Top News, Articles, and Interviews in Philosophy

University to “Align” Philosophy Major with Catholic Studies

The trustees of Newman University, a Catholic university in Kansas, have approved a plan proposed by the administration that will revise its philosophy and theology programs so that they “align strategically” with its new School of Catholic Studies.  The administration also plans to eliminate four major programs, but it is unclear at this point whether philosophy would be among them. Also unclear is what it means for the philosophy program to “align strategically” with the School of Catholic Studies. It could primarily be an administrative and staff consolidation with only indirect effects on how philosophy is taught at the school. Or it could be an attempt to explicitly influence the content and teaching of philosophy courses in a way that furthers the aim of the School of Catholic Studies, which is to reinforce “core values” such as “Catholic Identity” and provide “students authentic and transformational opportunities to grow in their faith during their collegiate journey.” (Inquiries about this to Newman University administration have yet to be answered.) Newman philosophy professor Christopher Fox was interviewed for a story on these changes by the school paper, The Vantage, about which he expressed concerns regarding “Newman’s ability to stay a place where knowledge is produced, and the diversity of views is supported.” The Vantage reports: “Fox said with the realignment of his department [More]

“An Optimistic Bet”

The relationship between truth and social progress is then an optimistic bet. I hope that knowing the truth is part of what sets us free. But that’s an empirical hunch that could well turn out to be wrong. That’s Elizabeth Barnes, professor of philosophy at the University of Virginia, in a wide-ranging interview by Richard Marshall at 3:16. I draw particular attention to that line because I think it gets at an underexplored element of philosophizing: philosophers’ hopes or “optimistic bets” that certain things turn out to be true. The contents of these hopes aren’t assumed to be true, but they aren’t thought of as mere possibilities, either, as they have a kind of motivating power towards doing philosophy, and towards exploring some lines of inquiry and answers over others. The diversity and distribution of such hopes affect what people philosophize about, and what the overall picture of philosophy looks like at any time. Professor Barnes continues on the connection between truth and social progress, and what she takes to be her responsibilities as a philosopher: It could be that people aren’t motivated by the truth in any way, or that a noble lie would’ve been more politically effective. It’s also, of course, an open question that the truth could turn out to be politically inconvenient for people like me. I hope it’s not, but it might be. And I think any open and honest philosophical inquiry needs to countenance that otherwise it feels [More]

Philosophy Majors and the GRE: Updated Data (w/updates)

When students are compared by major on how far above average they do on the Graduate Record Examinations (GRE), a standardized test used in many disciplines to assess applicants to graduate programs, philosophy majors come out on top, according to a new look at test score data over the past few years. Tomas Bogardus, associate professor of philosophy at Pepperdine University, had noticed that much of the data easily available about how philosophy undergraduates fare on the GRE (such as on the Value of Philosophy pages) was from 2015 at the latest, and helpfully compiled newer information, including the chart above and the table below. He writes: If you just add up raw scores from the three sections, Philosophy doesn’t have the highest total score. But, because of the different standard deviations for each section, you might think that what’s more interesting is how far above average students are scoring on each section, i.e. how many standard deviations above the mean for all students is the mean score for each major. When you do that, and take the average number of standard deviation from the mean for all three sections, Philosophy majors are on top. And that seems to be because of how exceptionally well they do on the Verbal and Writing sections, which makes up for their relatively modest (but still well above average!) score on the Quantitative section.  Below is a table showing mean GRE scores, by major. In addition to performing better than all others in [More]

Philosophy Majors and the GRE: Updated Data

When students are compared by major on how far above average they do on the Graduate Record Examinations (GRE), a standardized test used in many disciplines to assess applicants to graduate programs, philosophy majors come out on top, according to a new look at test score data over the past few years. Tomas Bogardus, associate professor of philosophy at Pepperdine University, had noticed that much of the data easily available about how philosophy undergraduates fare on the GRE (such as on the Value of Philosophy pages) was from 2015 at the latest, and helpfully compiled newer information, including the chart above and the table below. He writes: If you just add up raw scores from the three sections, Philosophy doesn’t have the highest total score. But, because of the different standard deviations for each section, you might think that what’s more interesting is how far above average students are scoring on each section, i.e. how many standard deviations above the mean for all students is the mean score for each major. When you do that, and take the average number of standard deviation from the mean for all three sections, Philosophy majors are on top. And that seems to be because of how exceptionally well they do on the Verbal and Writing sections, which makes up for their relatively modest (but still well above average!) score on the Quantitative section.  Below is a table showing mean GRE scores, by major. In addition to performing better than all others in [More]

Refereeing Papers About Your Own Work

A graduate student in philosophy writes in with the following query:  Under what conditions is it appropriate to referee a paper that responds directly to your own work?  The student elaborates: On the one hand, it seems unethical to review such a paper, given the personal investment in the subject. On the other, it seems plausible to me that the conflict of interest doesn’t necessarily make a potential referee a less qualified reviewer than whoever would replace them, especially if the topic is a niche one or is highly technical. I can see an argument for the idea that it might be unfair to the author (or bad for the subject) to “selfishly” refuse to contribute in cases where one’s expertise might make a relevant difference. (Though I suspect that there are very few cases in which the topic is genuinely as niche or technical as that.) It also seems worthwhile to balance concerns of the time required to find additional reviewers and the associated costs to both author and editor. Finally, I’m unsure how I would draw a cutoff for papers that one shouldn’t review—speaking only for myself, I suspect that I would be more likely to be uncharitable to a paper that failed to engage with my work on a subject than with one that responded to it, for instance.  I reached out to Rebecca Kukla (Georgetown), editor-in-chief the Kennedy Institute of Ethics Journal and former editor-in-chief of Public Affairs Quarterly for a response. She writes: [More]

Mary Astell on female education and the sorrow of marriage (philosopher of the month)

Mary Astell is widely considered one of the first and foremost English feminists. Her pioneering writings address female education and autonomy in the early modern period and had a profound influence on later generation of feminists. Astell was born into a middle class family in 1666. Her father was Newcastle coal merchant who died when […] The post Mary Astell on female education and the sorrow of marriage (philosopher of the month) appeared first on OUPblog.         Related StoriesThe moral mathematics of letting people dieJohn Duns Scotus – The ‘Subtle Doctor’ – Philosopher of the MonthG.E. Moore – his life and work – Philosopher of the [More]

Philosophical Apps: How To Popularize Philosophy (guest post by Caleb Ontiveros)

The following is a guest post* by Caleb Ontiveros, a former philosophy Ph.D. student who now works as a software engineer. Philosophical Apps: How To Popularize Philosophy by Caleb Ontiveros The mediums available for popularizing philosophy are underexplored. If you want to share philosophical thought and techniques with non-academic philosophers and such, the medium matters. Why should philosophy’s would-be popularizers care about the medium? Historically, philosophers have not been the best at identifying how to bring their thought to the masses. “Non-philosophers” tend to get a lot more exposure. If you ask an ordinary person who their favorite contemporary philosopher is, there’s a decent chance that they’ll name someone like Jordan Peterson or Nassim Taleb, and possibly then Peter Singer and maybe Slavoj Žižek. This may or may not be bad, but it’s relevant if you care about popularizing. The typical model for popularizing philosophy has been to write popular books, publish at popular websites or in well-known publications, and basically go on speaking tours. For many academic philosophers, the model of popularization hasn’t advanced much further. But given the diverse forms of communication and interaction available to people today, we must recognize that the strategy of “share ideas with enough readers of the New York Times, lecture enough, and publish a few books” is limited in its effectiveness and reach. Fortunately, there has been some [More]

Lynch Wins 2019 NCTE George Orwell Award

Michael P. Lynch, Board of Trustees Distinguished Professor of Philosophy at the University of Connecticut, is the winner of the 2019 George Orwell Award for Distinguished Contribution to Honesty and Clarity in Public Language from the National Council of Teachers of English (NCTE).  The award “recognizes writers who have made outstanding contributions to the critical analysis of public discourse.” The NCTE states: The Orwell Award emphasizes the importance of honesty and clarity in public language, and Michael Patrick Lynch’s book Know-It-All Society: Truth and Arrogance in Political Culture reminds us that honesty and clarity is more than just listening to speakers behind a podium; honesty and clarity in public language also refers to how we interact every day with those around us. Lynch accessibly explores aspects around and within public language, including the ideas of how our convictions affect both our worldview and the resulting discourse, and how intellectual arrogance and intellectual humility shape our interactions with others. Relying of the frameworks of philosophers from Dewey to Montaigne to Socrates, Lynch offers us a path to consider for how we speak with and listen to others in our 21st century political landscape. The award was established in 1975. Previous winners include not just other academics, such as legal scholar and bioethicist Katie Watson (Northwestern) and David Greenberg (Rutgers), but also entertainers such as Jon Stewart, authors [More]

What Should Search Committees Initially Ask For?

A reader draws my attention to the advertisement for an assistant professorship in philosophy at Duke University as an example of the problem of schools asking for excessive information for the first round of applications. Applicants must send in: a cover letter a full CV a sample of written work (10,000 words max) a one page dissertation summary a research statement a teaching statement teaching evaluations (where available) a diversity statement, indicating how your skills and experience could contribute to campus equity, diversity, and inclusion efforts at least 3 letters of recommendation The reader writes: “This is definitely the most extreme example of a trend in philosophy job ads to keep on asking for more and more material. The thing is, you know they won’t look at most of it. It looks to me like they’re requesting on the order of 50 pages of material per candidate. So if they get 200 candidates, that means they’re asking for 10,000 pages of junk. That’s silly, and isn’t a good use of anyone’s time.” At least they don’t ask for a transcript. Or for applicants to create a special website just to apply to their job. It is not clear to me that there is much of a trend in asking for more material. Over the past 15 years the normal list of materials to send in has looked roughly similar to the one above. (The exception is the diversity statement, requests for which have gained in popularity only over the last few [More]

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