Tuesday, August 30, 2011

What is a "Behavioral Philosophy Lab Manager"?

The folks at Schreiner University of Kerrville, Texas are advertising for one. Responsibilities include helping set up lab in new facilities; managing large amounts of data; analyzing this data; creating web pages; creating experiments on web-based testing platforms; attending weekly lab meetings; and may include mentoring undergraduate students and teaching classes. Qualifications include "at least a BA or BS degree," and "preference will be given to those in philosophy, psychology, or other behavioral sciences." I don't think they know what philosophy is. Or else the whole thing is a typo.

--Mr. Zero

Writing a Book

I've been enjoying this thread on how junior people should go about writing a book and acquiring a book contract from a reputable publisher. I especially enjoyed these two comments, from David Chalmers, Peter Ohlin of Oxford UP (U.S.), and Peter Momtchiloff of Oxford UP (U.K.).

My only contribution to this discussion is this: somebody told me once that it is a good idea, when drawing up your book proposal, to indicate who you think they could sell your book to, if they let you write it, and why you think those people would buy it.

Also, when I was in college, I was really into Peter Momtchiloff's side project:

--Mr. Zero

Wednesday, August 24, 2011

Large Lecture Classes

As I may have mentioned earlier, pretty soon I will be teaching one of those very large lecture hall classes, with no help. I haven't done this before, and I wonder if any of the Smokers with experience with this sort of thing had any tips. What are the pitfalls, and what are the secrets of success?

Thanks, y'all. I hope you're making the most of the last few weeks of summer. Or the first few weeks of the semester, as the case may be.

--Mr. Zero

Tuesday, August 23, 2011

Friday, August 19, 2011

Inside Higher Ed on The Climate Guide

I've been busy all day and haven't had a chance to read this, but there's a long article on the Climate Guide in Inside Higher Ed today.

--Mr. Zero

Thursday, August 18, 2011

What Are You Teaching This Fall?

I glanced at this NewAPPS thread this afternoon in which people say what courses they are teaching this fall, and what the enrollment caps for those classes are. And now I notice that In Socrates' Wake was getting in on the action. (Although so far there hasn't been much action.)

What stood out to me was this: a lot of people seem to have pretty favorable course loads, and a lot of these people also teach classes that are capped at low, low levels. I'm teaching a large introductory-level lecture-hall class that's capped at 200, an introductory ethics class that's capped at 55, and an upper-division ethics class that's capped at 35. So I guess I'm kind of jealous of the people who are teaching two classes to a total of under 50 students.

--Mr. Zero

Monday, August 8, 2011

Worth Repeating (Pluralist's Guide)

Although there is a clear sense in which this is old news, I bring it up because I don't want this discussion to die. It seems to me that it is very important to have good information about departments available for prospective graduate students. It also seems to me that the people who put up websites claiming to provide this information have a responsibility to do a good job, to explain how they came up with the information, and to be willing to respond to criticism and to act on suggestions for improvement. And it seems to me that the editors of the "Pluralist's" Guide are not living up to these responsibilities.

In comments in the Gender, Race and Philosophy post in which Linda Alcoff presented some information concerning and momentariliy defended the methodology behind the Climate Guide, anonymous graduate student writes:

Dear Professors Alcoff, Taylor, and Wilkerson [editors of the Pluralist's Guide]:

The sarcastic last comment here [this one] does not, in my view, dispense you, the authors of the "climate for women" section, from addressing in detail the several very serious questions and worries that were brought to the table by the previous commenters. I am sure that I am not the only one to find it very troublesome that there is neither any attempt on your part to defend the "climate for women" section its current form - which, as the many thoughtful comments above have shown, would be a difficult feat - nor the slightest admisssion of the insufficiency and indeed indefensibility of the section as it stands at this time.

The only conclusion I (and, I imagine, many others) am able to draw from the exasperating refusal by you, the authors of the "pluralist's guide", to engage even in the most rudimentary way with serious criticism is that despite the title of your "report" you are not in fact guided by the concern that informs the comments in this thread - the climate for women in philosophy - but rather by an undisclosed private agenda that abuses this concern as a cover.

I guess I'm not willing to draw any specific conclusions about why the authors of the Climate Guide haven't withdrawn it, or edited it in such a way as to acknowledge its many methodological and factual problems, or explained how it was compiled, or even evinced comprehension of these problems. But I will say that it gets sadder and sadder with each passing day.

--Mr. Zero

Friday, August 5, 2011

The Sisterhood of the Traveling Philosophical Conclusions

In what has become a widely-discussed piece in the New York Times (among philosophers, anyway), Stanley Fish says,

In short, the conclusions reached in philosophical disquisitions do not travel. They do not travel into contexts that are not explicitly philosophical (as seminars, academic journals, and conferences are), and they do not even make their way into the non-philosophical lives of those who hold them. The fact that you might give one set of answers rather than another to standard philosophical questions will say nothing about how you will behave when something other than a point of philosophy is in dispute.

For one thing, I think this is somewhat of an overstatement. I've had students tell me that my ethics classes, in particular, have affected their thinking in what they saw as behaviorally significant ways. I've had students tell me that discussions of animal cruelty have caused them to adopt vegetarianism, or at least to moderate their meat-eating or to seek out less cruel alternatives. I've had students tell me that discussions of abortion have caused them to see a complicated (and interesting) set of issues where before they saw an easily-resolved black-and-white issue with a bunch of moral monsters on the other side, and that this would cause them to be more sympathetic and nicer to people with whom they disagree. I've had students tell me that discussions of Rachels & Rachels on cultural relativism or Socrates on the divine command theory have caused them to seriously rethink their initial confidence in these moral outlooks (even if they didn't ultimately reject them).

Now, I don't see it as my role to try to talk people out of stuff like eating meat, conservative positions on abortion, cultural relativism, or divine command theory. I see it as my role to try to talk people into having more thoughtful views on these things. It is one thing, for example, to be pro-life because you believe that life begins at the moment of conception and that anyone who disagrees is depraved and that anyone who would act on that disagreement is a cold-blooded murderer; it is another to believe that abortion is wrong, but whether it is wrong depends on when personhood, not life, begins, and that reasonable people disagree about when that is and whether the status of the fetus is relevant at all. I think that's a significant change; I think that this change is likely to result in behavioral differences where the rubber meets the road; and I think that's a victory for philosophy.

Fish is, of course, addressing Paul Boghossian's recent discussion of cultural relativism. Fish says, "When it’s not the game of philosophy that is being played, but some other — energy policy, trade policy, debt reduction, military strategy, domestic life — grand philosophical theses like “there are no moral absolutes” or “yes there are” will at best be rhetorical flourishes; they will not be genuine currency or do any decisive work. Believing or disbelieving in moral absolutes is a philosophical position, not a recipe for living." In this way he (seems to) argue that there is a clear and important sense in which the results of philosophical reflections (or, at least, those concerning moral absolutes versus moral relativism) do not matter.

My experience in the classroom suggests a different lesson. It seems to me that people who cultural accept relativism typically do this without thinking carefully about what the view says or what its moral implications are. It seems to me that when certain counterintuitive implications are brought to their attention, they typically realize that they do not accept them, and that they did not in fact accept relativism in the first place. They might (initially) describe themselves as cultural relativists and they might claim to accept the central thesis of relativism, but on reflection they don't accept any of its consequences and they think the main argument for the view is badly mistaken. They were just trying to be nice, and they thought that adopting cultural relativism was the nice thing to do. In my experience, it is unusual for people (even people who describe themselves as cultural relativists) to deny that there are moral absolutes (even if, in certain contexts, they would say they do), and this is why you don't normally have to say that there are moral absolutes, and why you don't normally get anywhere when you do. It's not that the conclusion didn't travel; it's that the conclusion traveled without everybody noticing and is there already. Philosophical conclusions travel incognito.

We saw something like this here in the late spring/early summer. In a very long comment thread, a commenter persistently argued that philosophy, unlike empirical science, doesn't generate genuine knowledge (or something like that), but would persistently and at every turn defend this thesis by making reference to what were clearly non-empirical philosophical theses that were essential to the position.

And finally, if Fish is really right that philosophical conclusions don't travel, isn't that more of a criticism of the people in whom they fail to travel than the philosophical conclusions themselves?

--Mr. Zero

Thursday, August 4, 2011

LaTeX: 1 Year Later

I've been using LaTeX for a little over a year now. I've written a few papers with it, I've used it for classroom materials, and my job application materials were mostly written in LaTeX last year. Now that I'm a somewhat experienced user, I thought that it might be helpful to collect my thoughts about it. Is it worth the effort to switch?

First, some things I continue to dislike about it:

  • Window proliferation. For every document you're working on, my TeX program (TeXShop for Mac) produces as many as three windows: one for the text document, one for the typeset PDF "output" document, and a "console" window in which the program shows its work as it produces the PDF from the text file. That's fine if you're just working on a paper, or whatever. But if you've got a paper going, and a lecture for your intro class, and a handout to go with that lecture, and a lecture for ethics, and a handout for that lecture, you've got a lot of windows open. I try to be vigilant about closing consoles, but there's another problem in the vicinity...

  • Document proliferation. The process of creating nice-looking PDFs involves the creation of a bunch of auxiliary files. And if you forget to use the console to trash them before you close it, it's a (minor) pain in the ass to get rid of them all. And if your document contains a bibliography, you need those auxiliary files.

  • Certain things take longer, because you have to learn how to do them. Make an abstract; make a numbered list that starts at 5; making a space show up in the PDF after '\textonehalf'; stuff like that. These are all things that I figured out how to do without a huge amount of trouble, but they wouldn't have been any trouble at all in Word.

  • All in all, these are pretty minor annoyances, though.

What do I like about it? Why have I stuck with it?

  • It's not Microsoft Word. Whenever I am asked to open an MS Word document, I whine a little inside. "Do I have to?" I cannot stand MS Word. I particularly hate it now that everything is a "Docx" file and I'm still using Word from '04 or whatever. Word's conversion process makes opening and saving documents take forever. And causes the program to crash. It sucks.

  • It is free. Subsequent software updates have been free. New versions of the software are also free.

  • It makes PDFs, not Word documents. Everybody has at least one free PDF reader. No BS conversion to make my old-ass version of Word read your newfangled "docx" document. Nearly every computer in the world has the software for reading PDFs already installed.

  • The documents do look awfully nice. They do not look like they were made with free software. This isn't such a big deal with paper drafts, but I like to hand out nice, professional-looking handouts in my classes and (especially) at conferences. And I like my application materials to look polished and professional.

  • Bibliographies. I love--love--not worrying about bibliographies. I love not having to remember to add each reference to the bibliography whenever I add one. (Although you do have to keep your bibliography file up-to-date. But that's helpful, too.) I love not having to remember to take the reference out of the bibliography if I delete the reference in the main text. (Although that happens less frequently.) And I really, really love not having to mess with the bibliographic format. Mind wants it one way but Phil Review wants it another? No problem whatsoever. (Not that I've had this exact problem.)

    • A minor problem here is that you have to keep track of your bibliographic entries in a separate program (I use BibTex BibDesk, which comes with the TexShop bundle). But I find that helpful, too. Before LaTeX I was using a spreadsheet to keep track of the bibliographic information and physical locations of my many, many photocopied journal articles. BibTex does the same thing, but better.

  • Symbols really are easier. You might have to google it, but the symbols you want are there and easy to implement. The symbols menu situation in MS Word is really tragic. There are a large number of different "symbols" menu/tables, some of which are very long, and none of which has all the symbols you want. So if you want a "times" symbol, you're looking in one table; if you want a universal quantifier, you're looking in another; and if you want, say, a curly greater-than-or-equal-to, you might just end up copying it out of some webpage.

  • Last year I didn't like way LaTeX handles quotation marks, footnotes, word counts, and the general user interface. I am mostly over these problems now. The TexShop word count application sort of sucks because it counts the words in your preamble and stuff. But if you know how many words there are in your preamble, you can work around this. And it doesn't count the stuff you've "percent signed," so that's nice.

  • Speaking of which, the percent sign thing comes in really handy when you're "conference-izing" a paper. (Quick note of explanation: when you put a '%' in front of some text in LaTeX, the program ignores whatever comes after it until you hit "return." This comes in handy when you want to write a little note to yourself, or block a command in the preamble, or whatever.) In this way, you can cut out large quantities of text from the main PDF document without deleting it altogether. And the word count function ignores it even though it's technically still there. And so you can just as easily put it back.

So, what we've got here is a free, highly functional word-processing program that makes nice-looking pdf documents and makes your bibliographies in whatever style you want for you, by itself, without you having to do anything other than keep track of the stuff you've been reading.

--Mr. Zero

Tuesday, August 2, 2011

When Will the JFP come back?

In comments, anon 1:27 writes,

Speaking of the new APA website, is there any word when the JFP will be back online?

None that I'm aware of. Anybody know the answer to this one?

--Mr. Zero

P.S. The new website is worse than the old one, difficult as that is to believe.

Monday, August 1, 2011

The bibliophile's lament

I really, really like books. Once I have a book in my possession, I tend never to give it up. Unless I specifically hate it for some reason. I have a lot of books I read decades ago, and may never read again. Paperback books that don't have any substantial monetary value. I have multiple copies of books I really love, like Ulysses. If I see a used copy of it, I'll buy it. That's especially true of philosophy books. Cheap, used philosophy book? I'll buy it. A library sale is a little bit of heaven.

So, I have a lot of books. e-Books are not a solution for me. I have a thing about books, and paper, and the whole sensory experience of holding and reading a book. I like bookshelves groaning with books. My dream house would have one of those huge libraries with the ladders for climbing up to the books.

I have to move in a few weeks. The movers charge by weight, so it behooves me to release some of these books. I'm kind of stuck on the philosophy books. I tend to think that as a philosopher, I ought to have a well-rounded library of philosophy books. I'm not likely to ever teach Wittgenstein, or Schopenhauer, but I'm kind of loathe to get rid of those books. I have multiple editions of certain textbooks in my AOS. Should I get rid of those and just keep the most recent? What about my six copies of Kant's Groundwork? They're all different, and some are out of print. Or my two copies of the Critique -- really different translations. Some of these books I've been carting around for decades, since I was an undergrad. Ditch the Republic paperback since I have the Complete Works? But it was the first philosophy book I read in college! Move it? or lose it?

What do you do with your old philosophy books, fellow philosophers?


A Better Job Market This Fall?

In a discussion over at Leiter that never really took off, it was pointed out that this article at Inside Higher Ed suggests that the job market in political science seems to be rebounding a little, and wondered whether that's good news for philosophy.

I think it is wisest to maintain an "I'll believe it when I see it" approach to this sort of thing. It seems to me that we've had moderately good news about the economy over the past several years (or, at least, less bad economic news) that has failed to materialize as substantial gains in tenure-track philosophy job market.

Another thing that the political science data highlights is that it would be nice if the APA would keep detailed job-market statistics. It would be nice to know what's happening in the job market from year to year. As it is, you have to count entries in the JFP and on the Leiter jobs thread.

--Mr. Zero