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Helen De Cruz
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Hi Matt: I have talked to Mormon elders for several hours, inviting them to my house after they moved to the area, and talking about their religion, and I suspected perhaps they want to play down the specificity of their religious beliefs so as not to alienate potential converts (Christians). When I asked them if they thought Jesus was God, they didn't want to give a straight answer.
Hi Carl, Thanks for your comments. And you are right about the importance of history - I think my view was somewhat skewed by the sociology work I read about Mormonism by Rodney Stark. I remember seeing one paper on Mormonism a while ago in one of the philosophy of religion journal (I didn't know there were two perhaps!), but given the demographics of Mormonism, one would expect a higher percentage of papers engaging with Mormon theology than just one or two out of hundreds of articles I've seen. The weirdness is surely a contributing factor. One of the things that started my recent interest in Mormonism was a special evening on the topic at my college, Somerville, where a Mormon speaker (missionary and elder) talked about Mormon theology and the choir sang Mormon songs. Somerville is nondenominational and we often have speakers of other faiths (including the British Humanists) and my first sense was one of alienation - I thought the multi-tier heaven, the embodied gods, the extreme theosis were very strange. It's a pity that weirdness would count prima facie against the topic as a potential academic field (but you are probably right).
I did not argue this, but I am arguing for openness and intellectual humility. If we don't at least engage with these different traditions, we will never know.
I am not denying that there is a lot of interesting philosophical theology, and that a lot of this predates Christianity. I am thinking of all the work in Muslim philosophical theology by people like Avicenna, Al-Ghazali etc. But if you open the leading journals in philosophy of religion I mentioned above, the books in philosophy of religion published by university presses, etc., then you will find very little engagement with this work. These ideas are no longer developed or seriously considered, a few exceptions not withstanding. I am arguing that precisely because we have such a rich tradition, it should be possible for contemporary philosophers of religion to broaden their scope.
In a forthcoming paper, John Schellenberg forwards the following argument: anatomically humans have been around 200,000 years. That's a very short span of time for any species, and only in the past few thousand years ago have we been reflecting on the world around us. If we our species survives... Continue reading
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Hi Hugo: Thanks for these comments! So if I understand you correctly, you argue that argument evaluation is less biased than it seems from some of the data I've cited (and that you also have empirical evidence to back this up). "Argument evaluation should be as objective as possible so that people can accept strong enough arguments even if they challenge the reasoner's prior beliefs or if they come from untrustworthy sources" - however, as you acknowledge the power to persuade arguments is limited, probably for good adaptive reasons (for one thing, if we had to change our minds with each good argument we heard, that would be a difficult way of living one's life). I am wondering what you make of the following: I've now finally come to write up results of a survey of over 800 philosophers asking them to rate 8 arguments for theism and 8 arguments against theism (I placed the main finding in the paper I have in Topoi in your special issue, but the present paper provides a much more detailed analysis, looking at the arguments individually). Unsurprisingly, the philosophers' beliefs (theism, atheism, agnosticism) predicted to a significant extent how strong they thought these arguments were. It's no surprise that philosophers who were theists thought the arguments for theism were strong, and that the arguments against theism were weak, and that the opposite pattern held for atheists. Correlations between religious belief and perceived strength of argument were quite strong, e.g., an r score of -.483 for the cosmological argument. If argument evaluation is objective, how can we explain these strong correlations? Would we expect the views of philosophers to be so colored by their prior beliefs (this also included philosophers of religion) on a model where argument evaluation is objective?
Hugo Mercier sent me this response (below) to my blogpost The invisible hand of argumentative reasoning doesn't work so well - so what can we do about it? Thanks to Hugo for this response! Argumentation gets a bad press. It’s often portrayed as futile: people are so ridden with cognitive... Continue reading
Hi Patrick: Many thanks for these sources, and for pointing to the enormous force of literature in helping us to step outside of our comfort zone and to get a what's it like experience that is important for social change. Indeed, in these examples, we have the shaping of the context where debates take place, rather than coming up with new arguments within the debates (where even good arguments, as a recent study on the effects of arguments to anti-vaccination parents, can backfire and lead to further polarization). The background is at least as important as the debates themselves.
It is well-attested that people are heavily biased when it comes to evaluating arguments and evidence. They tend to evaluate evidence and arguments that are in line with their beliefs more favorably, and tend to dismiss it when it isn't in line with their beliefs. For instance, Taber and Lodge... Continue reading
Dear Tom: I didn't hear about this before. I've reviewed for over 20 journals, most in philosophy, but also in cognitive science, archaeology, anthropology and religious studies, and never did I encounter this practice except once: After turning in a revise & resubmit recommendation, the editor wrote his letter to the author and sent it to the 2 reviewers (of which I was once). The letter was addressed "Dear Dr. xxx" - xxx being the name of the author, so I knew who he was at that point. It didn't seem like a good idea to reveal his identity at this point, given that the decision was R&R. But as far as I know, this isn't general policy, and it wasn't a philosophy journal. I've refereed for several journals (e.g., BBS, Current Anthropology, Cambridge Archaeological Journal) that don't practice anonymous reviewing - in my experience, philosophy is actually quite good in that respect to several other humanities disciplines.
Hi everyone: Thanks, I've just done 2x2 contingency tables, and based on the 3 year period, the percentage of women who get papers accepted at JAAC isn't significantly lower (it's, averaged over the 3-year period, 16% for men and 14% for women, NS). It would be good to have more data on this (e.g., if there were a small gap between acceptance rates between genders, but it holds true across many years, it could turn out to be significant. 3 years is a relatively short period). I agree differences in mentorship and other features in early career philosophers needs to be addressed. But regardless, we need to move to triple reviewing, and editors might need to emphasize that reviewers should not attempt to find out the identity of the authors they review (there is anecdotal, albeit not systematic evidence this is happening). For the acceptance of non-English speakers, averaged over three years, acceptance is substantially lower (p < .0001) than for Americans and other English speakers. This is an enormous difference! - e.g., American average acceptance rates are 22%, non-English speakers, 3% . I've been wondering what could account for this disparity. It could, in part, be that the training and mentorship at American and other English-language departments is superior, so that people at these departments turn out better work. But it might also be that reviewers are picking up on the style of the prose. Since quality of writing isn't irrelevant for a paper's overall quality, I don't know the solution here. The online journal Contemporary Aesthetics, mentioned in Sherri Irvin's analysis, has an editorial policy of encouraging submission of such work, “specifically tries very hard … to encourage works from non-English speaking authors whose language may need a lot of editorial work. As long as the content is there, we do not automatically reject submissions because of poor English. [Berleant] spends an inordinate amount of time and effort working with the authors to improve their writing. I think this adds to the cultural diversity of our collection.” -
John: I've been thinking about the effects of this too. If women and other minorities are submitting in roughly the same proportion or similar proportion as they are represented in the profession (as the AFB post suggests, and my earlier poll), but are accepted at significantly lower percentages, then there are several possibilities, none of which mutually exclusive 1. Women and minorities are a lot more junior and after a while, they will catch up 2. Women and minorities are subject to implicit biases that anonymous peer review cannot address (either b/c reviewers pick up unconsciously on various cues, or because reviewing isn't always anonymous, or because the editor knows the identity and plays a non-trivial decision in acceptance/rejection 3. Women and minorities, for various reasons, turn in work that doesn't conform to our philosophical expectations (e.g., Buckwalter and Stich's paper on differing intuitions across men and women, work by Machery, Nichols etc on differing intuitions across ethnicities) 4. Women and minorities, for various reasons, submit work of poorer quality - I think we need to be careful in further looking at 1-3 before resorting to 4 as an explanation. Tentatively, I did not find a difference in my study on submissions to top-5 journals in reasons for why people didn't submit, something one would expect if stereotype threat were at work (e.g., the reason "My work doesn't fit in these journals" might come up more frequently in underrepresented groups.) That didn't seem to be the case. I ran various tests, all came up with null results.
It would be great to have more refined information about the demographics (I'm already pretty impressed with Irvin's stats now). I do not think the correct tone is irrelevant for refereeing. As I've commented on Marcus Arvan's piece (to which I link in the original post), tone is, I believe, an honest because hard-to-fake signal of maturity and expertise. Knowing how much to contextualize, letting your argument breathe, dealing with objections, are all relevant things. I just sometimes worry that a confidently written piece that hits the right tone might get published even if the ideas are rather banal, and that a really good idea written by a grad student who doesn't yet master the tone (e.g., too much time spent on unimportant ideas) can get a reject decision and thus we miss out. What I'm worried about is that the tone can play too much of a role in our decisions as referees and editors, even if it correlates significantly with the expertise of the author.
Hi Marcus: I haven't been in that situation yet, but my thoughts are that you should let the editor know that upon reviewing the paper, you came to know who the author is, and ask them whether they'd still like to complete the review. It isn't ideal, but my guess is that many editors would go ahead and ask you to do the review anyway (based on my experiences where I knew right away who the author was, because the field is so small and I know their work or saw them present). However, if there's a potential conflict of interest, for instance, if the person is a good friend, I'd say to the editor that I know who the person is (through things they reference), and since I know the author personally, I would be unable to provide a fair review.
HGI: these are also my reasons for avoiding comments to the editor. Perhaps one can make a strong recommendation that the author can see (as in Rachel's example). It must be frustrating if the paper then still gets rejected, but it's good to know that at least someone who is your peer really liked it. Conversely, it's important that the author of a really subpar paper realizes that it would require a lot more work (as a new submission), so that's why I am now somewhat more direct about the shortcomings of a paper than I used to be - one can do that without being nasty, I think, e.g., saying the paper doesn't show sufficient familiarity with the literature, where the argument went wrong.
Hi Crimlaw, I think it's at present unclear what explains the lower acceptance rates of women and non-Americans/non-English speakers in the sample of JAAC and BJA. We have some data on what happens when an identical abstract is submitted with a male or a female name on it, or a grant application. But I have no idea how much of a role this plays when papers are anonymized. We'd need to know in how far reviewers are aware of the identity of the author. In a small field like aesthetics, it's not unlikely you know who the author is (e.g. you saw them present the paper). Perhaps the subject, the examples that are used, might also provide clues. It's also hard to judge to what extent the perceived senior or junior status of an author plays a role. I'm inclined to think, a lot. In my experience as a referee (if my impression is correct), junior authors tend to anonymize as "omitted for review", whereas senior authors don't hide who they are. They just put the pubs in brackets (see Jones 1991, 2002, 2005), and it's not hard to guess that they are Jones. So I think that we do get all sorts of implicit ideas about who the author is, and those ideas color our perception of the work. One way to control for it would be to vary some linguistic markers (e.g., people who are lower-status use personal pronouns more; non-native speakers of English use less idiomatic expressions, more experienced authors cite less sources) in an otherwise identical text, and examine how referees evaluate them.
OK - thanks. I did not see it in the text and missed the table. I'll update this in my piece. Indeed, depressingly low, especially given that aesthetic judgments seem to have some cross-cultural variability.
Rachel, that seems very sensible. It's important to let the editor know you really like a paper, given that the default response is rejection (given space considerations), and sometimes it's important to convey that a paper will likely not reach the standards of the journal even with a revision. One reason I tend to try to avoid comments to editor is that I came off as too nice - giving helpful suggestions and pointing out the strong points of an article, when I thought overall it was weak.
This article in Aesthetics for Birds has some interesting statistics on the percentage of papers authored or co-authored by women and minorities in the top print aesthetics journals: Journal of Aesthetics and Art Criticism and British Journal of Aesthetics. About 20% of articles in these journals are written by women... Continue reading
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Hi Walter: Thanks for your comment - The position you describe is something Aquinas describes in his idea of the beatific vision, which is based on the phrase in 1 Cor that we now see in a mirror/lens darkly, but then we will see God face to face. According to Aquinas, postmortem and after the final judgment, those who are saved will see God directly without any intermediary. God will first boost their intellect, so that it is capable of apprehending something so great. The beatific vision, this direct apprehension of God, surpasses reason and even faith (since faith always has some element of imperfection). But even with our pre-resurrection minds, God might still have chosen to make his/her presence more unambiguously known. And even if that were not possible, one might then ask why God built those limitations in our minds. It seems possible for God to create beings before their final, resurrected state, to know him. Those who work on the problem of divine hiddenness, like Michael Murray, thus think the main problem is to explain why there is at least temporarily (our mortal life on Earth), God's existence isn't just plain evident to us.
Oh yes, definitely - or at least paint the picture in all its bleakness. Maybe the new information for prospective grad students in philosophy should start out with that, or have a section on it, a realistic picture of the placement rates (overall), depression in grad school, attrition rates, average debt accrued. Again, it would be good to be factual (there's a whole literature on "Grad school just don't go" that has become a literary form of itself; I still think it's good to give a dry account of data on how good one's chances are (e.g., Carolyn's placement data) and then let them decide if they still want to go through with it.
David: How would we redefine quality without, for instance, the implicit judgments about which disciplines are more central to the discipline (metaphysics, epistemology, philosophy of mind, and philosophy of language), or what topics are worth thinking about (e.g., religion, feminism and race are not serious topics of philosophical investigation)? I'm not saying it can't be done. Jennifer Saul (I think) recently said that Sheffield consistently got excellent rating from the REF. The reason is that the REF outputs are judged by people who know the work. Sheffield is also PGR ranked, but because they conduct a lot of work that is not deemed of central importance, it is less well ranked than its REF evaluations would suggest. I am wondering if much is lost if we just got rid of overall rankings of quality, comparing apples with oranges, of departments that have different strengths and weaknesses. I am not sure whether perhaps about specific topics (e.g., say I am a grad student interested in learning how do conduct work in experimental philosophy) could be still be ranked (as it is now). I suspect that even there, we could simply list departments that have significant outputs and research and supervision ongoing in experimental philosophy without ranking them. Students can then use that information, combine it with other quantitative measures such as placement data, to make their decisions of where to apply.
There have been lots of discussions on the PGR (e.g., here), especially on its leader, Brian Leiter, including a poll on whether the of 2014 should be produced. Regardless of the outcome of this, I think we can already start considering alternative ways, independent of the PGR, to provide information... Continue reading
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M: I have been bothered by BL's derisive attacks for a long time and I was genuinely bothered by the fact that someone like this has so much power in our profession. I feel there is now finally some momentum to rethink that concentration of power, first with the installation of Daily Nous as a genuine alternative news site for philosophy (and not just a collection of rants against America's religious right and Spiros has a posse!) and New Appointments in philosophy as a much more readable and inclusive list of appointments. PGR is the next step. It's an opportunity to think how we can do better - what kind of info do we need to give to our students, who should organize it, should there be rankings (I think not, because of the biases that creep into ranking, but I am open to perhaps rankings per subfield).
Hi Marcus: A great idea for a thread. Now my pet theory about the right tone is that it is something that is extremely hard to fake. A confident (but not overconfident), calm and clear way to express yourself is something you acquire over time. It is very hard for someone who just ventures out in the field to hit that tone - how can your prose radiate calm, confidence and clarity, if you are insecure, unsure about whether what you're saying is right at all, and don't have a good grasp of the field (as a grad student is). So the tone is what one in biology might call an honest signal - easy for those who have the trait we are looking for (e.g., expertise), hard for those who lack the trait (e.g., a grad student who gives her first APA presentation).