Top News, Articles, and Interviews in Philosophy

Academic pay cuts vs job cuts

Hopefully the financial situation for universities next year will turn out to be less dire than many fear. And hopefully what cost-cutting measures are needed can largely be achieved by cutting down on non-academic "bloat" together with temporary reductions to discretionary budgets (turning research "travel" virtual, etc.).  But suppose that this isn't enough, and your department needs to spend less on academic salaries.  How should this be done, to minimize harm?Most universities appear to have already implemented a "hiring freeze" as a first step.  Contingent faculty may be the next to go.  This is all incredibly damaging, both for the individuals directly affected and for our academic disciplines more broadly.  It would seem far less damaging, and much more efficient, to look first for savings from the "haves" rather than the "have-nots".Immense gains are possible from encouraging retirement, as the most senior professors may earn several times what their more junior counterparts do (let alone contingent faculty).  But a hiring freeze is a major obstacle to this, at least if departments aren't assured that the tenure line will be promptly returned to them once the present crisis is past.My previous post set out the general case for beneficent retirement (with replacement). The strength of this general argument is magnified immensely in a financial crisis.  Next year is expected to have approximately zero academic jobs [More]

Beneficent Retirement and Academic Successorships

In 'The Paradox of Beneficial Retirement', Saul Smilansky argues that "for a great many people, the best professional action that they can currently take is to leave their profession" (337) -- on grounds that they could reasonably expect to be replaced by someone better (!) -- and, moreover, that the personal costs they'd thereby incur (especially if eligible for a comfortable retirement) would be much smaller than the costs otherwise borne by the un- or under-employed.In the academic case, I suspect that a similar conclusion may follow without the need for invidious comparisons.  Even supposing that one is above average in philosophical mettle, productivity, and so forth, so long as one has already enjoyed a long career in the discipline, it's likely that in most cases (not all, of course!) one's most valuable contributions have already been made, and the discipline would benefit more from hearing new voices.  (This seems especially likely given the hyper-competitiveness of the job market in recent years: we all know that there's an immense amount of philosophical talent out there, struggling to secure stable academic employment.) Suppose that over a 100-year period, a single tenure line could either be filled by two individuals (for 50 years each), or three (for 33 years each).  In the vast majority of cases, the latter strikes me as very obviously the preferable arrangement, for both human welfare and the discipline of philosophy. (Exceptions for [More]

G.E.M. Anscombe on the evil of demanding unconditional surrender in war

During military conflict, what are the constraints on the things that a warring nation may do to achieve their objectives? And what constraints are there on the objectives that such a nation should have in the first place? A traditional answer to the first of these questions draws a sharp line at the deliberate killing […] The post G.E.M. Anscombe on the evil of demanding unconditional surrender in war appeared first on OUPblog.         Related StoriesIs the fetus a resident or a body part?Celebrating notable women in philosophy: Philippa FootWhy vaccines should be [More]


[Revised entry by Brent Pickett on April 28, 2020. Changes to: Main text, Bibliography] The term 'homosexuality' was coined in the late 19th century by an Austrian-born Hungarian psychologist, Karoly Maria Benkert. Although the term is new, discussions about sexuality in general, and same-sex attraction in particular, have occasioned philosophical discussion ranging from Plato's Symposium to contemporary queer theory. Since the history of cultural understandings of same-sex attraction is relevant to the philosophical issues raised by those understandings, it is [More]

Critical Thinking & COVID-19 IX: Straw Person, Steel Person and Just Kidding

During a White House press briefing President Trump expressed interest in injecting disinfectants as a treatment for COVID-19. In response  medical experts and the manufacturers of Lysol warned the public against attempting this. Trump’s defenders adopted two main strategies. The first was to interpret Trump’s statements in a favorable way; the second was to assert [More]

Op-ed on Pandemic Ethics

Co-authored with Peter Singer, 'Pandemic ethics: The case for experiments on human volunteers' was published online yesterday in the Washington Post!We begin:The pandemic has thrown previous moral assumptions into disarray. Most of us now accept restrictions on our freedom of movement and association that would have seemed unthinkable just a few months ago. Yet the research we are willing to do to combat the virus is still governed by assumptions developed in calmer times when less was at stake.Research ethics normally prohibits exposing human subjects to significant risk. The overriding aim is to prevent their exploitation by researchers whose interests may not coincide with those of the individual patient. But in a pandemic, the overriding aim must be to avoid a potentially catastrophic toll. We all face such heightened risk that restrictions on promising research (beyond the basic requirement of informed consent) could easily prove counterproductive in humanitarian terms.We discuss three kinds of "risky" research: (i) skipping lengthy animal trials for promising treatments, (ii) human challenge trials for vaccines (though what we say here could also extend to more speculative theories, e.g. using challenge trials to test the possibility of cross-immunity from cold coronaviruses), and (iii) variolation.  Regarding the latter, we argue:The seriousness of the coronavirus cuts both ways: more risk from the initial low-dose infection, but greater benefits if it does [More]