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Helen De Cruz
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I am co-signing Helen De Cruz British Academy postdoctoral fellow University of Oxford
What do philosophers think about religious disagreement? This is a brief survey (takes about 5-10 minutes) to find this out. The survey is aimed at academic philosophers, by which I mean people who hold a PhD in philosophy or are graduate students in philosophy. If you fit these criteria, please... Continue reading
Hi Ambrose: I think older professors *can* make a difference, but I don't think the solution is to give up their spot so that a younger person (often indeed with a comparably better publication record, such is the arms race we are in) can take their place. For one thing, many tenure lines go away when the person retires (I think in the previous place I worked only about 1/3 retirees were replaced by new tenure-line hires). Second, I know there's an overproduction of PhDs but I would still question the wisdom of hiring and retaining people in terms purely of their productivity (because then why should we hire parents, or indeed anyone who has a life outside of academia). Older professors could advocate for and mentor younger people, do some small things towards making life for new hires and for adjuncts a bit easier (e.g., many friends of mine who are tenure track hires have difficulties figuring out how the dept works, for instance, learning too late about a bonus they could get for good teachng evals.) Precisely because the protection tenure offers, older professors don't need to compete with their younger (more productive etc) colleagues, and so can make a positive difference.
Dear Steven, thanks for the clarification. If there are exceptions (pilots etc), one could imagine an exception being added for professors if it turned out that they hung on as long as possible and beyond the capacity to do their job properly (I don't think that is the cade, to be clear). What I mean is that there's no individual moral duty for professors to retire when they reach a certain age, even if it turned out that the lack of a mandatory retirement age was detrimental.
I don't know what other people's intuitions are on this. Personally, I don't see the problem. For instance, I've heard of people at regional state schools, which were hard hit by budget cuts, who are stuck with the same (not too great, in the proximity of high school teacher) salary and only ever get a significant raise if they get promoted (which would only happen twice, e.g., to associate and to full professor). In the meantime the administrators, who have many more levels to climb regularly get paid raises. It seems that getting a counteroffer is a perfectly reasonable way to improve your wage. Also, note that applying for another job with no intention to take it does come with its costs. In the private sector, accepting a counteroffer comes with a higher subsequent attrition rate and lower job satisfaction (after all, your colleagues know or are bound to find out you've gotten a counteroffer, it may not be the best way to foster collegiality). So it is definitely not without its risks.
I put in that proviso "as long as they can meet the expectations for teaching and research that they have met earlier" because I know that this sometimes happens. I don't think cases of forcibly retiring faculty members who are not able to do their teaching or research adequately are structurally different from other cases (involving younger people) who have mental health issues that prevent them from doing their jobs. I knew about two such cases with tenured professors who had mental health problems.In both cases, they were removed from their positions (one of them left academia entirely, the other was given an administrative position).
Thanks, Mark! I think this is an important thing to realize - that privilege is not automatically accrued with age, and many people are working for relatively modest wages at less prestigious universities. There's a mistaken perception among non-tenureline faculty that all tenure-track faculty members are raking in the big money, and similarly, there's a perception among junior people that older tenureline faculty members are all making the wages of endowed chairs at research-intensive institutions.
John: sorry for my delayed response and delay in approving the comment. I think for philosophy you need to assess on a case-by-case basis. A flabby way to go about it is to say you'll be doing conceptual analysis, thought experiment and other philosophical techniques. A better way (I think) is to be specific about your philosophical methodology, e.g., you could say that you'll be combining your philosophical techniques such as conceptual analysis with case-studies of actual examples (e.g., in political philosophy and philosophy of science) and that you'll use review of literature from such fields.
A few years ago, I read the Philosophy Smoker on a regular basis. In the comments threads, several job seekers complained about older professors who didn't retire. If only they finally went away, more tenure lines would become available for junior people. In a provocative essay, professor emerita Laurie Frendrich... Continue reading
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Hi Eric: Thank you for this. It's a difficult balancing exercise, I agree. It is exacerbated by the fact that the grant model in Belgium is too much modeled on the sciences. When my sister did her PhD in medium-energy nuclear physics, her lab director's name was on all her publications, although his contribution was usually not creative (he did of course check the work of his PhD students, and actively mentored them in how to present their research using the practices of the profession, and where to submit to etc). Other lab members who had little creative input, but, for instance, just ran some analyses, were also on her first-authored papers. However, in physics, it is generally understood that this is how it works. The first author gets the credit, but there is an understanding that this is the result of teamwork. So it is totally unproblematic in physics to have all your papers co-authored with your lab colleagues and promotor. The problem is that this model cannot be emulated in the humanities. As you know, I like to co-author and have co-authored a lot [although never with my advisor] but I think the situation of a humanities PhD who has nothing but co-authored articles with his or her advisor is undesirable. I once heard an advisor say to his PhD student that she should write more papers with him, because that way he could write grants at which she could be employed, he would need to make a case for why he was writing this project (she wasn't eligible for one of the personal postdoc grants anymore). But this makes it more difficult for the former student to find employment elsewhere and makes her too dependent on the goodwill and ability of her former advisor to win funding. She will not be perceived as someone who has her own philosophical voice, regardless of her own contribution. One problem - specific for Flemish academia - is that professors can't have course release based on their grants. I've found this situation incomprehensible: how can you do enough work on the grant without course release? In such a situation, putting one's name under papers where one's contribution is perhaps not as big as to merit co-authorship becomes the way to get enough publications on one's CV, which is necessary to win new grants. So one could counter the situation by providing profs with course release so they can work more on their own research, perhaps also by putting some more weight on their first-authored publications than on those in which they are not first author (which presumably are a better measure of their output, for in stance in the social sciences, where almost everything is co-authored).
Hi Neil it's not specified where each fragment comes from. The text corpora that are being analyzed in the paper come from the UK and from the US. In sports there may be an exception to the social convention against bragging. Bragging by athletes and other competitive sportspeople might be a form of psychological warfare. For instance, Muhammad Ali had his signature "talking trash" (belittling and taunting his opponents), see here for examples: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=WsAC4lhbE0g
Hi Neil: You are right that in the broader field, theists seem to be neither more or less ethical than non-theists (there are some studies suggesting theists give more charitably, but that incorporates donations to churches, which is misleading). This is also why I think that epistemic distance could be achieved in many other means (as in the example I provide, being a parent. Again, I don't think parents are better people - if anything, you need to invest in your children which might make altruism towards other less easily attainable). Nevertheless, I think Rea's self-reflective view that his identity as a Christian is helpful (or should be helpful, it's interesting he draws this distinction) in achieving reflective distance toward the pernicious norms of our discipline, which mean putting yourself forward and being clever (often at the expense of others). So my empirical prediction would be that people who take most of their identity out of being a professional philosopher would be more vulnerable to regarding these norms as absolute without any sense of relativizing them.
The following letter was adopted by the Northwestern University Philosophy Graduate Students by way of a vote: As many in the philosophical community already know, sexual misconduct is a prevalent problem in the discipline. Our department is currently bearing the weight of its own controversy regarding sexual misconduct, and we... Continue reading
Hi Patrick: I agree the GCC is a great thing, and diversity within philosophy of religion (in its practitioners) is low. Kevin Timpe crunched some numbers, suggesting that women might be even less represented in PoR than in other fields, across different samples, he has about 10% women in PoR (or even less), whereas the percentage across philosophy in general is about 20% for faculty members. Still, addressing just the demographics (a laudable aim and something I support 100%) only addresses part of the problem. In fact, the problem will only be seriously addressed if there is also an openness to diversity in *subject matters*, for instance, feminist analytic theology, work on female mystics, etc, is still fringe within philosophy of religion. So while increasing diversity of practitioners is a good thing, we should also be more open to other approaches, otherwise, as Park said, our increased diversity is just cosmetic, and we might not be able to retain people who aren't white males.
Hi Alan: I like your analogy of pseudoscience/pseudoreligion, but I am not sanguine we can, without due consideration of the contents of these beliefs, decide in advance which beliefs are worth studying and which aren't. The reason that few educated westerners aren't polytheists, for instance, is not because polytheism is incoherent (although it might well turn out to be), but because most of us were raised in a monotheist environment. One is tempted to say, after the fact, that only monotheism and scientific naturalism are plausible options, and give reasons for this, but that doesn't mean polytheism isn't a worthy object of study (in an alternate history where pagan religions weren't eradicated by Christianity, I could well envisage intelligent people discussing polytheism in diverse forms in the mainstream philosophy of religion journals). Without investigation, we will never know. As to your specific examples, the emergence of Mormonism (with Joseph Smith's prophecy) seems in line with that of other religions, organic, influenced by other religious traditions (see the book The Refiner's Fire on the influences of Kabbalism and Christianity), whereas the invention of Scientology is much more top-down (an "invented religion" in Carole Cusack's terms). I don't know what conclusions to draw for this for their epistemic status, but it a fun topic for an epistemology of religion paper.
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.