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Eric Schwitzgebel
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Don, how horrible about your wife! It is very much easier to think that life is fair when all is well and you're riding high. When things come crashing down, some people might find comfort in the thought that there is some transcedental rectification, but from a secular perspective that can sound hollow or even insulting. That pattern of thinking is an important part of the psychology of philosophy here -- the psychology of the belief in moral order. Developmental psychologists have found origins of it in early childhood ("just-world thinking" and "immanent justice"). I think such thinking is simultaneously irrational, beautifully aspirational, and objectionably affirmatory of the status quo. (Still can't hang all that together in my mind.)
Clement: Right, there are plenty of precedents for the moral order view (or at least partial versions of it) in the west, though the issue has somewhat slipped out of fashion. Measuring happiness and measuring morality are both very tricky (and I'm not sure that happiness or unhappiness is exactly what the moral order view requires; that's an extra argumentative step). I'm with Dan Haybron on the difficulty of measuring happiness. And we're nowhere close to developing the moralometer! So it's one of those tricky issues that requires broad thinking about a wide range of considerations both philosophical and psychological -- exactly the kind of issue I've always loved.
Thanks for the thoughtful comments, Clement and Christy! Clement: Some political philosophy is directed toward a vision of increasing the the moral order of society; but (a.) political philosophy tends to be normative and I'm more interested in the empirical question, and (b.) political arrangements, at least narrowly conceived, are only a piece of the picture. Much of the picture is more psychological and interpersonal: How does cheating on one's spouse tend to make one feel? Are jerks happy? I find myself attracted to a Confucian vision that recognizes some truth in Mencius but also perhaps emphasizes Xunzi's picture of aiming toward a political and personal philosophy artificially structured toward increasing moral order. Christy: The two pieces you mention seem to fit together quite naturally! Here's how I see them fitting: Most people deserve far better than they get, but society is structured so that the worst tyrannize the rest. I'm not saying that's right; but it's one way to hang together your commonsense constraint with an immoral world order.
by Eric Schwitzgebel Let's say the world is morally ordered if good things come to those who act morally well and bad things come to those who act morally badly. Moral order admits of degrees. We might say that the world is perfectly morally ordered if everyone gets exactly what... Continue reading
Aaron: Thanks for your thoughtful comment! I agree that profit was probably necessary in Krakow. Bruennlitz was highly unprofitable. But the question I was hoping to focus on was how Schindler should have thought about that money he had at the end -- whether to take it or redistribute it back to the workers. I think the natural reading of the film is that Schindler leaves not as wholly penniless (he has a fancy car and a gold pin) but also not as carting away trade-goods and sacks of diamonds. Oskar and Emilie are shown jamming clothes into suitcases, as though these were their last belongings, rather than organizing goods to take with them. The truck, if one even notices it, is somewhat confusing -- a remnant of the Keneally version that was kept, I think, despite the fact that it doesn't quite fit with the Spielberg version.
Interesting points, Dan. I do think that it's better to think of Schindler's money as profits from slave labor than as something he squeezed from the Nazis, though in a sense of course it was both. (If I employed slave labor, for example, to sell overpriced items to rich people, it wouldn't be justified for me to keep it since it was only money I got from the rich.) So it's not clear the the money was rightly Schindler's to dispose of. Would the Jews have freely agreed to let him keep it? Maybe so, but hard to know. Whether Schindler or the Jews were safer after German surrender is also not entirely clear, especially if we assume that Schindler would have kept the letter from his workers and some moderate amount of money for bribes and travel. It was a chaotic period -- lots of people died after the war, and the Schindler Jews were mostly homeless and impoverished, in an environment with still much anti-Semitism.
Thanks, Eric. Kind of a compromise between my options 1 & 2 -- seems in the ballpark of reasonable. But part of me is still fighting between the hardline option 1 and the gracious (?) option 3!
by Eric Schwitzgebel Today I'm thinking about Schindler's truck and what it suggests about the moral psychology of one of the great heroes of the Holocaust. Here's a portrayal of the truck, in the background of a famous scene from Schindler's List: [image source] Oskar Schindler, as you probably know,... Continue reading
Well... yeah. But at least we love Ursula!
I read his *2312* last summer -- terrific book! Sadly, Kim Stanley Robinson didn't seem to make anyone's list of ten.
Haven't read "Fat Farm"! Thanks for the suggestion.
Yes, Tiptree is on the longer list, recommended by two (Rachael Briggs and Eric Kaplan).
Carl: Yes! I hope that more submissions will trickle in. If so, I'll spin them out in batches of four on my blog and update the mega-lists. I'd love to see the lists get longer, both incorporating a broader range of works and bringing more authors/works into the multiply-cited category. (Email me.)
Charles: Card made the longer list. I agree that Ender's Game is terrific.
by Eric Schwitzgebel ... here! This mega-list of about 360 recommendations is compiled from the lists I've been rolling out on The Splintered Mind over the past several weeks. Thirty-four professional philosophers and two prominent science fiction / speculative fiction (SF) authors with graduate training in philosophy each contributed a... Continue reading
CK: I have read Randall Collins' Sociology of Philosophies cover to cover. I have read multiple works by Martin Kusch and Neil Gross, including Kusch's Psychologism and Gross's book on Rorty. I arranged for Gross to speak to the philosophy department at UCR and we have had email discussions about the politics of philosophers in connection with my data on the voting patterns (and party registration) of professional philosophers (Schwitzgebel and Rust 2010). I have posted many quantitative analyses of social patterns in philosophy on my blog, The Splintered Mind, adapting analytic tools from sociology and bibliometrics. I have developed two prestige ranking systems for philosophers, one based on citations in the SEP and one based on name occurrences in PhilIndex abstracts. Brian Leiter posted an analysis of departments based on my SEP rankings of individual philosophers, which I noted on my blog better correlated with the PGR department rankings than the NRC rankings. I have published extensively on how social and/or non-rational factors can have a major influence on philosophers' professional judgments in their areas of expertise, especially regarding consciousness and moral dilemmas. On The Splintered Mind, I have defended what I call the "Strong Program in Psychology of Philosophy" drawn with intentional parallel to the Strong Program in sociology of knowledge. So: Yes, I am serious. I understand why you might have been inclined to think my expressed interest in sociology of philosophy was merely a pose, if you don't know my work. (Sorry if this comes across as too defensive. My morning coffee might not yet quite have kicked in!)
Bharath: You write: "Sometimes claiming to merely descriptively capture a state of affairs, without aiming to endorse it, can itself be a way of endorsing it." I agree. So I think it's reasonable for people who think that the rankings are either grossly misleading or socially egregious should oppose the rankings. I think they're likely to be somewhat misleading and that they have a mix of social upsides and downsides, and only because I have a moderate view on those questions do I think it makes sense to put forward an argument in favor on sociological grounds.
Concerned outsider: You write: "One concern that I and many others have about the PGR is about how the evaluators are selected. If they were selected by, say, simply inviting every author who has published in Nous and Phil Review in the last ten years to evaluate for the PGR, that would be better than the current system, to my mind." I agree. The invitation system is non-transparent and possibly biased. I am inclined to think that your suggestion would be preferable to the current system. Or maybe one improvement on it would be to try to come up with a short list of journals that are highly visible by objectivish criteria (Nous and Phil Review might win, but there are other contenders). Another possibility might be random sampling from disciplinary societies in the target countries -- though that risks amplifying the Anglophone bias.
Catherine: Thanks for that thoughtful reply. I agree that the PGR does sometimes play the role you suggest. I agree that it has substantial methodological shortcomings. I also think that the NRC, REF, and other attempts at qualitative / reputational measures *also* have substantial shortcomings. It's easy to think of quantitative measures like citation counts as more valid than the subjective opinion of recruited middle- to high-status people in the mainstream of the field. In some respects, those methodologies are better, but I don't think they're decisively better. The litany of legitimate complaints against citation counting, for example, is long. For this reason, I would encourage the proliferation of a wide diversity of measures, with complementary methodological shortcomings to the extent that is possible -- measures played off each other so that people don't take any one measure too seriously.
I need to take a break from approving and responding to comments, to focus on other things. So please be patient: If you submit a comment, it might not show until tomorrow.
APS: "Rather than ‘uncovering’ hitherto fore unknown facts it would be more accurate to say that it is a reflection of those facts." I don't disagree. The social facts are (more or less) already known to the evaluators; the PGR displays those social facts for a broader audience. "It is just to be clear that exercises like the PGR are no different to other forms of audit merely because they happen to be done by academics." I don't think the fact that the PGR is conducted by academic philosophers gives it special status. REF, NRC, etc., also have value -- and their own sets of problems.
Mitchell: I would be interested to see a thoughtful critique of the state of mainstream Anglophone philosophy, including measures of reputation, from sociologists of knowledge. I might even agree with the conclusions of such a critique. An important part of my own philosophical research is concerned with calling into doubt how much knowledge and expertise professional philosophers have in their target areas of specialization (esp. about consciousness and about evaluating moral dilemmas).
Anon grad 13:49 / 15:41: "You should only do a PhD in Philosophy if you will enjoy the process of earning the PhD. It should be valuable to you even if you don't land a TT job." I agree with that, and I give similar advice in my series of posts at The Splintered Mind on applying to grad school. Most students would do well, I think, not only to consider reputation, as imperfectly measured by the PGR rankings, in deciding where to attend graduate school, but also to consider the other types of factors that you mention. Of course, the existence of the PGR doesn't prevent students from considering those things.