Saturday, October 6, 2012

Choosing Our Motives

Leiter has a new post with a poll about the breakdown between vegans, vegetarians, and carnivores in philosophy. While this is interesting information to have, I guess, I wonder about the second part of the poll, the one that asks people whether their eating is shaped by ethics. First, I have no idea how philosophers can still believe that any of us have access to our motives, so I'm generally skeptical of people who claim to be vegetarians for ethical reasons (apologies to those of you who do so claim, but I think you're wrong). Let's say that you believe eating meat is wrong. You also find it easy and convenient, for whatever reason, not to eat meat. There's a correlation. You know that there is a correlation. But how could you possibly establish that there is a causal connection? Of course if you believe that you ought to X, and you do in fact X, it's extremely tempting to pat yourself on the back for a job well done. But how do you know that you've done the job? I think we in general have reason to be suspicious of ascribing efficacious motives to ourselves, especially in cases where we are likely particularly prone to self-deception. And so we should, perhaps, try to avoid encouraging the practice. Here I am only making an epistemic point: there is no introspective method for determining which of your motives in fact caused your action (especially since (i) we do not know all our motives, and (ii) we need not be aware of those motives in order for them to have causal efficacy). But I think there is also an important point about the metaphysics of agency: we tend to think that we have a power to choose between our motives (some--mistakenly, in my view--call this power "free will"). But why should we think we have this power?

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Sunday, April 22, 2012

We're Ranking Non-Continental Continental Journals Now?

Ah, a lovely new Leiter poll, this time ranking "the best journals for scholarship on the post-Kantian traditions in Continental philosophy." Very sensible results, aside from EJP and Inquiry, if you assume that the best way to do scholarship on Continental philosophy is not to do it at all. Oh, sorry, PPR is in second place. I assume because having the word "Phenomenology" in your title means that your content is continental. And as for those silly journals that do publish on continental philosophy, well it doesn't matter if we call them "International Journal of Philosophical Studies" or something else that they aren't called, since most of the people voting most likely don't read continental philosophy in the first place.


I actually did look through the TOC's of the journals listed for the past few years, so I think my assessment of the current tally (namely, that those voting mostly don't read continental philosophy) has to be accurate, since most of the journals Leiter lists haven't published a single continental paper paper in the past two years, or perhaps only a single continental paper. So it's hard to imagine what this exercise is supposed to prove, unless Leiter is literally looking for confirmation that good continental philosophy is done only in analytic contexts. The contest seems a little rigged, though.

For those who have difficulty with online sarcasm, by the way: I take it that EJP and Inquiry are obviously the two best journals in the category. PPR, on the other hand, has no reason to be there (despite recently publishing Katsafanas's awesome article on Nietzsche and constitutivism; that only shows that PPR will occasionally publish good papers, not that it's any more a reasonable place to go look for scholarship in continental philosophy than NYU is a reasonable place to go study continental philosophy).

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Tuesday, April 10, 2012

Belated Note on Gutting on the Analytic-Continental Divide

I'm guessing everyone who might read this blog caught Gutting's piece on Bridging the Analytic-Continental Divide when it first appeared in The Stone way back. I'm a fan of Gutting, generally, but have to say that something about this piece didn't quite work for me: if Gutting is right about what continental philosophy is about, in any case, it seems like it can't be written more clearly. That's upsetting.

The problem is this. If, as Gutting says, there is a powerful current of continental philosophy that tries "to think what is impossible" (and, for that matter, if the aim of phenomenology is to get beneath the concepts of common sense and find their conditions of possibility), it seems to follow that much continental philosophy cannot be written clearly. What is impossible to think in principle cannot be thought clearly. And whatever involves expanding, or getting beneath our concepts, cannot be clearly thought until it has become common sense--that is, until our conceptual apparatus has managed to absorb it. (Incidentally, this is why I'm a bit confused by Gutting's suggestion that the phenomenological and post-phenomenological approaches, the philosophies of experience and imagination, as he terms them, are in tension with each other.)

So if one takes these continental tasks to be worthwhile, then one cannot simply say that continental thinkers need to write more clearly so analytic thinkers can understand them. Rather, if these tasks really are worthwhile, then analytic philosophers must get better at understanding them on their own terms, or at least they must meet halfway. For that matter, what are we to make of the claim that not "much of serious philosophical value is lost in the clarity of analytic commentaries on Heidegger, Derrida, et al."? I can't speak about Derrida, et al., but quite a bit is lost in most analytic commentaries on Heidegger that I've read--temporality, for example! Of course continental commentaries have their own serious problems (why would you need a commentary on Heidegger that is even more opaque than the original?). This is exactly why it's generally important to read original sources. Of course I applaud Gutting's pragmatic streak here--it's better for analytic philosophers to read analytic commentaries on the continentals than not to read them at all. The problem is that we can't tell what is lost without checking for ourselves.

But the more significant problem remains this: that if Gutting is right about what is truly valuable in continental philosophy, I can't see how it could be made clear. And while I agree with his insistence that continental philosophy could and should be more clearly written, I can't see how that could be possible given his characterization of it.

And speaking of The Stone, our most recent disaster is Julian Friedland making a mockery of the pretty obvious--from a semantic standpoint, anyway--claim that philosophy is not a science. Another one of Critchley's friends? Who still thinks that psychologists can work from armchairs with their eyes closed? Post 19th Century? Really?

Ending on a more positive note, Iskra Fileva's recent piece on Character and its Discontents was good, though I worry slightly that she might be conflating two senses of character that really should be sharply distinguished--the sense in which having a character means resisting external influences (or, more felicitously, maintaining one's way of behaving despite external incentives to deviate), and the sense in which having a character just means being disposed to respond to external influences (otherwise known as motives). I hope she gets that essay prize!

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Thursday, January 5, 2012

APA Savings

From a recent IHE article about the smoker at the APA (for background on the most recent criticisms of the smoker, see here):
[APA executive director David Schrader] noted the concerns of some women and said there had been informal discussions at the APA. Some had suggested a cash bar instead of free alcohol as a way of tempering bad behavior by making it a bit difficult to drink too much.
Seriously? Their plan is to save money on alcohol (keep in mind that this year the only free alcoholic alternatives were Budweiser and Bud Light) and spin it as a way of being more welcoming to women in philosophy? Does anybody else find this suspicious?

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