Top News, Articles, and Interviews in Philosophy

Academic Freedom and Expertise at Federal Institutions of Higher Education (and Elsewhere)

The Hatch Act is a law that forbids employees of the executive branch of the United States federal government from taking part in certain forms of political activity, usually in regards to supporting particular candidates or political parties in elections, while acting in their official capacity. What does this mean for academic experts on political matters who are employed by federal institutions of higher education? In a recent essay at The Conversation, Marcus Hedahl, Associate Professor of Philosophy at the U.S. Naval Academy, discusses the “Fat Leonard” scandal—“the largest bribery and corruption case in U.S. Navy history.” The case is quite interesting in itself, but also, perhaps, for lessons it has “for other cases in which the alleged exchange of official acts for something of personal value is a key element of the crime.” Which other cases? Professor Hedahl can’t say. He explains: I am a federal employee, and the U.S. Office of Special Counsel [OSC] has issued unusually broad guidance about the Hatch Act’s limits on federal workers’ partisan political activities. The law generally bars federal employees from advocating in favor of or against the election of a particular candidate, as well from participating in other partisan political activities in an election. Yet the current guidance—which itself has been criticized for taking sides on a political divide—has been taken by some to apply to any analysis [More]

Is Everything Too Politicised? Some Thoughts on Talisse's Overdoing Democracy

Assertion of Liberty of Conscience by John Rogers HerbertAristotle once said that humans are political by their nature. Certainly, political processes and institutions are central to human life. But are they everything? Is everything we do inherently political? And, more importantly, should everything we do be seen to be inherently political? These are the questions that Robert Talisse takes up in his recent book Overdoing Democracy. He argues that contemporary life (specifically contemporary life in the US) is overly politicised. Political identities and political causes have seeped into and contaminated virtually every aspect of our lives. As he puts it:[C]ontemporary democratic societies have embraced a hyperextended conception of democracy’s reach. They have adopted a conception of democracy’s scope that allows for the attribution of political significance — and accountability qua citizen — to too much of what people do, and accordingly tend to recognize too many spaces as sites in which democratic citizenship is to be enacted…we come to see one another solely as political agents who either obstruct or help enable our own political projects. (Talisse 2019, 48)In other words, we have created a world in which there is no respite from politics. We are forced to see ourselves through our political identities and loyalties and to see others in the same way. Talisse argues that this is a bad thing because over-politicisation crowds out the other goods of life, [More]

Homo Interpretans: Towards a Transformation of Hermeneutics

2020.01.08 : View this Review Online | View Recent NDPR Reviews Johann Michel, Homo Interpretans: Towards a Transformation of Hermeneutics, David Pellauer (tr.), Rowman and Littlefield, 2019, 291pp., $135.00 (hbk), ISBN 9781786608826. Reviewed by Gert-Jan van der Heiden, Radboud University In which sense is interpretation a defining characteristic of the human being? In which sense is interpretation a valid method for the human and social sciences to arrive at better understanding? These two questions form the core of Johann Michel's rich, erudite, sometimes dazzling and above all ambitious book. By combining the questions, Michel hopes to develop a sense of interpretation that covers "the two faces of the act of interpreting" (xix). Thus, he aims to overcome the dichotomy between the epistemological sense of interpretation held by Dilthey and the ontological sense of interpretation held by Heidegger. Michel is a world-leading expert on Paul Ricoeur. Against this background, one may understand this study as an attempt to offer a new version of a... Read [More]

MLK Day 2020

Following the general trend in the media, I will take Martin Luther King, junior Day to reflect on race in America. When King wrote his “I Have a Dream” speech in 1963, he compared that present with the time of the Emancipation Proclamation. While matters had obvious improved, King pointed out that segregation, discrimination and [More]

$2.6 Million Funding for Epistemology of the Large Hadron Collider

An interdisciplinary research group has received funding totalling approximately US$2.6 million to pursue its study of  “the world’s largest research instrument”: the Large Hadron Collider (LHC) at the European Organization for Nuclear Research (CERN) in Geneva. The Epistemology of the Large Hadron Collider “builds on the expectations today’s high energy physicists of a fundamental change in their theories and epistemic practices and links them to the complex conditions of large-scale research,” according to a press release. “It regards the complexity of these conditions as a challenge for the quest towards ever more encompassing and simpler descriptions of nature that has traditionally been associated with particle physics.” This new round of funding for the project, which was established in 2016, comes from the German Research Foundation (DFG) and the Austrian Science Fund (FWF). Based in cities around Germany and Austria, the project is composed of several subprojects on various topics, including: the history and use of virtual particles in physics research; the development and status of the related problems of naturalness, hierarchy, and fine-tuning; the relation between standard model research at the LHC and gravitational phenomena, including dark matter and modifications to Newtonian gravity; the way computer simulations and machine learning are used in particle physics research, including the epistemic status of the data resulting [More]

Yang/Warren: that's the ticket!

There's a lot to be said for Yang as a presidential candidate: he's funny and likeable (able to use humour to deflate Trump's chest-thumping appeal to voters' lizard-brains), an "outsider" candidate (which in recent history appears to be a necessary feature for Democratic candidates to actually win the presidential election), and betting markets currently give him the highest conditional probability (amongst those with a greater than 1% chance of nomination) of beating Trump if nominated (77%).  Yang's automation-focused economic narrative seems broadly plausible, and may have a real chance of combating the immigrant-demonizing narrative peddled by Trump & co, and winning over swing voters in key states.  As a NY Times editorial board member wrote of their interview: “He really seemed to have an almost emotional sense of what people have been going through and what the problems are. His portrait of the fundamental economic problems were more moving than Bernie’s, and Bernie has been selling this for 30 years.”Yang has the right priorities, with his top three policy areas being the economy, environment, and voting reform.  His proposals within each of these areas are excellent.  Yang's signature "Freedom Dividend" / basic income policy has many virtues.  I'm not wholly sold on his tax policy, but I like his evidence-based approach of appealing to what's worked in other countries.  He's pragmatic on climate change: expanding nuclear [More]

Scholars Object to Publication of Paper Defending Race Science

Scholars are objecting to the decision of the editors of the journal, Philosophical Psychology, to publish an article that calls for “free inquiry” into the heredited genetic bases of group differences on IQ tests. The article, “Research on group differences in intelligence: A defense of free inquiry,” is by Nathan Cofnas, a graduate student in philosophy at the University of Oxford. Here’s its abstract: In a very short time, it is likely that we will identify many of the genetic variants underlying individual differences in intelligence. We should be prepared for the possibility that these variants are not distributed identically among all geographic populations, and that this explains some of the phenotypic differences in measured intelligence among groups. However, some philosophers and scientists believe that we should refrain from conducting research that might demonstrate the (partly) genetic origin of group differences in IQ. Many scholars view academic interest in this topic as inherently morally suspect or even racist. The majority of philosophers and social scientists take it for granted that all population differences in intelligence are due to environmental factors. The present paper argues that the widespread practice of ignoring or rejecting research on intelligence differences can have unintended negative consequences. Social policies predicated on environmentalist theories of group differences may fail to achieve their aims. [More]