sylvar: (Default)
Philosophers call this the problem of other minds:

Two Zen monks walking through a garden stroll onto a small bridge over a goldfish pond and stop to lean their elbows on the railing and look contemplatively down at the fish. One monk turns to the other and says, “I wish I were a fish; they are so happy and content.” The second monk scoffs: “How do you know fish are happy? You’re not a fish!” The reply of the first monk: “Ah, but how do you know what I know, since you are not me?”

-- Yoram Bauman, Quantum Microeconomics (p. 13)
sylvar: (Default)
If you like good writing about bad writing, read this AND its comments:

Some of my favorite comments:
  • Man, that guy is a ridiculous cockbag. At least he’s always on the last page so it’s easy to skip him.

  • Some people seem to think that Leon Wieseltier is an excellent literary critics, and certainly I’m in no position to question anyone’s literary criticism skills.
    Actually, I am in such a position, being a professional literary critic (ie, I have a job and am paid by a major university to do literary criticism, believe it or not–I still can’t really), and I can assure you: Leon Wiseltier is a terrible, and terribly pretentious, literary critic. So, breathe easy.
  • It reads like someone’s attempt to enter a parody of George Will in a Bulwer-Lytton contest. What utter crap.
sylvar: (OCLC Google)
I'm helping [profile] turtlebat23 edit a term paper, and when I tried to add συνεργούς to the custom dictionary, Microsoft Word 2004 for Mac [Version 11.5.0 (080429)] complained that it couldn't save it to the custom dictionary because it contained Unicode.

Is there some add-on or patch that would solve this, or will we just have to choose between "Ignore All" on every document or buying Word 2008?

...and now back to the editing.
sylvar: (Default)
I know that Jodi's almost certain to end up with an academic job of some sort -- so that means that there will be an academic library of some sort nearby. I'm thinking about getting a philosophy MA so that I can work as a liaison between the library and the philosophy department, or as an academic librarian who has a subject master's and a working knowledge of two liberal arts fields, linguistics and philosophy.

I'm not disillusioned with systems work—I still love that. But I think that if I can manage to get an MA during the 5-7 years she's working on her PhD, at minimal cost (possibly by working for the university where she gets her PhD), I would have another interesting and reasonably well-paying career option in case systems librarianship isn't in need when I'm looking for work.

I've learned a fair amount *about* philosophy by helping her; I've been able to come up with some decent objections to published arguments. But I've got zero classroom experience with it, so I suspect I might have to start with some undergrad classes to get admitted to any accredited program.
sylvar: (Default)
I read a bit of Mary Wollstonecraft to Jodi tonight, since I read faster aloud than she does at all, and man oh man. It's like getting a tattoo†: there *is* a good point involved, but it gets used over and over and over again until you become somewhat accustomed to the pain and just wait for it to be done with.

On the positive side, there's always a bit of hilarity involved whenever she says "In short, ..." or "But let me return to the subject at hand...", and you could make a drinking game‡ out of observing how often she says "private virtue" and "public virtue", or "duty", or "baneful", or alludes to Paradise Lost or Shakespeare.

She really does have some excellent points, but they can be made quite briefly (see the "Very Squashed version"). Mostly, she's saying that girls ought to be taught in the same classrooms with boys, because if you don't stimulate a young woman's intellect, you can't expect her to be anything but an airhead. She's also saying that parents and tyrants demand, rather than earn respect, and that they should instead teach their charges to follow the dictates of reason and not of those in authority, if the two conflict.

There: now you don't have to actually *read* her Vindication of the Rights of Women.

†I've never gotten a tattoo, mind you, so I could be wrong about what THAT experience is like.

‡Some people, in fact, HAVE made a drinking game out of this. It's more commonly known as grad school.
sylvar: (Default)
...and now I'm awake again, and already wondering what kind of work has been done on this sort of thing.

What kinds of altering one's consciousness do we have moral permission for?  Would a neurotypical person have the moral right to use memory-enhancing drugs?  Would a person with a mental illness have the moral right to use 'corrective' (antipsychotic, antidepressive, etc.) drugs?  For that matter, would a person with a mental illness have some duty to use corrective drugs?  Is there a right and/or duty to use psychedelics?  What about the moral right to use memory-suppressing drugs following a traumatic experience?  Does it matter whether one hacks his own brain for the purpose of entertainment rather than success or service to humanity?  Does it matter whether one alters or extends one's cognitive functions by nanotechnology, chemical supplements, or simply reading thought-provoking books?

If I were to get into philosophy on my own, I think this would be an area of interest.  I'll have to come up with a suitably outrageous scenario to illustrate the topic, of course.  Perhaps a society of music lovers has kidnapped a great violinist and wishes to force her to take experimental but effective drugs that will make her into the greatest violinist that the world has ever known, for the purpose of benefiting humanity by creating transcendently beautiful recordings that will stimulate a new burst of interest in the fine arts.  Would she have the moral right to refuse to do so?  Later, when she had been released, if she reconsidered the idea, would she have the moral right to take the same drugs?  What if the motive were merely to profit by selling the recordings?
sylvar: (Default)
I've been assisting [profile] turtlebat23 with her applications to grad school; I am, after all, a librarian, so I've been identifying articles that would interest her.  In the process of doing that, I've learned a bit about philosophy myself.

One thing I've learned is that philosophers use language in a very peculiar way.  They tend to redefine existing terms, define new phrases, and expend great effort in avoiding any possible misunderstanding.  Most philosophers, for example, would feel quite at home with a sentence like this:
"By 'want' I am going to mean a electrochemical state in the brain of A corresponding to which the indeterminate but possible future condition at time t of having fries with that is judged, whether explicitly or without deliberating, by A to be preferable to the possible future condition at t of not having fries with that, without regard to whether the possession or consumption of fries would be beneficial to A's health, whether the portion which A may have reason to believe would be served in the former possible future condition would be compatible with either or both Aristotelian moderation and Singerian concern for unnecessary consumption by the affluent, or whether there is truly something of intrinsic value in the value size, and without regard to whether A is truly free to decide whether or not to have fries with that, or (on a higher-order evaluation) to determine A's own desire to desire, not desire, or be indifferent to the prospect of having fries with that."
Another thing I've learned is that although philosophers have been Thinking About Ponderous Stuff for a very long time, they seem to have decided only relatively recently to try to underpin their work by creating a foundation (or, for you Kantians in the room, a Grundlegung) on which the rest of their deductions can safely rest.  And as far as I can tell, there's remarkably little that has been really accepted by almost everyone as having been conclusively demonstrated; many philosophers would agree that it would be permissible if not downright obligatory to mislead a terrorist in order to save a million lives, though some (notably Immanuel Kant) believe(d) that lying was never morally permissible, even under comparable circumstances.  The only sensible response I'm aware of to the problem of foundational knowledge is Gödel's incompleteness theorems, and tenure committees probably aren't interested in hearing that it's mathematically impossible to establish that we know (simpliciter, as they say) anything -- that it's turtles all the way.  Which is probably why people keep trying to do it anyway.

For that matter, there are some surprising topics which seem not to have been settled at all.  Hyperintelligent beings are deeply interested in whether, and how, color exists -- what it really means to say that a particular rose is red when viewed by a bog-standard human being in ordinary sunlight: is redness a property of the rose?  This seems straightforward to me: the rose has the inherent quality of absorbing some wavelengths of electromagnetic energy and reflecting others, to (and at) various degrees, and human observers who have sensed various complex waveforms with similar characteristics have pigeonholed that cluster of experiences as 'redness'.  Perhaps there's something I'm failing to understand here.

When I realized this week that I was getting interested in philosophy, [info]turtlebat23 thought that it would be great if I got a PhD in it too.  But I convinced her that it would be tricky trying to get both of us employed at the same time, in the same location, in a field with so few jobs available.  Instead, I'll probably try to pick up as much philosophy as I can so that I can be a great research assistant and editor.  It won't be my Real Job, but it'll be fun.

Speaking of that Real Job, it's long since time for me to go to sleep.  I should be walking into the office about seven hours from now.
sylvar: (Me: Caricature)
Jodi was explaining to me this evening that ethicists find fault in Kant's categorical imperative, the first formulation of which is (if I'm paraphrasing correctly) that you should act in a way in which you can will everyone else to act. The problem, they say, is that Kant forbids lying because nobody really wants to live in a world in which everyone lies.

This prohibition on lying, they say, fails a common-sense thought experiment. If you were hiding a family from Nazis (it's always Nazis with these people), and you answered the door to find an SS officer who asks you if you know where the family are, most people would say that it's right to lie in this circumstance, whereas Kant would identify the act as lying and conclude that it's wrong to lie.

But I think this analysis misframes the scenario. There's no reason to focus on how well your answer to the SS officer corresponds with fact, or with your best knowledge of fact (whether or not you are lying). I would call this action "working to stop a genocide" (in a broad sense), or "preventing murder" (in a more specific sense), and I can easily will that everyone would act in these ways.

I suppose I'm not the first to think of this defense, but I'd love to hear from anyone who has some idea about Kant. Am I being reasonable here?
sylvar: (Ignatius J. Reilly)
The Philosophy Student Writer's Manual (2nd Edition) is just one of the many sources asserting, in as many words:

Philosophy majors score significantly higher than all other humanities and social science majors on standardized tests for admission to graduate and professional study. This includes tests for business, medical, and law school. Majoring in philosophy is one of the wisest investments you can make in your education.

But isn't that a rank fallacy? Perhaps the test scores of those who survive a philosophy degree are higher because philosophy is a much harder major than underwater basket weaving. Lewis & Clark University's repetition of the same claim seems to inadvertently support this explanation: "the only fields that score higher mean scores on the combined Verbal, Quantitative, and Analytical sections of the GRE are (in rank order) Physics and Astronomy, Mathematical Sciences, Materials Engineering, and Chemical Engineering." Those are some of the few majors more difficult (in my opinion) than philosophy.

I am glad to see that some philosophy sites address this fallacy, but stunned that many departments still trot out this hoary old nugget of crap. Ain't they s'posed to be smart?

Hey, Technorati, this post is about the , , and
sylvar: (Default)
You scored as Linguistics. You should be a Linguistics major!






























What is your Perfect Major? (PLEASE RATE ME!!<3)
created with

Good thing they didn't ask "Would you like to get a degree that leads to actual employment in your field of study?"...
sylvar: (Hmmm. (Giles))
According to the Philosophical Family Tree (warning: big Java applet), one of [ profile] turtlebat23's professors has a very interesting 'dharma lineage'.

This professor's thesis advisor's thesis advisor's thesis advisor's thesis advisor's thesis advisor's thesis advisor's thesis advisor's thesis advisor was a dude named Immanuel Kant. And, by the way, Immanuel Kant's thesis advisor's thesis advisor's thesis advisor was Gottfried Leibniz.

Naturally, if [ profile] turtlebat23 goes to USF for her master's degree, I think she should ask this professor to be her thesis advisor. Because, really, how cool would it be to say that your thesis advisor's thesis advisor's thesis advisor's thesis advisor's thesis advisor's thesis advisor's thesis advisor's thesis advisor's thesis advisor was Immanuel Kant? (Or at least be able to claim it on paper -- I don't know whether anyone could really say that without quite a lot of practice.)

"Hi, I'm the great-great-great-great-great-great-grand-protege of Immanuel Kant" is shorter, but still...
sylvar: (Hmmm. (Giles))
Jodi is interested in the Popular Culture and Philosophy series. Here's a list of the whole series. Gift-givers, please note that she has a few of these already...

  1. Seinfeld and Philosophy: A Book about Everything and Nothing
    How is Jerry like Socrates? Is it rational for George to "do the opposite?" Would Simone de Beauvoir say that Elaine is a feminist? Is Kramer stuck in Kierkegaard's aesthetic stage?
    A place of honor has been reserved on her bookshelf.

  2. The Simpsons and Philosophy: The D'oh! of Homer
    Does Nietzsche justify Bart's bad behavior? Is hypocrisy always unethical? What is Lisa's conception of the Good?
    We've already got one, you see...

  3. The Matrix and Philosophy: Welcome to the Desert of the Real
    Can we be sure the world is really there, and if not, what should we do about it? The book also explores other philosophical puzzles including ethical ones like Cypher's decision to choose a pleasurable fake world over a wretched real one.
    We've already got one, you see...

  4. Buffy the Vampire Slayer and Philosophy: Fear and Trembling in Sunnydale
    How can Buffy's religious symbolism be squared with creator Joss Whedon's professed atheism? Is Buffy truly a Kierkegaardian knight of faith? Do Faith's corruption and return to the good life demonstrate Platonic eudaimonism? Or do they illustrate the flaws in Nietzsche's superman concept? What does the show's treatment of vampires, demons, and other entities say about ethical attitudes toward nonhumans?
    We've already got one, you see...

  5. The Lord of the Rings and Philosophy: One Book to Rule Them All
    Can power be wielded for good, or must it always corrupt? Does technology destroy the truly human? Is beer essential to the good life?
    We've already got one, you see...

  6. Baseball and Philosophy: Thinking Outside the Batter's Box
    Chapters include: "The Zen of Hitting," There are No Ties at First Base," Baseball and the Search for an American Moral Identity," "Damn Yankees: Why America Needs Reggie Jackson," "The Ethics of the Intentional Walk," "Saving the Twins with Rawlsian Justice," "Wait 'til Next Year: The Faith of a Cubs Fan," "Taking Umpiring Seriously," "He Missed the Tag!: The Ethics of Deception," and "The Asterisk in the Record Book: Roger Maris and Normative Assessments."
    A place of honor has been reserved on her bookshelf.

  7. The Sopranos and Philosophy: I Kill Therefore I Am
    Is Tony Soprano a good man? Is Carmela a feminist? Morally speaking, who is the worst person on The Sopranos? Is watching the show harmful to one's moral health? And what if Tony had read Machiavelli instead of Sun Tzu?
    A place of honor has been reserved on her bookshelf.

  8. Woody Allen and Philosophy: You Mean My Whole Fallacy is Wrong?
    These essays explore such topics as how Schopenhauer's theory of humor emerges in Annie Hall; why, for all his apparent pessimism, Allen gives a brighter alternative to the Bogartian nihilism of film noir; the importance of integrity for the Good Life, as found in Manhattan; and the fact that just because the universe is meaningless and life is pointless is no reason to commit suicide. Also here are droll, probing essays on why hedonism is a health hazard, and why, despite the fact that Earth may be swallowed by a black hole and crushed to the size of a peanut, the toilet continues to overflow.
    A place of honor has been reserved on her bookshelf.

  9. Harry Potter and Philosophy: If Aristotle Ran Hogwarts
    Among the occult lore here revealed, behold the best recipe for true courage, proof that self-deception does not yield happiness, how ethics can be applied to the branch of technology known as magic, why the Mirror of Erised isn’t adequate for real life, whether prophecy rules out free choice, and what dementors and boggarts can teach us about joy, fear, and the soul.
    We've already got one, you see...

  10. Mel Gibson's Passion and Philosophy: The Cross, the Questions, the Controversy
    How can we decide what God intended to tell us? Why do Christians and Jews apparently report seeing two very different Mel Gibson movies? Was Christ a pacifist? Does the film truly follow the gospels? How can we blame Judas for doing what God wanted him to do? Did Georg Hegel answer Mel Gibson 200 years ahead of time?
    A place of honor has been reserved on her bookshelf.

  11. More Matrix and Philosophy: Revolutions and Reloaded Decoded
    We're going in. One more time. And this time we're facing some pretty mean programs. Cynicism. Obfuscation. Postmodern despair. Plus, the usual obnoxious bunch of totally ruthless Agents, who always insist upon Conformity or Deletion. And just in case you were hoping to make it back, they've reconfigured the culture so there are hardly any phone booths left.
    A place of honor has been reserved on her bookshelf.

  12. Star Wars and Philosophy: More Powerful Than You Can Possibly Imagine
    Why do bad Sith nearly always tell the truth and good Jedi often tell lies? When is it justified to raise an army by breeding clones? If the Force must have a Dark Side, how can the Dark Side be evil? Why and how did the tyrannical Empire emerge from the free Republic? Are droids persons, entitled to civil rights? Is Yoda a Stoic or a Zen master?
    A place of honor has been reserved on her bookshelf.

  13. Superheroes and Philosophy: Truth, Justice, and the Socratic Way
    "Finally -- someone's treating comic books with the gravity they deserve. If, as Socrates said, the unexamined life is not worth living, then make your life mean something by reading Superheroes and Philosophy." -- Kevin Smith
    A place of honor has been reserved on her bookshelf.

  14. The Atkins Diet and Philosophy
    Is the Atkins Diet a new wrinkle in capitalist exploitation or a twisted expression of our negative body images? Is Atkins a symbol of super-masculinity? Has the Atkins diet under other names really been around for centuries? Can Atkins make you a smarter person? Or could it cause Global Warming and melt the polar ice caps? What's the relation between Atkins, current concerns about the obesity epidemic, and Fat Liberation? And of course you’re also dying to know: How does the Atkins Diet fit into Kant's conception of the moral life or Rousseau's vision of a kinder, gentler kind of human society? How does the Atkins Diet's challenge to orthodox dietetics relate to Nietzsche's critique of objective truth or Kuhn's account of scientific revolutions?
    A place of honor has been reserved on her bookshelf.

  15. The Chronicles of Narnia and Philosophy
    Under what conditions should we believe a story that runs counter to all our experience? Does might make right or are there objective moral rules? Would Albert Einstein have made any sense of the claim that time can flow at different rates in different worlds? If a boy is turned into a dragon, is the dragon still the same person as the boy? Can salvation be found in many religions or only in one? Do animals—even the ones that don’t talk—have souls?
    We've already got one, you see...

  16. Hip Hop and Philosophy: Rhyme 2 Reason
    Should we stop ALL the violence in hip hop? Does po-po have legit authority in the hood? How do we draw the line between the real Curtis Jackson and the artist 50 Cent, or the real Kimberly Jones and the artist Lil' Kim? Is hip-hop culture a "black" thang? Is it morally permissible for N.W.A. to call themselves niggaz and for Dave Chappelle to call everybody bitches?
    A place of honor has been reserved on her bookshelf.

  17. Bob Dylan and Philosophy (coming in early January)
    The book examines different aspects of Dylan‛s creative thought through a philosophical lens, including personal identity, negative and positive freedom, enlightenment and postmodernism in his social criticism, and the morality of bootlegging. An engaging introduction to deep philosophical truths, the book provides Dylan fans with an opportunity to learn about philosophy while impressing fans of philosophy with the deeper implications of his intellectual achievements.
    A place of honor has been reserved on her bookshelf.

sylvar: (Default)
I got home a couple hours after dawn Saturday and slept until 12:15pm, when my co-worker called to say she needed me to drive back to the office to do a few more things. I did it, and got home around 3pm, and had a nice shower before having the rest of the day together. We got some beading supplies (25m of 0.5mm elastic and various clasps) and some nice shoes, then went to Barnes and Noble to get a copy of The Elements of Style. Somehow a revised edition of a classic seems a bit silly, but then The Message is my favorite Bible edition, so who am I to talk?

Sunday morning I made breakfast from scratch: piña colada waffles with butter-rum brown sugar syrup (from Alton Brown's I'm Just Here For More Food, my anniversary gift). I'm sure traditionalists will say that using tinned pineapple and boughten butter is not From Scratch. I'm sure you can guess my response. It was yummy. We spread the leftover drained crushed pineapple over the waffles before adding the syrup, and I was surprised that there were two waffles left over. Well, since I'm trying to avoid refined flour and eat more veggies, this is perhaps not too surprising.

Flash back to Friday afternoon, when my doctor said that I should try to raise my 'good' cholesterol. She suggested salmon, and I said that I'd gladly give up my 15-year habit of being a lacto-ovo vegetarian if that were her professional advice, but she said that I shouldn't have to do that. So I did a little research and found that apparently flax and almonds are also good sources of omega-3 fatty acids, which raise 'good' cholesterol. I'm going to see if I can get a consultation with a nutritionist who knows about vegetarians, though, and see what else I can learn.

I helped Jodi with her research by doing a bit of library legwork. I found some good articles and books about belief (as an epistemological concept -- what does it mean to say that you believe something, and to what extent can you resolve to believe something or accept a statement you'd been doubting?). The rest is up to her.

Not a bad anniversary weekend. Would have preferred to not have my sleep schedule thrown gobbledy-wicket by an 11pm-8am shift, but wouldn't we all?

Road trip

May. 11th, 2005 10:17 pm
sylvar: (Default)
Sunday afternoon we decided to visit lots of graduate schools for philosophy. The megillah that follows may be almost as long as the trip itself. )
Tomorrow we'll go to Tampa, and on Friday we'll go to Miami, and on Saturday we'll go to Stuart, and Sunday we will finally be home in Tampa for at least five days. Two thousand miles in a week is fun, but I'll enjoy getting back to a normal commute.
sylvar: (Did you hear? (Utena))
This one is for [ profile] papertygre.

Jonah Goldberg on Cookie Monster:

...[T]his is a complete and total reversal of Cookie Monster's ontology, his telos, his raison d'être, his essential Cookie-Monster-ness.

If the Cookie Monster is no longer a cookie monster, what is he? Why didn’t they just name him "Phil: The Monster Who Sometimes Likes to Eat a Cookie"?

November 2010

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