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Ralph Wedgwood
Los Angeles / London
Philosopher
Recent Activity
The new journal Thought is now accepting submissions in Value Theory (broadly interpreted, to include all of ethical theory and metaethics). I am the new Subject Editor for Value Theory submissions, assisted by an expert panel of referees (which includes... Continue reading
Posted Aug 22, 2013 at PEA Soup
It has long amazed me that the tenure promotion process at most US universities relies so heavily on external letters of evaluation. The system has at least the following flaws: 1. The external evaluators are hardly ever a truly representative sample of the relevant experts; and they are also often affected by the various biases that Jon describes. 2. The external evaluators are usually very busy people, who typically have difficulty squeezing their evaluation of the candidate's work into their busy schedules. 3. The external evaluators are usually not paid for their work (if they were paid, this might help them to feel an obligation to do their evaluation especially carefully). 4. The external evaluators have little incentive to ensure that the right decision is made: they will not become colleagues of the candidate if the candidate does get tenure; and since their evaluation is anonymous, they will not suffer any significant damage to their reputation if the process results in the wrong decision. By contrast, the tenured members of the department in question are usually in a better position to make the right decision: they have had ample opportunity to get to know the candidate's work; and they have a very clear stake in making sure that the right decision is made. So I believe that the tenured members of the department in question should make up their own minds, and the letters of external evaluators should be accorded relatively little weight. Unfortunately, administrators often attach enormous weight to any negative comments in external evaluators' letters. Any external evaluator who has a realistic sense of the system's imperfections, and of the limitations of his or her own judgment, will shy away from having such a great influence on the outcome. So while the system is flawed in this way, it is unrealistic to expect many external evaluators to be willing to include negative comments in their letters. Moralizing admonitions from Brian Leiter and Chris Tucker (et al.) will hardly change that!
Mehmet Erginel is right. The Greek phrase "ou biôtos" does not have to be translated as "not worth living": it could just as well be translated "not to be lived" or "not as it should be lived". So the claim that Plato is putting into Socrates' mouth here clearly is every human being ought to lead an examined life -- because if someone's life is unexamined, that life is bound to be suboptimal. But it obviously does not follow that if one's life is unexamined, it would have been better if one had never existed. It also does not follow that leading an examined life is sufficient for living as one ought to live. Indeed, I am tempted to interpret Socrates as holding that in order to live as one really ought to live, one's self-examination would have to lead one to achieve genuine knowledge of the most fundamental truths of ethics. Socrates, of course, denies that he has achieved any knowledge of this sort. On my interpretation, then, even Socrates himself is committed to accepting that he has not led the kind of life that is fully "biôtos anthrôpôi" -- fully worth living for a human being; indeed, perhaps no human being ever has lived such a life. I am not at all sure what the objection to the claims that Socrates makes here is supposed to be. Isn't it highly plausible that no one has ever lived quite how a human life ought to be lived? And isn't it also plausible that such an ideal life would involve knowledge of these ultimate truths?
For Oxford and the University of Southern California (USC): Gabriel Uzquiano Cruz and I are both moving from Oxford to USC (Gabriel is starting at USC in August this year; I will be starting there in January 2012).
Dave -- You're right. (I had a dim sense that I wasn't quite hitting the nail on the head, which is why I added the qualification 'at least roughly....'.) Thanks for pointing out my slip! Still, the inference rules that I described sound fine to me. Whenever you follow them, you are thinking rationally. If by following them you form a belief in [p iff Actually-p], then you thereby acquire a piece of a priori knowledge. (To comply with your recommendations, I'm follow George Bealer by using square brackets to talk about propositions. So if 'p' is a schema taking the place of a sentence, '[p]' is a schema taking the place of a term referring to the proposition expressed by the sentence.) In general, the difficulties seem to arise when we try to formulate a claim with a modal element, involving concepts like know-able. In other words, it is easier to formulate a claim concerning the retrospective (or ex post) epistemic notions (like "doxastic justification" or "knowledge"), which refer to an actual epistemic achievement, than with the prospective (or ex ante) epistemic notions (like "propositional justification" or "knowability"), which refer to situations in which such epistemic achievements are available. By the way, I'd prefer not to talk about "sentential a priority", which sounds much too linguistic to me. I'd prefer to talk about "conceptual truths" (which may not be knowable at all, whether a priori or otherwise). I agree that every proposition of the form [p iff Actually-p] is a conceptual truth, but only some of them are knowable a priori.
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Dave – Your counterexample to the claim every instance of ‘p iff Actually-p’ is knowable a priori is very elegant and ingenious. But in a way, we shouldn’t be so surprised by it. The deep issue behind your counterexample has to do with the connection between (a) broadly logical notions (like the notion of a provable truth, or a proposition that is true-in-all-models, or the like) and (b) broadly epistemic notions (like the notion of a priori knowledge or knowability or the like). As Gilbert Harman has been reminding us for more than 30 years, practically every attempt to formulate a tidy connection between logical concepts and epistemic concepts runs into counterexamples. This seems to be because the properties or relations picked out by epistemic concepts (like knowledge) are subject to various constraints, like the constraint that every proposition that is known is entertained, while these constraints do not apply to logical properties and relations (like validity and logical consequence, etc.). Still, I think that it is possible to formulate an illuminating connection here. Consider the rules of inference that license the inference from the supposition of p to the conclusion ‘Actually-p’, and from the supposition of ‘Actually-p’ to the conclusion p. I suggest that the epistemic import of these rules of inference is simple: at least so long as you possess the concept ‘Actually’, it is always rational for you to respond to the state of considering an inference that exemplifies one of these rules by accepting that inference. (By “accepting” this inference, I mean conditionally accepting the conclusion of the inference – conditionally on the assumption of the inference’s premise.) Given certain additional assumptions (e.g., that there are certain other rules of inference, such as conditional proof or the like, which also have the same sort of rational epistemic import), we may conclude that (at least roughly) for every proposition p that you actually entertain, it is rational for you to accept ‘p iff Actually-p’. So, if you actually entertain the proposition ‘No one entertains q’, it is rational for you to accept the biconditional ‘No one entertains q iff Actually (no one entertains q)’. Moreover, if you entertain this proposition, then the biconditional is true – since in that case both sides of the biconditional are false. Plausibly, then, for every proposition p that you entertain,‘p iff Actually-p’ is knowable by you. Is it “a priori”? Well, in my view, it is not fundamentally propositions or pieces of knowledge that are “a priori”. More fundamentally, it is things like rules or patterns of inference that count as “a priori”. A rule of inference is a priori if and only if the rule is “built in” to one's basic cognitive capacities (such as one's possession of some concept or one's capacity for some type of attitude) – in the sense that possessing these cognitive capacities necessarily puts one in a position to follow this rule in a rational way. The a priori knowable propositions are precisely those that can be rationally accepted as a result of being inferred from the empty set of assumptions by means of a priori rules of inference. So it certainly looks as if it is true, for every proposition p that you entertain, that you can know ‘p iff Actually-p’ a priori.
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I completely agree with the point that many others have made on this thread, that philosophy departments' graduate admissions committees and hiring committees ought to take pains to avoid discriminating on the basis of the applicants' undergraduate institutions. But I also think that philosophers ought to get involved with their university's *undergraduate* admissions process. Widening access to higher education has to be done across the board, not just at the level of graduate admissions or hiring. One crucial question that every graduate admissions committee has to ask itself is whether the applicants will be ready to start graduate-level work in philosophy in a few months' time. While many colleges and universities that are not famous institutions (including many institutions outside the English-speaking world) will enable their more talented students to get to that point, some of these institutions will in fact have provided a much better preparation for graduate study than others. Even if the committee judges how well prepared the applicants are by reading their written work (rather than just going by the reputation of their teachers), those who have received a better undergraduate training will have an advantage. It is important to try to ensure that this advantage is not restricted to students from more privileged backgrounds. But the only way to try to ensure this is to get involved in the undergraduate admissions process.
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Dec 1, 2009