What is worthy of a reference?

It is the tool of the academic to use their most powerful ally: the reference. The reference is the ability to cite a study, a work, or some other medium which demonstrates or explores a certain point. The importance of the reference is to avoid handwaving gestures such as:

i. There is some evolutionary mechanism that explains this…(no reference)
ii. Obviously this is explained away by such and such a theory or person (but no reference)

There is a reverse problem of referencing; it is foolish just to refer to a study and not question its validity. A paper put in a medical journal; The Lancet made the claim that there was a link between the MMR vaccine and autism, which many people now believe, and have made a decision to avoid vaccination aware of this. The thing about this study was that it was later discredited. The Sokal hoax is another instance, I’m assuming a certain amount of background of the reader (like a PhD in Transformative Hermeneutics) that you are aware of the hoax.

I put forth this question: what counts as a reference? A book can be referred; a paper in a joural can be referred; but what about a newspaper? official government studies? a gallup poll? a television programme,  radio documentary, blog, podcast, computer software in general?

One should always be questionable about their sources: a video on youtube about Godel’s incompleteness theorem is hardly going to be as insightful as a paper in Mind or J. of Midwest Philosophy; however, in this eclectic and interesting information age, we should be as eclectic as Kant was in his day. In the Antrhopology; Kant demonstrates a real knowledge of his fellow Europeans: Kant read the proto-anthropological writings of explorers and well-to-do white men.

Although by today’s standards those antrhopological are unacceptable, unreliable and probably racist sources, they were, in Kant’s day, the explorers who went where no (white) man had gone before (I intentionally used genered language for that phrase). Kant’s sources try to take account of the common folk; but also the cultured intellectual.

In his theoretical philosophy, Kant drew from natural philosophy (physics), some mathematics, and as a philosopher, he went very far out of the normal Prussian comfort zone of Germanic writers by reading the English writers such as Shaftesbury, Hume, Locke, and even Shakespeare! Perhaps this fact is not appreciated today, but a few of the philosophers of the Pantheon had really gone beyond their comfort zone and normal circle of literature; Descartes had ceased to become interested in Aristotelian philosophy; Spinoza, had moved away from his cultural Jewish intellectual leanings to learn ‘Christian’ and other works. By acknowledging and immersing in foreign literature, each of these writers had met some degree of derision.

Recently philosophers and academics in general had brought discussions to podcasting and blogs; in addition to open-access journals, this phenomena might be seen as challenging the former way of things, but it seems more like it is reaffirming it. I have a habit of cataloging much of what I read in bibliography software. But I wonder more and more what is worthy of recording. I often listen to audiobooks and consider that a straightforward reference item, but podcasts and blog posts, however, need more classification tools.

Normally the fields relevant to journals and books include: Publisher, city of publication, year, author, ISBN/DOI code and so on. What about fields such as file size, date last accessed, modification history, mode of presentation (such as wiki), whether it has open-access editing, editing history. We now have new factors to consider and old ones we might find inapplicable.

An interesting source of information is the Stanford Encyclopaedia of Philosophy, the factors to consider how this source is referenced include:

1. Sometimes the editor of an article changes hands.
2. Article sometimes become revised either in its content, or bibliography, to account for the new literature that had emerged since the publication of the article.
3. Who is the ‘publisher’? This question does not seem as valid; perhaps more relevant an issue is the question of: who, or what institution holds the rights, or the server from which the article is accessible.

While it is very interesting to observe these new changes in media; there comes a point to stand in and set the standards of pedantry.


RIP Marjorie Grene

According to Leiter and some other sources, it has been announced that Marjorie Grene had died. I knew of her work in the history of philosophy, her book on Spinoza was, after much of my reading on the subject, the only book I really needed to get an intermediate grasp on the issues, literature and exegesis. I came to look up her life a bit more on the internet and I found out some really fascinating things about her:

1. Some allege that she is one of the earliest figures to seriously think about biology as a philosopher (i.e. establishing the area that has become known as philosophy of biology).
2. She had been taught by varied figures from Heidegger to Carnap. Much of philosophical development was an exploration of who’s who in mid-20thC philosophy.
3. Grene seemed to have been quite a firebrand, very opinionated on the works of other philosophers; herself part of a rumour relating to the circumstances of Lakatos’ death!
4. Grene managed an eminent philosophical career that would be enviable by today’s standards, yet managed to take a 15-year hiatus to raise a family.

Grene came from an age of philosophy which begins to have dust on the hardcovers, an age that I quite admire, like a nice mature port (and I do like port). The age of philosophers who had real
diversity and humanity in their work. An age before the academy became an essay-mill with priorities like ‘research output’ or league tables. Grene had a unique and diverse philosophical career; spanning across the ‘continental’ and analytic divide that people later invented. That older age of philosophy is virtually extinguished.


Oh, Goody

Anyone not in the UK may not appreciate the context of this post, and probably anyone in 3-6 months’ time reading this will consider this old news. Which is a shame.

I’ve been meaning to write something about this issue for a while but I never get around to it; so I’ll try to post something before Jade Goody actually dies. Jade Goody (I feel apologetic to you readers just by typing the name) is someone who is quite symbolic of this decade that is soon to end. This was a decade of superficiality, of popularity on the cheap and a keen emphasis on entertainment that soon becomes outdated and expired.

I often believed that ‘reality tv’ (a redundant phrase if there were any) would end up like the film “The Running Man”, where our focus on entertainment ignored the greater social and political ills of the wider world, and further, our entertainment culminated in theour interest in the death of those that we see on our screens. The situation of Jade Goody makes me almost think that we should soon expect a TV show with Noel Edmonds presenting “Climb 4 Cash”.

I just heard earlier that OK! Magazine has published a tribute issue to Jade: before she has died! This is in very bad taste. The media circus seems to be self-perpetuating. People both deride themselves at the disgust of the spectacle of publicly dying yet we still look. We are rubbernecking in the most public way possible. We should be told that the public interest is shameful, and that audiences are subject to criticism. It is important to criticise an audience as well as the media. People are not comfortable with being challenged so directly, but what is worse is that people are not even used to such a notion. Liberal-humanist ideals of the media are slowly being eroded as mutton dressed as lamb


The golden age thesis

A conversation started with my brother-in-law and my sister not long ago; she mentioned how there used to be a chip shop around the corner of where we lived when we were growing up, that closed down.

I disputed that the shop closed 15 years ago, my brother disputed 8-10 years ago. The latter date is based on when the next business took over the property (thus, he’s wrong). The one thing I recall about the chip shop is that it was a family run business and was part of this english tradition of being a ‘chippy’. In London; takeaways are being in some respects homogenised by the places that ‘pretend’ to be healthy and alternative (Subway et. al); and the greasy fried chicken places (which I did used to quite like). It’s only in odd places in london, or outside the greater london area, that one finds those old fashioned shops, run by families, or places that are genuinely eclectic in their range of foods.

There are traditions to the consumption of food. Once upon a time, if one was at a chinese restaurant and one left the lid of the after-dinner tea ajar, it was a suggestion that the party wanted a refill. It is a tradition that hails from the British reign in Hong Kong. If one is at an Indian restaurant and knows specifically where the chef or staff specifically hail from in the subcontinent; you can ask for a dish that isn’t on the menu that they know how to make and they will happily do it. There are these little ‘tricks’ of the trade. It is exactly the point that these things are of a trade that make them traditional.

The notion of a trade is slowly eroding, with unstable work patterns and increase technocracy. This is one aspect of what I point out to be a golden age appeal.

The notion of a golden age thesis is that things used to be a lot better in the past. This imagery is often racialised or politically and ideologically oriented. I’m tempted to think of a golden age in my earlier years when it costed 30p to go on a bus instead of £1.30 if you don’t have an oyster card. I remember a time when there was a chip shop around the corner of our home and a portion of chips cost 30p, and I think, if my memory serves well, a cod cost £0.80.

There is a temptation to look at the past in a way that is completely positive and wholly better than the current situation. It is especially tempting when we have an economic crisis that affects all aspects of society: education, welfare, employment, social and political discourse and so on. There are a lot of respects, however, that we must see this golden age notion as a fallacy. Today is an age where the internet and creative commons opens up resources and oppurtunities for people (whether they use it properly is another point); today people are more aware about the environment and energy usage. Until recently, there was national inflation for about 10 years and the Labour government was almost doing respectable work.

I suppose the appeal to extremes is easier to appeal to; it always is easier to use a superlative than to see nuance. The golden age of 80p cods probably led to our overfishing situation with a possible extinction of the cod fish. The age of easy loans almost certainly led to our situation today. There never really was a golden age, unless you define it by one or two silly things.


rating women in pageants

I saw this article just a moment ago and I thought of a few things. The article mostly points out of a certain kind of hypocrisy about the recent CH4 show: Miss Naked Beauty

1. This is quite an enlightening perspective on the Miss Naked Beauty concept. Mainly, that it is inconsistent to try to promote a positive notion of femininity while on the other hand damning another kind of behaviour deemed unnacceptable to be feminine.

I’m not sure how one may cash this kind of claim out, we might have varied interpretations of 1.

i. ‘Real women’ is a derogatory term as we are all real women
ii. To reclassify feminine beauty in the way that the programme aspired is to merely dress a heteronormative up in a different way (I’m thinking something along the lines of an Althusser notion)

– I’ll follow the authenticity point in a moment.

2. The programme was vague in detailing propositional notions about how to challenge ideals about beauty.

– this, I think, is reasonable

3.  It is contrary to promoting feminine beauty; more specifically, beauty-pageant style patriarchy, by having a show which boots off losers by virtue of their faults.

– there is a sense in which this is correct; but one is lead to having a more difficult, and perhaps tangential thought.

What would the feminist say to the way in which Kant sets up our aesthetic judgments?

For Kant, pleasure in the agreeable is not communicable without having some experiential base:

– Thought 1: would we not also add dispositional bases to the character of how we form aesthetic judgments?
– Thought 2: would this make talk about sexual desirability impossible to communicate? (my intuition about this says no)
– Thought 3: Is pleasure in the agreeable the proper way to conceptualise?

We might go along with the third thought and maintain that pleasure in the agreeable is not a great way to appropriate a conception of ‘feminine beauty’; and we may associate it in the domain of statements pertaining to what Kant refers to in his technical sense of ‘beauty’.

Judgement’s concerning beauty involve the feature of communicability; that i can assert the beauty. I may disagree with you but we are within the same vocabulary to discuss our views as to whether Sophia Loren were more beautiful than Audrey Hepburn. We should say however, that the claims to beauty are ‘alms ob’ assertoric. That is to say, our aesthetic statements about such matters of beauty are, under the character of what Kant’s description of reflective judgments’ those kings of claims which are not genuinely assertoric in the sense of claims about the natural world; but are of a more provisional nature.

If I am to assert an aesthetic claim, I make such an assertion that implores others to agree. To genuinely believe such a claim is the case, and that you must agree. Can we have genuine talk about ‘feminine’ beauty, or are we mistaken with agreeableness ( viz sexual desirability). If we were to entertain the idea firstly that femininity were a candidate for ‘beauty’; what relevant features would we appeal to in order to make such a discussion; further, one would have to maintain that some women are simply more beautiful than others. To claim this would be a desiderata of entering the talk of beauty and to deny this desideratum is to deny that femininity is a candidate for aesthetic discussion under the remit of the beautiful (in Kant’s sense).

We could, however, be led to a sense in which we may say that all women are beautiful/no women are beautiful/all are the same; but this too requires more working out, and one must disregard one’s own’s assent to any claim of splendour in the name of agreeableness (in Kant’s sense of the latter term).

This remains to me, a disjointed and unresolved set of thoughts.


Liverpool’s Philosophy calamity

Depending on what kind of reader you are; you may or may not know of the recent plight of Liverpool University.

I feel reluctant to talk about an issue which is so immediate, especially as one cannot make too much of a difference about it individually, but what I can do is to spread the word. A great many people have mentioned how Liverpool University’s RAE results had disappointed the university authorities. This is such an emotional issue for some people that I will try my best just to relay the information that is available.

Source 1: Melanie Newman, The Times Higher Education (9/03/09)

Inter alia, Liverpool’s philosophy department is facing the possibility of closure, due to a funding shortfall.

Source 2: Philos-L mailing list (10/03/09)

Petitioning is mentioned, an almost universal derision of the proposal of closure. Some individuals are comparing the action to the actions of the Nazi’s. There is an informal formulae that says something like “the longer a topic on an internet forum or mailing list or newsgroup is, the increased likelyhood of the mentioned comparison to the nazis reaches closer to P:1”.

Source 3:
Anthea Lipsett, The Guardian (10/03/09)

Liverpool academics threaten strike if they excise the probability, philosophy and politics departments. This motion has been condemned by Peter Kilfoyle MP (Liverpool) and John Pugh MP (Southport). The proposal to cancel these departments are seemingly motivated by the poor RAE results that go against the university’s aspirations to improve its international reputation.

I am to understand that Liverpool is one of the few, if not, only places to teach Indian philosophy. They also teach Buddhist philosophy and also both analytic and continental strands of philosophy. I consider these reasons completely irrelevant; philosophy in whatever strand is a vital part of the university; no other department is involved with the public in journalism, debate, politics, science, and religion more than philosophy.


Since when did ‘handicapped’ become non-pc?

Here’s another piece on lexicon my little young me. I saw an ad placement which mentioned that they encouraged female applicants and “handicapped applicants also welcome”. I thought to myself firstly; isn’t that a bit outdated language? But then I further thought: at what point did handicapped become outdated.

I saw an advert while on the train the other day, it said on it something like “It’s not a spade: it’s a soil relocation impliment”; being on the train made me unable to determine whether it was a joke ad for something like WKD or whether it was serious. However, it is interesting to note how our lexical choices have changed lately. The Spastic’s society in the UK had been renamed to scope (I always thought that was uncouth). I’ve recently subscribed to a podcast called ‘Ouch!’ about disability.

I find the podcast very interesting for a few distinct reasons. One reason is that the presenters are very informal and casual, this is, I think a mixed positive. Perhaps the presenters, who are disabled, are trying to give a human and honest picture of what kind of people they are (I didn’t know they were disabled until they mentioned it – that’s the power of radio). The negative thing I find about it is that, as a BBC podcast, they are a bit lax, uninformed and perhaps unprofessional by the official BBC standards. I appreciate how they portray that disability is a discourse that has many different perspectives within the disabled community. Some don’t want to bring it up, others want to ask the hard questions; while others are one trick ponies in terms of what they talk about.

Apparently (I’m going to wikipedia this in a moment), the British PM has a glass eye; which made the comment by a certain Top Gear Presenter noteworthy. Political correctness, now, more than the past decade, has been the story of the naughties.


Favourite philosophers (2)

Now that I’ve had a pause, I can now continue over the question of who was the greatest philosopher of the 19thC. Although philosophically, my interests are explicitly in the centrury of Kant, Hume, Newton, Leibniz, Lavoisier and Linneaus. There is a lot to be said about my more spiritual interests in the 19thC. I may be an 18thC appreciator in mind, but I feel mostly for the 19thC.

The 19th Century was one of the most interesting decades in history (excepting the ones that I have been born in). My piano teacher was born just after the end of it, and we find generations of great change on either end of it. Not long had slavery ended when the 20thC bloomed. The 19th century was the age of Romanticism. European culture had passed its classical period in music and literature, and had moved away from the formal to the expressive.

They say that Beethoven’s death marks the beginning of the Romantic period. As a piano player, I love most the music of Chopin, Rachmaninov, and the romantics I cannot even attempt to play. The Romantic period depicted in British literature is a hard time. Industry brought about poverty, but also much philanthropy. Philanthropy brought about the origins of welfare provisions which made us think more of the poor and suffering.

There was an opposition to ‘rational’ as if it were only part of the human story. The rational opposed the emotional, and was seen as rigid, boring, and empty. The polymath that was Blake epitomised this: Do not all charms fly/At the mere touch of cold philosophy?

The 19th century was, in philosophy, a century for the birth of the social sciences. In mathematics, there were philosophical developments that came to be appreciated in the next century, but the most immediate impact of the 19thC was the emergence of analytic psychology qua Freud, sociology and critical discourses through Comte, Durkheim, Weber, Simmel and Marx. Ideology and cynicism came to the fore in this century, Nietzsche was constantly polemical and Kierkegaard eschews a nuanced Christianity.

Who were the great philosophers of this period?

1. Comte/Durkheim: These two are not often seen as philosophers, but anyone who speaks to the contrary must damn themselves. Comte and Durkheim use empirical principles to apply to the understanding of people. Durkheim more than the former, considered formalisability to be the acid test of a good social science. Forget the work of what they did, but the spirit with which they gave birth to sociology.

2. Marx: I pick him because primarily of his influence, and the fact that we appeal to him often is a testimony of his greatness. In this day and age of the recession, capitalism is questioned. Just the very questioning of our system is Marx’s greatest legacy. Without Marx, we would not have had continental philosophy, or the critical discourses that have come since him: feminism, gender politics, the Frankfurt school, libeation theology..

3. Schopenhauer/Nietzsche: Nietzche and Schopenhauer are either misunderstood or ill-understood. Schopenhauer is partly distinctly anti-Kantian, and another part is distinctly tapping into the pessimism of intellectuals of the day. There was a sense of finding failure in the human condition, such that we are damned and the ones that realise it have no impact on improving the world. A response to optimism of the previous centuries was pessimism: looking at what technology had brought was not all positive, with the industrial revolution we have newer forms of oppression and poverty; suicide in Durkheim’s study, and Weber’s conceptualisation of the iron cage marked the century of depression. People make many things of Nietzsche into their own thought, but rarely is Nietzsche understood that well.

4. JS Mill: This is my actual choice of the greatest philosopher of this century. Mill is best known for his works on practical philosophy: On Liberty, On the Subjection of Women, Utilitarianism. All three are seminal works of their field, these alone make him a great philosopher, but to add icing on the cake, we should consider what was, his own master work which is now mostly forgotten. Mill’s A system of Logic is an inductive system which has influences among some philosophers of today, some of which I personally know and should not mention. Mill’s empiricism might be seen as radical particularly with the oft-mentioned aspect that he believed mathematics to be inductive and a posteriori. Mill was, to put in as most frank terms as possible, a genius. It was the influence of Harriet Taylor to which we find difficulty in determining the extent of his practical philosophy. This was a philosopher who, funny enough, has links to the greatest philosopher of the century afterwards (Russell).


Favourite philosophers

Over at Leiter Reports there have been (of the time of writing) two polls recently on favourite philosophers. Two questions were asked of a poll:

Who was the greatest 20thC philosopher?
Who was the greatest 19thC philosopher?

I may have changed the frame of the question: from favourite to greatest. In some respects, we always have a favourite that we are partial to, but a question concerning greatness extends beyond partiality. I decided that Bertrand Russell was the greatest philosopher of the last decade. I thought that this was the case, only after great reservation and much self-resent. I think that there are my favourite philosophers of the past century, these include:

1. Saul Kripke – his metaphysics of necessity and reference are very powerful ideas, one could almost be convinced by Kripke’s general approach

2. David Lewis – almost the antithesis of Kripke, but both put metaphysics into the agenda of general philosophy. The legacy of Lewis can be found in the debates that some metaphysicians have today, like Weatherson, Elga, Eagle, Nolan etc etc.

3. Donald Davidson/John McDowell – these two would be a contender but the choice of philosopher that would always be put on the shortlist of kinds of questions. Both McDowell and Davidson have interesting contributions to the philosophy of value, mind, and action. They are, like Wittgenstein, divisive philosophers are often tarred with association in quite a cliquey way.

4. John Rawls/Bernard Wililams – Rawls has an undeniable effect beyond philosophy. Rawls has popularised politcal philosophy and changed it from an area of philosophy that had faded into obscurity (like Kant scholarship) and had emerged into the hottest topics of our political discourse today (unlike Kant scholarship). Rawls is often mentioned in the social sciences. Williams is a challenging and in my understanding, enigmatic figure in metaethics and normative philosophy, but is a person who is often in the background of contemporary issues, such as in the discussion about reasons for action and Humean approaches in metaethics.

Honourable mentions:

a. Carnap – The Aufbau is a work that deserves more attention
b. Reichenbach – the quintessential philosopher of physical sciences
c. Wittgenstein – because of his influence on philosophy after him
d. Theodor Adorno – his work on popular music/jazz is very influential on social sciences, his culture industry notion is influential to all critical discourses in general

My favourite philosophers of the past century:

1. Stephan Korner – his theis of ‘categorial frameworks’ sounds very much like my own idea, and he is the one philosopher whose thought matches mostly to my own.

2. Jonathan Bennett – some people find his writing difficult, but this is true for his later work. Bennett, much more than Strawson, had made Kant respectable. In Kant’s Analytic and Kant’s Dialectic; Bennett has an interpretation of Kant which is both challenging and charitable and is matched only by the likes of Guyer and Allison. I think Bennett has gaps in his address to Kant, but I acknowledge his work was not for completeness but more a foil for his own ideas. I quite liked Bennett’s work on Spinoza, of which I have many more words about than I shall allow myself here.

3. Paul Guyer – the greatest and most difficult Kant scholar, living or dead. Although Guyer is living, he has a great mantle that any Kant scholar will find intimidating to take. Guyer’s work is difficult, historical, linguistic, exegetical, and sometimes, relevant to contemporary literature.

Why is Russell the greatest philosopher of the 20thC?

There are many reasons why Russell could be considered important: Russell brought logic and philosophy of mathematics to the forefront more than any other philosopher, he did so by his own work in the Principia, and theses concerning logicism and advocation of formalisation; but more so by his popularising of Wittgenstein and Frege.

Russell’s work on the philosophy of mind and psychology (which now is almost forgotten) was quite interesting and hard hitting. Russell knew his stuff in a time when quantum mechanics, developments in mathematical logic and psychology were at the state of the art. Russell’s theory of descriptions is influential, although not singularly important to claim to being the most famous of philosophers; neither is his writings on moral and political issues.

Few (if not none) else have had a public reputation as a philosopher more than he had during the 20thC. Russell addressed the issues of the day (perhaps a model that philosophers like Warburton, Baggini and Grayling purposely follow), and wrote beyond his topics of lecture. Russell engaged in broadcast media, such as television and radio (I particularly relish his radio debate with F. Copleston S.J. on the cosmological argument).

Perhaps the most sentimental appeal is that almost all undergraduates who begin study of philosophy read The Problems of Philosophy; which, after all these years, still forms the teaching stillabus of introductory philosophy.

In a following post I shall consider who was the greatest philosopher of the 19thC (perhaps an easier question).