. (I know Jeremy knows this breakdown, but for, perhaps, others:) Ishani could do, say, the metaphysics of race as well as feminist philosophy of language; Linda can do at least Latin American philosophy, feminist epistemologies, and feminist philosophy of science; both Ishani and Linda can do a feminist ethics; Laurence can do race theory. There are also great philosophers in other departments who could teach cross-credit courses: For example, Chandra Talpade Mohanty in Women's Studies who can teach (in addition to some topics mentioned already) feminism in the third word and postcolonial philosophy. Also, Women's Studies is also trying to hire Nkiru Nzegwu from Binghampton right now who is a leading figure in, among other things, African philosophy and African aesthetics.

More competent hiring would be needed, of course, but I there's a decent enough groundwork to start into the re-working the requirements.

Again, I'm very thankful for all the comments. More, of course......I think this quite an important topic.

Hi all. A worry that I could use some help working my head through:

Distribution Requirements. Over the weekend I took off to a conference, the final paper at which discussed the nature of phil. PhD. distribution requirements. The paper was by Lucius Outlaw, Professor of Philosophy at Vanderbilt - and the particular case he kept coming back to was his department's granting a phil. PhD. in 'American Philosophy', without there being ANY distribution requirements along the lines of studying ANY 'non-mainstream' American philosophy (that meaning, no requirement to study African-American, or Latin American, or American Feminist .... philosophy - nothing outside of the entrenched canon). Everyone in attendance, myself included, was rather in shock at the practice (though some were much more familiar with this state of affairs than I, who'd no clue that PhD's were at some places expressly given as PhD's in 'American Philosophy').

This was cause for immediate reflection: What is the standing of our department in this regard?

My feeling is this: As someone who's been trying to step aside from the canon in many regards (and study Feminist and Latin American and African Philosophies), I've found and I think our department little better than Vanderbilt. Even though the degree here is obviously not termed an 'American Philosophy' degree, it still strikes me as pretty terrible that there's no requirement to learn ANYTHING outside of the canon - be it a form of American philosophy or not. And that feeling stuck even after considering the somewhat loose nature of many of the distribution requirements given to us. We have some loose and some tight distribution requirements: Some requirements say 'Some History of Philosophy' or 'Some Ethics/Political Phil./Aesthetics' - but others are very straight 'Logic', 'Phil. Of Science/Math', 'Phil. Of Mind/Language'.

The staged up requirements say one thing very clearly: There are some forms of philosophical thought that the department thinks we should not be able to call ourselves Doctors of Philosophy without having studied. I agree with the sentiment - but I don't think the department has it much right exactly WHAT THOSE FORMS of philosophical thought are. Logic seems to me the worst case here (though Science, even Mind don't follow much behind...). The fact of the matter is that a great number of us (most?) will never use Logic once we've got through with satisfying the requirement - really only if you're a hardcore E&M person. Could I be a good philosopher with no command of Logic? Seems pretty quite clear that that's entirely plausible.

But could I really be a good philosopher if I've no exposure at all to non-canon thought? I really really doubt it. Non-canon thought gives not only exposure to new and/or resoundingly different takes on many philosophical issues, it also gives exposure to the social situatedness of the canon that the canon perpetually tries so hard to push aside and ignore. Manifest lack of exposure to non-canon philosophy does nothing to help canon philosophy - it only keeps it in a shell. And the shell keeps canon philosophy enormously isolated and ignorant of so much of 'other' philosophy.

Clearly there's a call here for the distribution requirements to be changed - but I'd be curious to hear what others have to say ....

Monday, March 29, 2004

For those of you who are interested, there is a good job opening in Union College, Schenectady which is two hours' drive away from Syracuse. Here is the ad. The ad doesn't mention this, by I confirmed that ABD candidates are encouraged to apply as well.

Sunday, March 28, 2004

I really hope somebody except for me and Jeremy is going to post something here. Most of you know what I'm working on, and, since I've encountered a slow-down (for 3 months!), there's nothing new to say. Certainly there must be something interesting for SOMEBODY to say about SOMETHING!? Or, at least, you could point out something that has been puzzling you recently, or putting you in some kind of intellectual deadlock. Or, hell, what's going on with your dissertation? I also hope that some of you who haven't signed up yet do so. It's pretty easy. Actually, I can think of something that's been bothering me recently. How many of you have read Sider's Four Dimensionalism? I've already written one paper (as part of my diss) against his arguments against mereological essentialism, but what's really been bothering me is the temporal counterpart relation, which to me seems like a kind of hand-waving, but I can't actually put my finger on what's exactly wrong with it, if anything. Any ideas? Or, have any of you read any good papers on this recently? I guess I should check out the PPR symposium on it, which must have come out by now.

Friday, March 26, 2004


Earlier Kevin emailed y'all about having a summer reading group on Modal Logic. Is this still going on? I'm willing to do it, and I think it would be a good idea. He suggested the Chellas book, and I've heard the Hughes and Cresswell book is good, but with some flaws. Any suggestions about titles and articles would be appreciated. The point is to really get into the meat of modal logic, learn the different systems, and also get into quantified modal logic as well as diamonds and boxes. I think we should limit it to two books (or three, if they're slim), with perhaps 10 at most supplementary articles.


(Ok, I published this before on my own blog, but, I think it was funny enough to put out there again, and more likely to actually be read here.)

And my Lord, my great and just Judge, I followed the span of my compass, and followed the limpid rivers of truth to their paradisiacal estuaries, and found the path that I must follow, 'though it pained me to do so. And I was weak, my Lord, but thanks to thee and thine grace I gathered the fortitude to see to it that I would practice my husbandry on myself, to secure an apprenticeship or journeyman's practice, in order to further praise Thy Name, to find myself humble before Thy Presence, and to pay the rent, and secure much-needed vittles and victuals. For my posterior did I value, and did not see fit to sit it down upon the most base concrete, and my gut has indeed rumbled, oh my Lord.
And so to the newspaper did I seek, and to the classifieds did I go, and what did I come upon but a vacant clerkship in a Mutual Fund corporation! Alas, my Lord, some requested qualifications I did not possess, such as the making of spreadsheets, the entry of data, and the callings of conferences. But, my Lord, surely those handlers of human resources must see my still center, my humble bearing, my complete lack of risibility, and pass upon those more mean applicants! And surely my Lord shall see to it that my impecuniousness shall pass, for in Thee all are comforted, and guaranteed a 401K. For the last shall be first, and those without contractual labor shall have it.
My interview indeed set, and on this morn it shall come to pass. I put on my best Bishop's robe, and attacked my recalcitrant cowlick with an almost improper severity. My countenance in the mirror seemed placid, and I left my boarding-house with a strong sense of purpose, not a penny-farthing to my name.
I was received at the firm, 'MegaCorp', with the utmost propriety. I was ushered into a small office where I met one James ("call me 'Jimmy'!") Samuels. Oh, Lord, my sense of optimism was indeed slowly crushed on that day, for James, nay, 'Jimmy', had a patronizing bearing, veiled with the most saccharin false obsequiousness, and uttered obfuscatory sunny locutions, never answering a question felictously. Lord, 'though 'tis not my place to question, how can it be that there is room in your creation for the likes of human resources personnel! Are they people? Are they human? Why, oh Lord, do they smile buffonishly, and why do they torment me with laughter tinged with tones that smacks of hinnibility at the least risible of occasions! Oh, he was like a morning news anchor, my Lord. I felt the very presence of the Dark One, my Lord, in that room, sharpening Mr. Samuels teeth into fangs, and turning his words into daggers!
"So, Mr. Augustine, what skills and benefit can you bring to MegaCorp?"
"A question fair and proper, Mr. Samuels.."
"Call me Jimmy!"
"Mr. Samuels, my employment of your Christian name, nay, a bastardization thereof, at this time strikes me as both improper and astonishing. But, as you are now the mediator between me and my destiny, I shall indeed utter the foul-sounding 'Jimmy', if it does please you."
"Oh, Mr. Augustine, stop it! You're cracking me up!"
"We do digress, Mr. Samuels. I think that I, a former Bishop and philosopher, have much in the way of benefit to bestow on your fair and noble enterprise. Many years had I passed in joy and humility at the Scriptorium, copying the fair words of my Lord. I have read the NeoPlatonists, the Pagans, Aristotle, wrote City of God and my Confessions. "
"How fast do you type?"
"Typing is vulgar, Mr. Samuels. I prefer a quill pen. My calligraphy has no peer. I envisage..."
"Do you have ten-key by touch?"
"The abacus is no stranger to me, Mr. Samuels. My fingers fly along it with zest and alacrity, computing sums as naturally as the beaver builds its dam, the bee gathers its honey, and the sailor goes to the brothel."
Samuels looked quizzically down at his notes, and scrawled pensively for a moment. Upon looking up, the same false smile smeared itself across his lips.
"What do you think is your greatest weakness, Mr. Augustine?"
Oh, Lord, it was then that I snapped. The temerity! The audaciousness! The outrageousness! Oh, my Lord, I am a peaceful man, but lo what mental encumbrances I put upon myself to desist from defenestrating this cur, this dog, this ungodly corporate whore!
"Get thee behind me, Satan! Thou knowest that is a trap. A question for which any answer either requires that I defile myself with falsehoods, as a first step toward my grovelling before whatever turpitudinous slave-driver I'll have, or, to answer that I must spew forth such inanities as to discount all pretenses to intellectual integrity. Or, lastly, to reveal a genuine shortcoming, the hearing of which must indeed prevent me from gainful employment! You ask me either to prevaricate or self-immolate! And I will not, Mr. Samuels, I will not. I sayest to you, take my subsisting employment and insert it in your perineum forthwith! Good day, my child. Go with God"
Oh, Lord. Was it pride? Was it arrogance? I cans't playeth the game, my most fair Judge, and yet my stomach rumbleth continuously, a racket so loud and vociferous that it can surely awaken deafened octogenarian invalids. If only a sandwich would appear before me, and my desparation would subside.


One, suppose this site actually takes off and does well. Should we invite our professors to blog as well? (not that many of them would) This could have an upside, but maybe folk would more likely prefer to have it as our own.

Secondly, if many people would only feel like blogging if the blog is private (i.e., not viewable by those not registered), then that could be a reason to make it so. I think, however, that the weight of reasons is on the side of keeping it public. Feedback?

Thursday, March 25, 2004

Coming Into Existence

In the hopes that I can get some feedback to help end the lack of direction I've had since I gave my Internal Speakers Series talk last semester, I've written up my thoughts on coming into or going out of existence. It explains what's disillusioned me about where I thought I was going at the time and why I've started thinking about other things until I get some new direction that I might find both interesting and promising. Any comments are welcome, of course (since that's kind of the point).


I thought that one thing that this blog could be good for, among other things, is as a forum for talking about teaching-related issues. We're all familiar with the pernicious trend of student relativism, and the following phrases no doubt ring a painfully familiar bell:

"That's true for them"
"It just depends what you believe."
"It's all relative."

And some other issues, peripherally related to student relativism, are moves such as this:

"Whose to say _____?"
"That's your opinion."
"That's what they believe."

And, one more that comes to mind is student revulsion to certain kinds of thought experiments (a certain kind of imaginitive resistance, although this isn't quite the right term), such as the alien-pain case as a counterexample to type Identity Theory, brain-wipes and personality uploads/downloads, etc.

If anyone knows any particularly good moves to deal with these you should let me know. I have some moves that seem only temporary repairs, as the issues will just surface again and again.

If you want to find out about the Bertrand Russell Society 31st Annual Meeting, here is the link.


Well, I've just sent out all the invitation letters so that you can all sign up. Let me know if you didn't receive one, it was a bit tricky with the forms trying to sign up 30+ folk. If any of you have blogs, or something you'd like me to put up as a link on the sidebar, let me know it's name and URL.
UPDATE: OK, I was having some problems, and had to email everyone again, and unfortunately it says it is from Mark Edward, while it is indeed from me, Mark (E) Steen. Please sign up and let's get this thing going...


Irem Kurtsal Steen, and Mazel Tov as well, for getting her paper accepted for the Bertrand Russell Society meeting in Plymouth, NH, which she'll be presenting in June. (Irem is a grad student here at Syracuse like myself). Here is her abstract:

Russell on Matter and Our Knowledge of the External World


In parts of Our Knowledge of the External World (OKEW), Russell appears to defend a phenomenalist epistemology of perception. In this paper, I defend that Russell did not intend OKEW to be phenomenalist. I show this by explaining the development of Russell’s views that led him to write OKEW, paying special attention to his 1912 essay "On Matter", which is a precursor to OKEW. According to my explanation, OKEW was the result of Russell’s attempt to merge two different objectives into one.
One of these objectives was to demonstrate an inference of the existence of the external world solely on the basis of sense-data and unsensed particulars that are intrinsically similar to them, thereby showing how we can have knowledge about the intrinsic nature of physical objects with which we are not directly acquainted.
Russell’s second objective was to logically construct a system out of sense-data, and unsensed particulars that are intrinsically similar to them. This system was going to have the properties that science assigns to matter. By means of this logical construction, Russell would be demonstrating that, even though science postulates the existence of entities and variables that are not sensed, the truth of scientific hypotheses does not require the existence of anything that is in principle unverifiable.
Russell failed to accomplish the inferential task because of the problems he ran into when writing the Theory of Knowledge manuscript. As a result, he wanted to demonstrate both our knowledge of physical objects, and the verifiability of scientific truths by the method of logical constructions. This put conflicting burdens on his project. The constructions that would validate and assure the verifiability of scientific truths had to have a phenomenal nature. The external world as we claim to know it, on the other hand, is not phenomenal. In OKEW, Russell struggles to overcome this tension, but inevitably fails. The result of this is our impression that Russell defends a phenomenalist epistemology of perception. My explanation will reveal that Russell did not intend to defend this position. OKEW is confusing, and at times, confused. But a better understanding of it should emerge from separating the two entangled and sometimes competing objectives that it was meant to achieve.

folks who may be interested in reading her paper and giving her feedback can email her at iremkurtsal@hotmail.com

Welcome to OrangePhilosophy! I've decided to set up a blog for the use of the Syracuse grad students, to foster discussion about our work and philosophy in general. I have no idea if this will get picked up, I'm about to e-mail everyone to invite them to blog. Hope this goes well...

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