Error message

  • Deprecated function: The each() function is deprecated. This message will be suppressed on further calls in _menu_load_objects() (line 579 of /var/www/drupal-7.x/includes/
  • Notice: Trying to access array offset on value of type int in element_children() (line 6600 of /var/www/drupal-7.x/includes/
  • Notice: Trying to access array offset on value of type int in element_children() (line 6600 of /var/www/drupal-7.x/includes/
  • Notice: Trying to access array offset on value of type int in element_children() (line 6600 of /var/www/drupal-7.x/includes/
  • Notice: Trying to access array offset on value of type int in element_children() (line 6600 of /var/www/drupal-7.x/includes/
  • Notice: Trying to access array offset on value of type int in element_children() (line 6600 of /var/www/drupal-7.x/includes/
  • Notice: Trying to access array offset on value of type int in element_children() (line 6600 of /var/www/drupal-7.x/includes/
  • Notice: Trying to access array offset on value of type int in element_children() (line 6600 of /var/www/drupal-7.x/includes/
  • Notice: Trying to access array offset on value of type int in element_children() (line 6600 of /var/www/drupal-7.x/includes/
  • Notice: Trying to access array offset on value of type int in element_children() (line 6600 of /var/www/drupal-7.x/includes/
  • Notice: Trying to access array offset on value of type int in element_children() (line 6600 of /var/www/drupal-7.x/includes/
  • Notice: Trying to access array offset on value of type int in element_children() (line 6600 of /var/www/drupal-7.x/includes/
  • Notice: Trying to access array offset on value of type int in element_children() (line 6600 of /var/www/drupal-7.x/includes/
  • Notice: Trying to access array offset on value of type int in element_children() (line 6600 of /var/www/drupal-7.x/includes/
  • Notice: Trying to access array offset on value of type int in element_children() (line 6600 of /var/www/drupal-7.x/includes/
  • Notice: Trying to access array offset on value of type int in element_children() (line 6600 of /var/www/drupal-7.x/includes/
  • Notice: Trying to access array offset on value of type int in element_children() (line 6600 of /var/www/drupal-7.x/includes/
  • Notice: Trying to access array offset on value of type int in element_children() (line 6600 of /var/www/drupal-7.x/includes/
  • Notice: Trying to access array offset on value of type int in element_children() (line 6600 of /var/www/drupal-7.x/includes/
  • Notice: Trying to access array offset on value of type int in element_children() (line 6600 of /var/www/drupal-7.x/includes/
  • Notice: Trying to access array offset on value of type int in element_children() (line 6600 of /var/www/drupal-7.x/includes/
  • Notice: Trying to access array offset on value of type int in element_children() (line 6600 of /var/www/drupal-7.x/includes/
  • Notice: Trying to access array offset on value of type int in element_children() (line 6600 of /var/www/drupal-7.x/includes/
  • Notice: Trying to access array offset on value of type int in element_children() (line 6600 of /var/www/drupal-7.x/includes/
  • Notice: Trying to access array offset on value of type int in element_children() (line 6600 of /var/www/drupal-7.x/includes/
  • Notice: Trying to access array offset on value of type int in element_children() (line 6600 of /var/www/drupal-7.x/includes/
  • Notice: Trying to access array offset on value of type int in element_children() (line 6600 of /var/www/drupal-7.x/includes/
  • Notice: Trying to access array offset on value of type int in element_children() (line 6600 of /var/www/drupal-7.x/includes/
  • Notice: Trying to access array offset on value of type int in element_children() (line 6600 of /var/www/drupal-7.x/includes/
  • Notice: Trying to access array offset on value of type int in element_children() (line 6600 of /var/www/drupal-7.x/includes/
  • Notice: Trying to access array offset on value of type int in element_children() (line 6600 of /var/www/drupal-7.x/includes/
  • Notice: Trying to access array offset on value of type int in element_children() (line 6600 of /var/www/drupal-7.x/includes/
  • Notice: Trying to access array offset on value of type int in element_children() (line 6600 of /var/www/drupal-7.x/includes/
  • Notice: Trying to access array offset on value of type int in element_children() (line 6600 of /var/www/drupal-7.x/includes/
  • Deprecated function: implode(): Passing glue string after array is deprecated. Swap the parameters in drupal_get_feeds() (line 394 of /var/www/drupal-7.x/includes/

Covid Diaries: Attention Deficits

Published by Anonymous (not verified) on Fri, 29/07/2022 - 9:37pm in

I interrupt my usual Summer blogging break with a new entry in my Covid Diaries. (For my official "covid diaries," see hereherehereherehereherehereherehere; here; here; here;  hereherehere;  herehere; here; herehereherehere; here; hereherehere; herehere, here; here; here, herehere; here; and here). And, as is depressingly familiar, the situation is a mixed bag.

First, the interesting news is that earlier this week I saw a clinical neuro-psychologist through a referral from the NHS long covid clinic. Curiously enough, when my Dutch GP and Dutch occupational physician tried to refer me to one a year ago (!), my Dutch neurologist and the wider group of the occupational physician blocked it! It's against protocol in the Netherlands, where long covid is treated by occupational therapists (unless there are serious lung or heart symptoms). So after the covid induced migraine was diagnosed by my UK neurologist, my Dutch neurologist admitted it had never occurred to him as a possible diagnosis. This was a bit bitter for me because during my first visit with him I had an intolerable headache which he somehow kept discounting. (Mind you I am a male academic with lots of cultural capital in the Netherlands.)

As an aside, I am not entirely convinced I have a real migraine because, as I have noted before, my symptoms are very well managed by anti-inflammatories (basically extra strength Aleve--this is not available over the counter in the UK), and in my view the triptans are less effective against them. I return to this below.

The clinical neuro-psychologist is a young lad, who called me 'Professor' when he looked for me in the corridor outside of his office. (I was not used to that in this context so it took me a while to realize he was calling me.) I later learned he is also getting a PhD in cognitive science with a specialization on frontal lobe functioning. (I hope I have not outed him.) He had a two-volume copy of William James The Principles of Psychology on his shelves which immediately endeared him to me.  Anyway, after the 110 minutes (!) of testing, he could reassure me there is nothing wrong with my frontal lobe or any of my cognitive functioning. However, I do have rather striking attention issues; so, once the information comes in I process it okay, but certain kinds of information (white middle aged male faces, long digits of numbers, and domestic images) are often screened out. Whereas words and geometric objects go in just fine--so I should still manage okay with the Principia!

On the whole the results are not surprising (although I found my inability to manipulate medium length strings of digits really disconcerting) because they chime in with the reasons why I was interested in this referral in the first place. As an aside, I did wonder if I would do better with women's faces. But then I remembered a disconcerting conversation with one of my lecture course students this past Spring, where after polite small talk in the hall way where she studied next to my office (in which I asked her name, who her favorite theorist we discuss is, etc.), I suddenly had the good sense to ask, 'we have had this conversation before, right?' And she said, it's the fourth time.

The really good news lurking here is that the patterns he found are very dissimilar to what they find in early stages of Alzheimer, dementia or stroke. (On the way home I did wonder what I would do with my life if there were signs of the first two.) Anyway, he didn't know what kind of label to put onto me (I think he is leaving that to the neurologist), except to say that I have a weird kind of attention deficit now (but nothing like ADHD he emphasized). Not unlike the neurologist, he emphasized that they seem my symptoms a lot in in the NHS long haul clinic. In addition, he was pleased to note that once in my cognitive functioning is okay, "superb" even. He and I both regretted there is no pre-Covid baseline to compare me with. 

Second, earlier in the month we had a long family holiday on Paros. There I learned that I am still incredibly hyper-sensitive to sound and that social interactions (which exhaust me) have to be planned very carefully. It seems nearly every restaurant plays some background music, and even the kite-surf shack (where my family spent a lot of time without me) on the beach, which does not have running water or a kitchen, does have music playing. I was reminded of my graduate school dog park friend, Matthew Crawford's second book, The World Beyond Your Head: On Becoming an Individual in an Age of Distraction. In it he points out that in modern life we're surrounded by music and images that try to attract us or distract us, and that the airport lounges of the very wealthy are very quiet. (But I bet these, too, have a soft background music that barely register unless you are me.) Our public or communal spaces are not allowed to be still.

That's to say, the first week of holiday was a bit of a struggle to find the right balance for the three of us. Somewhat annoyingly, whereas during most of my long covid swimming has been a source of enduring pleasure, on holiday I noticed that I found it exhausting (which had also been true ahead of our trip). The really annoying thing of long covid is that my symptoms keep switching slowly after every three or four months or so (more below). Anyway, I do swim most mornings just to stay active. Even played some pick-up basketball with my son in the (rather warm) Greek evenings, which felt like a precious moment I would not have expected a year ago, but still wasn't wholly pleasant (because my head felt so strange).

Luckily, extra strength Aleve (500mg naproxen) is available and cheap over the counter in Greece, so I stacked up on it.:) And the really good news is that most of my symptoms (weird head fatigue, headaches) are very well managed with anti-inflammatories. I haven't had a real headache day in months. Sometimes I am very aware my body and even my head registers I was socially too active, but because of the Aleve I don't have any pain. So, on the whole I am much better than, say, six months ago because I really suffer less.

The bad news is that I have clearly stagnated; I continue to be hypersensitive to sound if there is more than one source in the area and all my social activities, including with my family, have to be carefully planned. This puts considerable hardship on my family, even on days where I think things are going okay. I have also noticed since I returned from holiday that when I spent hours on end in the library, my head starts to feel fatigued; this has never happened to me before not even during long covid (much to the bewilderment of my occupational therapists who all assume that anything work related must be stressful and exhausting). So, I take more breaks now. (The British Library is actually well designed for that.)

As a total aside, this year I submitted two co-authored papers that originated in my pre-covid days but where completion had to be postponed due to my illness. The first got rejected with decent reports (ref 1 fair; ref 2 a bit silly) and the second a major revise & resubmit, and while neither is tremendous news, it did make me feel almost like a normal academic again. This week I also completed a long draft of my review of Neil Levy's Bad Beliefs (which you should read his book that is, well also my review!:)). 

I should close, but one pet-peeve. There is increasing evidence that weight loss helps manage long covid symptoms. And so lots of folk send me press releases on this and nudge me to 'consider losing weight.' Now, ever since I probably had a mini stroke/TIA a decade ago, I pay attention to my weight. And it is very clear  that because of long covid I have gained weight; not just because I probably exercise less and eat more from stress/emotional need, but also because when I do 'diet' (basically a low carb diet), I don't lose weight as quickly as I used to. It's pretty annoying to be told 'consider doing X' while you are 'doing X.' (Beccy Lucas has a hilarious sketch on that if you are into that kind of thing.) 

Anyway, while I dislike the social norm that we must exude optimism, I do feel very blessed that I have a forthcoming Fall (unpaid) research leave. I feel grateful my family found a way to make it work for them, and lucky that the folks at Duke and Arizona are willing to host me (with some funding). Recently I bought my ticket and found housing, and it's suddenly starting to feel very real. Anyway, with that I return to my customary Summer blogging break. 

On adequately filled places (Covid Diaries & Seneca)

Published by Anonymous (not verified) on Thu, 30/06/2022 - 9:55pm in

After nearly a month, it's time for another long covid update. (For my official "covid diaries," see hereherehereherehereherehereherehere; herehere; here; herehereherehere; here; here; herehereherehere; here; herehere; here; here; here, herehere;  here, here; here; and here). And, as usual, the situation is a mixed bag.

First, the good news. Thanks to non-steroidal anti-inflammatories (basically extra strength Aleve for those Stateside) I have managed to eliminate debilitating headaches. By 'debilitating' I mean: being in bed all day, and being incapable of reading or watching streaming online content. So, the amount of suffering has been reduced dramatically! In addition, if I take the meds before I socialize -- say a lunch in a quiet place -- I am capable of enjoying it without nuisance. So, I have some hope that I can reduce my relative social isolation. My body does notice I have socialized (I have a strange kind of fatigue then), so it's not without consequence, but it's better than it was. 

Unfortunately, some of life's simple pleasures remain out of reach due to my inability to engage in quite modest cognitive multitasking: even gentle walking while talking with others wipes me out cognitively. (I can do serious walking alone.) I am unable to enjoy music in the background while we're talking or even playing silently. I can't cycle in the city, I can't play basketball with my son, etc.

For example, recently, I had a lunch with a college friend in a quiet London club. The background music and noise of other lunch-guests were quite modest. I enjoyed it. (Hurrah!) I did have a vague sense that my capacity to eavesdrop on other conversations was much diminished. Once I walked out of the club into the air, I noticed how exhausted I was; and despite the lack of headache, and more meds, I was unable to concentrate again that day. It would not be wrong to call it 'brain fog', but the fatigue in my body is even worse: I walk slower then, and think slower. As I have mentioned before, I suspect a lot of symptoms commonly associated with aging are really the effects of post-viral syndromes. 

In Seneca's Letter 56, he notes that "words seem to be more distracting" to him "than noises; for words demand attention, but noises merely fill the ears and beat upon them." Seneca mentions that shouting is not as distracting as singing and an intermittent noise more troublesome [molestior] than a steady one, and I would agree. In fact, hearing other people talk or even just hum while I am engaged in some activity of my own drives me batty. (Well not as badly as a few months ago, but still.) I have mentioned, I think, that this makes family life with a teenager challenging. He hums when he is happy.

While Seneca repeatedly suggests in this letter and others that finding inner mental tranquility is fundamentally healing, he also recognizes that rousing ourselves to keeping busy with good works is healing, too [ad rerum actus excitandi ac tractatione bonarum artium occupandi sumus], and, if I read him alright, necessary for the non-sage (that is all of us). A Christian may well think this is a call to charity, but I read it somewhat self-servingly as keeping true to my vocation (as scholar and teacher). I don't want to claim Seneca invents the protestant work ethic, but I do think he is an important voice in its development.

In fact, Seneca notes that when he is in forced retirement (due to illness or political failure--the letter contains a rare admission or at least allusion to it) ambition is often revived [interdum recrudescit ambitio]. I recognize the truth of this because much to my own surprise, in my forced leave of absence, my disabilities have re-directed even expanded my vocational ambitions as a scholar (even if I have come to accept that some projects have to be let go), and (while more challenging) teacher.

Even though I had to withdraw from quite a few projects and also have given up on a number of papers, in some respects being a scholar has become easier because I have so many fewer social interactions and don't travel to conferences. I probably read more than I have ever. 

One unexpected effect -- I have mentioned it before -- of these covid diaries is that other scholars reveal their own enduring challenges with disability to me. I recognize that in my environment I have missed a lot of quiet suffering and almost heroic persistence. It's humbling to recognize what a bad observer of my umwelt I have been and, more importantly, to recognize that so many folk have achieved so much with chronic pain and cognitive instabilities. 

This experience makes me interpret Seneca's suggestion that a hidden disease is worse than one in the open (which is on the road to being cured) in a social way. Norms that internalize suffering, 'being Stoic' as they say, hidden from the world are, while convenient to the powerful, a social evil. In a famous passage, Adam Smith notes that people tend to refuse acknowledgment of poverty and disease and thereby make it worse. (Smith thinks our gaze and recognition naturally falls on the rich, famous, and beautiful/healthy.) Sometimes I wonder if I hear about other people's suffering now because other people sense greater receptivity on my part, or if they think it's only fair that after having read about my trials I ought to welcome learning of theirs, or if I have actually become more willing to discern other people's struggles. Despite my vocation as a teacher, I tend to be skeptical of narratives of growth. 

And after hinting at the need for regular cognitive-therapy -- good and solid thoughts [cogitationes bonas, solidas] -- as the road to wisdom, Seneca grudgingly admits that sometimes the best self-care is to seek out a quiet spot. I laugh, and admit that the reading room of the British Library is indeed my best friend. In fact, I now have my spot in the reading room that the other regulars leave alone -- and the librarians at circulation have started to recognize --; I love quietly reciting, in the spirit of cognitive-therapy, Newton's (early) definition of place being a part of space that a thing fills adequately just before I sit down at 'my' desk. 

This past month a co-authored paper was rejected by referees. And I had hoped to circulate the first seven chapters of my Foucault/liberal art of government book [I am soliciting catchy titles!], which covers his material on the physiocrats and the ordoliberals, to trusted friends. But the manuscript is still too much a mess, and so its circulation has been pushed back into the Summer. No professional life without ordinary professional disappointments, I tell myself. 

This is also my last digression of the academic year. On Saturday, we go on family holiday, and I don't expect resuming D&I until August. Thank you, my dear reader, for your continued interest in my (near) daily mumblings. 

RIP: Rob Brouwer 1938-2022

Published by Anonymous (not verified) on Fri, 10/06/2022 - 8:27pm in

In a few weeks, Neglected Classics of Philosophy 2 (OUP, 2022) will appear. As you can see at, it's dedicated to "Anneke Luger-Veenstra, Jan Stronk, and Rob Brower, my learned high school teachers, who encouraged a love of the classics." Two days ago my high school classmate, Jorine Lamsma, called my attention to an announcement in the newspaper that Rob had died June 1, 2022. The memorial service and funeral are today.

Rob was my high school Latin teacher for four years at Amsterdam's Vossius Gymnasium. My class (1c, 2c, 3c) was known to be 'trouble' and quite a few teachers fought trench warfare with us, as we found ever more creative ways to prank and be disruptive. But not in Rob's classroom. We called him "Mijnheer Brouwer," of course. He was not on first name basis with his charges.

Rob commanded our instant respect not because he was strict (which he was) and unperturbable (which he was), but because he somehow managed to convey that he instantiated the promise of bildung (without having to say so); he wasn't aiming to reach some learning target decomposed in weekly grammar, vocabulary, and syntax acquired. But rather he always made clear that whatever task of memorization and repetition we were assigned was in the service of our introduction to the classics and, without veneration, their wider cultural significance. As another classmate, Max Rosenberg, put it, each class was part of a much broader whole. And as the years passed, I slowly grasped -- hence my use of 'bildung'  --, these classics in turn would be good friends accompanying me in a life-time of imperfect self-cultivation.

Once, I was fourteen or so, a classmate pushed his button, and the unfathomable happened: the boy (no, not me) got sent out of class, with the archaic, 'gaat heen' and Rob, visibly steadying himself, pointing a finger at the door. For years we could get a good laugh trying to mimic that 'gaat heen,' but we had to acknowledge simultaneously that we were in awe of him. 

Not just because of his formal language and dress, Rob seemed like a character from a different age -- his classroom had the surprisingly bittersweet smell of his pipe --, he was the subject of myths: his son had died tragically (which turned out to be true), he suffered from Leukemia (which turned out to be true), he had studied to be a Jesuit (possible), and he was dating the German teacher, Erika Langbroek (which also turned out to be true). 

I had a very checkered high school career; I should have flunked out at the end of my third and fourth years (ninth and tenth grade). Mevrouw Luger played a big role in bending the rules my way each year. But I always passed my Latin, and to this day, I recognize that I have built a scholarly career on the years Rob put into me. (And I often regretted he was not my Greek teacher.) 

I forget if it was my junior or senior year, but I got wind that Rob was doing a reading group in philosophy with some interested class-mates at his home not far from the school in an apartment on the Beethovenstraat. (At this point he wasn't my teacher anymore, but it was before he moved into a different apartment with Erika also on the Beethovenstraat.) I invited myself along for the wine and the mystique. They were reading Die Kritik der reinen Vernunft (in German). I would like to say it got me excited about philosophy, but I suspect the main effect of the reading group was to make me excessively and irresponsibly fearless in the face of any text. 

Some time after college, I got back in touch with Rob. I suspect in order to brag to him that I had been taking philosophy classes with Dan Dennett (he was underwhelmed) and Martha Nussbaum. Rob, it turned out, was a real fan-boy of Nussbaum who, in graduate school, was one of my supervisors of my qualifying paper on the puppet image in Plato's Laws. Alongside E.B. England's commentary, Rob's wisdom became instrumental in helping me figure out the nuances of Plato's Greek and thought.

But perhaps I had simply bumped into him with Erika at the kleine zaal at Concertgebouw. Even long after he was struck by an increasingly visible Parkinson, he was a transfixed presence in the little balcony. I didn't share his love for nineteenth century Lieder, but we often discovered that we (or, in my case, my mum) had acquired season tickets for the same chamber music series.

We started to see other more frequently during my Summer visits back home while I was in graduate school. I am also unsure of the exact sequence of events that led to our first reading group with Martin Claes, then a Jesuit getting a PhD (now a pastor and a scholar), on Augustine's De Magistro. I  never asked Rob if he identified with Augustine's loss of his son. He never spoke of him to me, but he often expressed pride in his daughter (a lawyer). It was the start of numerous partially overlapping, reading groups with Rob in varying combinations with people from his life -- often people who adored Dante or choir (or both) -- or my own circle of Dutch academics and friends. 

Meanwhile, we started corresponding and as I look through our letters, I see that he never stopped trying to broaden my horizon. His letters reflect his curiosity, even an excessive strain of enthusiasm; he offered a never ending stream of suggested novels or works of scholarship. While in his own work, he had an exacting low tolerance for minute error, in his reading habits he was primarily searching for bold and expansive interpretations. As I advanced in academia he relished keeping me informed of scholarly fashion that had somehow captured the imaginations of the culture and book sections even editorial pages of the Dutch broadsides.

In addition to being a teacher, Rob was a scholar, translator, and poet. His translations of Dante's Divine Comedy, Statius' The Thebaid, Lucan's Bellum Civile, Virgil's Bucolica/The Eclogues combine vast erudition with linguistic and poetic sensitivity. He also translated Epictetus. He would probably be very amused to hear me claim modest credit for triggering his renewed interest into Lucan just as he was completing his stupendous Dante translation. But it's true: while teaching the Treatise in my first seminar at Wesleyan in 2002, I was confused by the way the motto of book 3 of Hume's Treatise had been translated in the then new 'student edition' published by OUP. (The motto is from Lucan.) We started a correspondence about it, and I date to it the start of my interest into Seneca.

When I heard Rob had died, I looked at our correspondence to see when we last had written. I noticed to my horror he had never acknowledged my word that I had dedicated the forthcoming Neglected Classics volume to him. I had not registered this silence at all during the depths of my own illness.

Before I close, I don't want to suggest Rob was an ethereal personality only. He was happy whenever he could talk about Erika or Sabine. And our reading groups were carefully planned around not just his choir practices, but also his cycling holidays.

I also don't mean to suggest he was above name-dropping. Once he asked me slyly if I knew who Henny Vrienten was. They had met swimming their laps in de Zuiderbad. Later Vrienten became involved in the recording of Rob's Dante.

Near the end of De Magistro, Augustine suggests that when we praise a teacher, we're really praising ourselves and this never seems to me more true than in the Academy during the many, lovely ritual practices of acknowledging the roles of supervisors in one's education. Self-praise does not strike me as a sin, but I have to admit that all of these academic practices (fests, collections, memorial conferences, etc.) seem, however sincerely felt and expressed, a bit tainted by the multiplicity of self-advancing roles they play in our prestige hierarchies and zero-sum political economy. (Perhaps this also accounts for the sincerity.)

We encounter our high school teachers through their words, their curriculum, their classroom, and features of their personality as well as the school yards myths about them. The older, and more experienced I get in the classroom, the more it seems to me they -- I mean all true teachers -- use a feature of their personality, perhaps made excessively visible to the student, to find a way to connect with the longings and desires, perhaps vanity even (as Adam Smith claims), of their students, and turn this connection, however tenuous, into the engines of shared enquiry. This also means that not every teacher is the right fit for each student.

The reason why when we praise a teacher, we're really praising ourselves according to the closing lines of De Magistro is that teachers are kind of puppets or actors speaking thoughts of others and that it's the student's reason or intuition that is doing the real work of understanding even if the words of the official teacher trigger or guide such understanding. The Platonic idea with which De Magistro closes, that nobody teaches another anything, has, thus, generated learned philosophical commentary that betrays non-trivial professional anxiety.

Augustine does make an exception to this quite general claim at the start of De Magistro, which I doubt is retracted during the dialogue. He suggests that when we ask questions we're really teaching something about our needs or our plans. The latter includes, of course, the path of inquiry, as Augustine explicitly notes. Rob was magisterial in asking questions that directed our gaze to the inner, guiding light that we need on life's path.



Covid Diaries: A Half Full Glass and despite Minor irritants, maybe filling

Published by Anonymous (not verified) on Fri, 03/06/2022 - 1:29am in

It's been about a month since my last covid update. (For my official "covid diaries," see here; herehereherehereherehereherehere; hereherehere; hereherehereherehere; here; herehereherehere; here; herehere; here herehere, herehere; here, here; and here). And, as seems common in the most recent updates, the situation is mixed. But let me start with the non-trivial bits of good news.

First, if I take anti-inflammatory medicine before I have a social interaction (like a lunch or tea) I am capable of engaging in much longer social interactions than I was able to do during the past nine months. I am also capable of doing so in much more complex social environments. I have even been able to do so twice in a day (with a few hours apart). By this I mean that the usual symptoms of head fatigue and subsequent headache don't follow. So that's a big win, and at times I have felt euphoric about it. 

Interestingly enough, after some such activities later in the day I do register physically that I have had some such interactions. My body will feel unusually fatigued, and I need to take time to chill. (I am not allowed to nap because I need to keep day/night rhythm very distinct.) Some day, when I am fully recovered, I would like to team up with a (historical) epidemiologist and geriatric specialists because I am increasingly convinced that a lot of symptoms that in the past usually were treated as 'aging' really were the longue durée effects of (post-)viral infections.

Anyway, on the medical side, I am experimenting with the dosage of the anti-inflammatory meds. As they say in jargon: I am looking to find the minimally efficacious dosage. The month before I lost about six full days to random headaches. This past month, clearly 50% less. That's a lot of less suffering.

As an aside, it's fascinating that while the physicians can all tell you that there are increased risks associated with the use of my particular meds, nobody can tell you what the order of magnitude of the risk might be for a generic patient or for somebody that shares in some of my demographic or medical characteristics. So, while a lot of physicians practice a kind of pseudo medical autonomy -- telling me things like, 'it's your decision' or 'you need to weigh the trade-offs'  --, de facto there is a lot of ignorance being buck-passed onto a patient who is not being given even the minimal coarse-grained information to make autonomous decisions. (And regular readers know, I am no Bayesian--I am not asking for exact statistics, just very broad orders of magnitude.)

Be that as it may, I am quietly hoping that the anti-inflammatory meds also treat some underlying condition such that I can keep hoping for continued improvement over the medium term. The really interesting question for me is this: my symptoms have shifted around every few (two to three) months. And what I am wondering is whether that cycle can be broken. Stay tuned.:)

One thing I have learned about chronic disease or newly acquired disability: other ailments that in a different context would be barely noticed can be greatly destabilizing in the context of disability/chronic disease; think of things like a cold, modest hearing loss, swimmer's ear, blisters, etc. When you are learning to adjust to chronic disease such incredibly modest ailments sap energy. (Again see my comment above about aging as instances of post-viral symptoms.)

Second (back to the good news), next academic year, I'll have the kind of work-load I probably should have had this past year. I am only teaching my giant lecture course Winter 2023. To make this possible a lot of people showed me incredible amount of good-will: my immediate family, which is signing off on three months of research leave stateside (with two weeks of holiday for visits); the folks at Duke University's Center for the History of political Economy and the philosophy department; the folks at University of Arizona's Center for the Philosophy of Freedom. These allowed me to take  three months unpaid research leave this Fall. In addition, my department signed off on this. That, too, showed, good-will, but it did involve some negotiations.

Let me explain, one of the very strange features of the University of Amsterdam is that it works with a system of registered hours (for research, teaching, and some admin). Undoubtedly it was introduced for a mixture of fairness considerations (everyone pulling their fair share) and administrative control over the budget. But in practice, the 'hours' registered are by no means equal (and also model-based). And the obvious effect of the system is to turn academics into a bean-counter of sorts and, for some, also a chance to game the system. (I'll get to the really strange part in a second.)

Now, in practice these plan hours are bit like frequent flyer miles. You know what their official value is, but if you have been around for a while you also recognize you can never really cash them for their (ahh) labor value. This is especially so when there is a dire need for budget cuts; these hours are then easy prey. (That's how I 'lost' one batch of over-hours a few years ago.)

Anyway, despite my partial sick-leave, during the past few years, I actually accumulated more over-hours than I had when I started my partial sick-leave! So, to facilitate my leave and considerable teaching reduction I agreed to donate my (ca 900!) hours and start the next academic year back at level zero. I rationalized the deal to myself as a business class upgrade on a transatlantic/pacific flight.:) In addition, because of my medical leave I have been rather costly to the department and a lot of my rank-specific chores have been parceled out to others. While an apparent bad deal on paper, I felt this was very win-win, and also a chance for me to show my gratitude.

So, my underlying outlook is actually quite positive right now. Next year, I feel my work-load should allow me space to recover and do what I love work-wise (research, write, and lecture). It also allows me space to experiment, when I feel sufficiently recovered, with activities I have not dared to try yet (giving professional lectures, attending seminars, etc.) And while I will miss my family and my undergrad electives/seminars, it's good not to have to stress about their effect on my health. On the other hand, as I have hinted above, I am dealing with a bunch of minor ailments that prevent me from having unconditional optimism right now. The glass is half full, possibly filling.




J.E. Ted McGuire RIP (pt 1.)

Published by Anonymous (not verified) on Sun, 15/05/2022 - 6:08am in



Nearly everything that's written, even by highly accomplished philosophers, about canonical historical figures is a weird kind of functional garbage. I call it 'functional' because often the disfigurations can be explained by the role the canonical figure plays in some grand narrative about the past, in undergraduate or graduate education, as a bit-player in some more recent partisan debates, and so on. I don't want to claim that Newton fared much worse than most canonical figures, but ever since the Leibniz-Clarke debate, through Kant, Mach, and the reception of Einstein's revolution very impoverished images of Newton displaced whatever nuance one can find in Newton's own writings. Even the one exception, Koyré, is more informative on other figures of the scientific revolution than he is on Newton.

Now, as history of science became a professionalized field, Newton studies helped constitute it. This is associated with names such I.B. Cohen, Westfall, Whiteside, Hesse, Dobbs, the Halls, Herrivel, Dijksterhuis,  Sabra, and so. (And Kuhn, of course.) To the best of my knowledge, Ted McGuire was the first philosopher, or one of the first ones, to pick up on the opportunity to harvest the fruits of this historiographic revolution, or professionalization. And in a series of papers, he reintroduced a complex, messy and endlessly fascinating philosophical figure, Isaac Newton, to his peers and later readers. I have these papers in mind: 

  • McGuire, James E., and Piyo M. Rattansi. "Newton and the ‘Pipes of Pan’." Notes and records of the Royal Society of London 21.2 (1966): 108-143.
  • McGuire, James E. "Force, active principles, and Newton's invisible realm." Ambix 15.3 (1968): 154-208.
  • McGuire, J. E. "Atoms and the ‘analogy of nature’: Newton's third rule of philosophizing." Studies in History and Philosophy of Science Part A 1.1 (1970): 3-58.
  • McGuire, James E. "Body and void and Newton's De Mundi systemate: Some new sources." Archive for history of exact sciences 3.3 (1966): 206-248.

I put the full citations in because each of these papers are lengthy, complex affairs in their own right. Often I cite one paper Y (on topic X). And then years later, I rediscover that X is one of the minor gems in Y, and that there is whole lot more to (say) McGuire 1966b. All these papers were written while he was at Leeds before he helped found the Pittsburgh HPS program (together with Larry Laudan) in 1971. When Ted and I first started corresponding, he once mentioned that he had been "pushing Newton as a philosopher, epistemologist and an ontologist" for most of his career. I was born in 1971, and Pitt HPS has been the dominant HPS program for most of my life. (Yes, Indiana and Madison gave it a run for its money, and for some periods my own Chicago could compete in a number of areas, and now, perhaps, Irvine LPS has taken over the torch. Time will tell.) And so Ted helped train in some fashion or another a whose who in HPS, including a whole number of people who are now shaping Newton scholarship, and who I hope will share their memories of life in daily company of Ted.

Now, most obituaries are more informative about the author than the deceased. In this case more than usual because I came late to Ted in my academic development and so I don't have a lot of anecdotes of him as (say) dissertation supervisor. But I hope what follows is also instructive about Ted, too.

I came to Newton scholarship through George E. Smith's now legendary two-semester year-long undergraduate course on Newton's Principia. And George had a habit of roping his undergraduate students into discrete research projects. Many of these projects developed what's known as the research frontier in Newton (and Huygens) studies (see, for example, this paper). We didn't know any better. George's main focus is evidential arguments, and he ignores issues most other professional philosophers want to talk about when they discuss Newton (or history of science more generally). So, I rarely heard of Ted.

I went to Chicago, to work with Howard Stein. And Stein also did a three-quarters year-long space-time course in which Newton figures heavily. And it was very clear that George and Howard were part of a mutual admiration society (mediated by Bill Harper up in Western Ontario, I believe). Howard also taught a lot of Newton in his empiricism course (where obliquely Newton was pretty much presented as superior not just to Descartes, but also to Locke and Hume). 

Now, Howard had also written a number of astonishing papers on Newton in the late 1960s:

  • Stein, Howard. "On the notion of field in Newton, Maxwell, and beyond." (1970). 
  • Stein, Howard. "Newtonian space-time." Texas Quarterly 10.3 (1967). 174--200

The second of these didn't just shape a new philosophical Newton, it also influenced contemporary space-time studies.

I mention this because to the best of my knowledge McGuire and Stein never cite or mention each other in print then and since. (If this turns out to be poetic exaggeration, I apologize.) I know they were aware of each other! When I came out of Chicago, with a PhD primarily on the reception of Newton, I knew of McGuire's existence, but it  was more as a distinct orbital body on the horizon than an important influence. But action at a distance, even joint action, is a funny concept.

A few years later, together with Andrew Janiak, I hosted a conference on Newton and/as Philosophy, and I met there some of McGuire's great students including Zvi Biener and Chris Smeenk (both of which I have since collaborated with in co-authored papers and edited volumes). I also met Doreen Fraser and David Miller in that period. Some of his other Pitt students include Brian Hepburn and I think Peter Harman (who I never met). He was also John Henry's supervisor at Leeds. (I am sure I am missing folk.) Ted himself had been one of the first people I invited to keynote in Leiden; he had accepted enthusiastically and I used his name in the call for papers. But at the last minute, he had to withdraw due to a hip replacement.

The conference was an important few days in my life because I met so many people who have become lifelong friends and important interlocuters. In addition, I realized that I had been wrong to think 'all the action was in the reception of Newton because Stein, McGuire, Harper, Smith, Ernan McMullin, Mary Hesse, and Domenico Bertoloni Meli had exhausted the topic.' In front of me the students of Stein, McGuire, Harper, Arthur Fine, Harvey Brown, and Michael Friedman were reading each other's teachers and each other's papers, and just beginning to ask some tough questions. McGuire himself kept learning from the youngsters, engaging with us in print and in private correspondence, and when he couldn't beat us he joined up with some of us (especially Ed Slowik).

After the conference, I returned to Ted's early papers in earnest. And also started pestering him with letters like this, "I am about to write a paper on Newton's Fourth Rule of Reasoning; other than George Smith's work, the most helpful thing I encountered was your long footnote 8 in your 1970 paper on the third rule." The answer was a sweet, "I did consider writing a paper on the fortuna of the rule up to the time of Darwin but never got around to it."

Once you see the footnote, you can see why that's not an empty boast. Here's that eight footnote:

See, for instance: Henry Pemberton, A View of Sir Isaac Newton's Philosophy (London, x728), 24-5; Colin Maclaurin, An Account of Sir Isaac Newton's Philosophical Discoveries (London, 174B), 22; Gowin Knight, An Attempt to demonstrate that all the Phenomena of nature may be explained by two simple active Principles Attraction and Repulsion (London, 1748), 7; George Cheyne, Philosophical Principles of Religion : Natural and Revealed (London, 1715), 36; Willem Jacob Storm-van 's Gravesande, Physices Elementa Mathematica...sive Introductio ad Philosophiam Newtoniam (Editio Secunda, Lugduni Batavorum, 1725), Praefatio, and Liber I, Caput I, I-7; Benjamin Martin, Philosophia Britannica: or a New and Comprehensive System of the Newtonian Philosophy (Reading, 1747) , 1-42. In his first lecture, Martin discusses Newton's four rules in some detail. Thus when 'we take survey of the visible world', we conclude that all bodies 'consist of one and the same sort of Matter or Substance'. He concludes that 'Matter, thus variously modified and configurated, constitutes an infinite variety of bodies, all of which are found to have the following common Properties...'. Thomas Rutherforth, A System of Natural Philosophy (Cambridge, i748), Introduction. The first three rules are discussed as the only means of making 'knowledge real and universal'. Rule Three is seen primarily as an inductive rule. Richard Helsham, A Course of Lectures in Natural Philosophy, published by Bryan Robinson, 5th edition (London, 1777). The four rules are quoted in full in the Preface. Robinson notes that 'This method and these rules, have been carefully observed by our author in these Lectures...' (viii). George Adams, Lectures on Natural and Experimental Philosophy (London, t794) , vol. II. In a lengthy lecture entitled 'In the method of Reasoning in Natural Philosophy' Adams concludes his discussion of the history of analogy to extend our conclusion to all other bodies, and thus make it universal: a way of reasoning, that is agreeable to the harmony of things, and to the old maxim, ascribed to Hermes... (p. 34). For this maxim see note 38 below, on Maclaurin. Adams is drawing on Maclaurin's treatise. Tiberius Cavallo, The Elements of Natural or Experimental Philosophy (London, 18o3), vol. I, 7. Quotes Newton's four rules and connects them with the generality of the three laws. William Nicholson, An Introduction to Natural Philosophy (London, 18o5) , vol. I. In his introduction he discusses intuition, demonstration, and probabilistic knowledge, saying of natural philosophy that it is based on analogy: 'To give stability to this science, it is necessary to admit no probabilities, as first principles of analogy, but those which possess the strongest and most incontrovertible resemblance to truth. For this purpose, the following rules are adopted': the first three rules are then quoted without comment. Joseph Priestley, Disquisitions Relating to Matter and Spirit, 2nd edition (Birmingham, 1782), sections I and II; Etienne Bormot de Condillac, OEuvres Completes de Condillac, tome troisieme (Paris, i8o3) , chapitre XII, 327-58; Petrus van Musschenbroek, Elementa physicae (Lugduni Batavorum, 1734), 6, and Introductio ad philosophiam naturalem (Lugdunl Batavorum, 1764), vol. I, 14; Roger Joseph Boscovich, A Theory of Natural Philosophy (Latin-English Edition, London, x 922), sections 4o-2. Boscovich is critical of the third rule on the grounds that induction does not support the transference of many physical properties to the parts of phenomena. The Theory was first published in 1758. Brian Higgins, A Philosophical Essay Concerning Light (London, 1776), 18--19; James Hutton, Dissertations on Different Subjects in Natural Philosophy (Edinburgh, 1790), part III, 279-3o0; William Whewell, On the Philosophy of Discovery (London, 186o), chapter XVIII, 181-2oo, section 14. Whewell is mainly concerned in this chapter with the notion of vera causa as discussed in Newton's first rule. He points out, however, that the third rule's conception of universal laws is inconsistent with the stricture of the fourth rule that a 'law may be inaccurate'. See also Philosophy of the Inductive Sciences (London, 184o ), vol I, 4-6, where Whewell observes that the third rule is circular. James Challis, 'On Newton's "Foundations of all Philosophy" ', Phil. Mag., 26 (1863), 28o-92. In this particular article Challis is attempting to base a theory of science on Newton's third rule.
These discussions are the most interesting in the literature I have examined. Most of these writers are concerned with the problem of generalizing properties of matter, rather than with Newton's criterion for deciding essential qualities. Many other writers such as Halley, Sterling, Ferguson, Desaguliers, Wright and Worster mention or refer to the rule; these with the above references are more than sufficient to establish the widespread influence of this aspect of Newton's methodology throughout the eighteenth and early nineteenth centuries.  I am grateful to Laurens Laudan for the references to Condillac and Musschenbroek, and to Peter Heimann for calling attention to Higgins.

So, that footnote was constructed decades before the internet. It's an astonishing synthesis that basically tells future grad students where to look. I am sometimes disparagingly called 'widely read' or broad. But I am still busy tracking down some of Ted's leads in this note! (I had some pride in my dissertation because McGuire misses Adam Smith's and Diderot's treatment.) At the time, the idea to put any scholar in historical context was still radical. But even more innovative was the idea that this context included lots of now forgotten people. In addition, that material not thought of as 'scientific' like Newton's theology and angelology was crucial to understanding his more 'philosophical' views. 

Our correspondence took off after he read a draft of my paper on gravity as a relational quality in Newton. He discerned at once that I was defending (and updating) a version of his position against Stein and Janiak. He suggested some improvements including a thought experiment that when a while later I ran it past Bill Harper at an airport, Harper just sat there and said (at least according to my self-serving memory), in awe, 'you have battled Stein to a draw.' (And I noted quietly 'with the help of McGuire.') After that, our correspondence took on a more chatty and more equal flavor. (Ted had that capacity to make you forget he had heard it all before.) And he would read and improve many of the Newton papers I wrote in the next decade.

In a recent self-serving "introduction" to my collection Newton's Metaphysics: Essays (OUP 2022), I added a note qualifying my own claim to originality, "Obviously that diagnosis does no justice to Ted McGuire's contribution to Newton scholarship. McGuire's work anticipates most of my own efforts."

I finally met Ted at an APA session in Chicago organised by Geoff Gorham, February 2010. I don't want to claim we hit it off at once. But I was impressed by his kindness, his wit, and his sharpness (he was already in his late 70s). He was a much abler drinker than I am, too. But shortly thereafter we got chance to deepen our connection. My then new Ghent colleagues, Maarten Van Dyck and Steffen Ducheyne, had nominated Ted for a special Sarton Chair at the occasion of the 25th anniversary of the Sarton Chair, and Ted came to Ghent for a few fantastic days, where I got to enjoy his witty stories and to pick his brain on lots of arcane knowledge. (One of the highlights of my intellectual life is to witness the logician Dirk Batens and Ted debate Descartes' alleged Spinozism.)

After that Ghent visit he always greeted me with a clear fondness as we kept crossing paths on the Newton circuit. He helped sponsor and put together a conference on Newton and Empiricism that Zvi Biener and I hosted at Pitt. I finally got to see the Cathedral of Learning inside, as well as some terrific bars. And I kept sending my draft Newton papers to him for comments. Since he was often in Poland with his partner Barbara Tuchanska at Lodz University (where Ted also did some teaching--I hope the lecture notes show up some day), it was easy for him to come over to Belgium or Holland and I enjoyed sparring with him.

Since this post is already long, and I realize I have not told you anything yet about Ted's many substantive contributions to Newton scholarship (other than that my own work is greatly indebted to it), I'll start doing a series of Ted-mania posts in the next few weeks to invite some of you to join in the fun that is scholarship, but also to appreciate some of Ted's towering contributions to it. He will be missed. A giant has passed.*


*HT James Lennox for sharing the news of Ted's passing away a few days ago.

Covid Diaries: Covid Induced Migraine

Published by Anonymous (not verified) on Sun, 01/05/2022 - 3:56am in

It's time for another Covid Diaries update. (For my official "covid diaries," see hereherehere; here; here; herehere; here; here; hereherehere; hereherehereherehere; here; hereherehere; here; here; herehere; here herehere, herehere; and here, and here).
It's been about a month since my last covid update. Unfortunately, the news is that it's been challenging. The last update coincided with the end of teaching and my return to London. And I figured that I would take ten days off, get back into a swimming routine, and then start working on some small projects before I would return to major research.
As you may recall I also saw the NHS long covid clinic neurologist, who diagnosed me with covid induced migraine. I have to admit that I was a bit surprised by her diagnosis because I thought my headaches were only triggered by social interactions beyond thirty minutes and i didn't have any other major characteristics of migraine. (In fact, the interactions first induce a weird fatigue and not always a headache.) On the other hand, she was optimistic I would continue to improve because on the whole I keep improving slowly.
But as it happened, my family left for a US trip and I was alone for a week without any social interactions at all (except very small talk at the swimming pool, supermarkt, and British Library). In their absence, I lost two days to debilitating headaches while they were away. Looking back over the month I have clocked six days of headaches--and my current best guess is that bad sleep and social interactions are possible triggers. I do find that days when I swim well and am well rested it's less likely to happen.
What's annoying about this is that in some respects the pattern of long covid has been that every two to three months the major symptoms shift. And this time is no different. Luckily on the non headache days I can swim, and do my reading and writing. But my social life is very limited, although my spouse has said I am in much better general mood than last year (which she takes as evidence that I am suffering much less). I still can't enjoy terraces, and even joint hiking. (There is a weird issue that walking and talking/coordinating with another while walking totally floors me--same with biking. It's as if cognitive load is too much.)
Unfortunately, the migraine meds I received have contraindications with pre-existing conditions/meds, so it's been a bit challenging to find the palliatives when the headaches hit. I know lots of people who manage migraines with varying degrees of success, so in a strange way I feel less alone with my condition. (It has made me wonder about the medical pathway from post-viral infection to migraine.)
Anyway, thanks to Federica Russo and Jean Wagemans, we finished one paper, and thanks to Nick Cowen we finished another. (Both under review.) And I wrote a book review. And then a week ago I did start my Foucault project, and while I lost one day through headaches, I have a nice writing rhythm and folks are even recognizing me again in the British Library. And I am really excited about the project--which started as a kind of therapy last year, but now feels like it might become a very neat book. I am lucky I have a work related passion that can be done in relative solitude for long chunks of time.
Before I left Amsterdam my occupational physician thought it was a good idea if I can figure out a research leave this Fall. So now I am in touch with various places which might sponsor a visit (you know who you are and I am very grateful for your help), so that I can take an unpaid leave. Hopefully I can sort something out that ticks various boxes and not be away from home too long.
That is it, I feel very grateful I have such supportive family, and the kind of job that is relatively secure and also so flexible now that teaching is done. I am still hoping that in six months i can attend workshops again and enjoy going out on dates with my better half, but I also thought that six months ago. So now I am mostly taking one day at a time.

On the session where McDowell insisted that Taylor and Putnam had failed to understand him

Published by Anonymous (not verified) on Fri, 29/04/2022 - 12:41am in



This post was prompted by an exchange with the eminent philosopher, Michael Kremer, on Twitter on the prose style of John McDowell in Mind and World. My side of the exchange with Michael is not very edifying, but in reflecting on it, I realize I had been a kind of eye witness to a philosophical event that in the hands of myth-makers could easily match the Davos clash between Cassirer and Heidegger in world historical significance. 
As I note below, for various reasons I am not an ideal witness, and I certainly do not intend to comment on the merits of the philosophical debate or even the merits of the mutual evaluation. But after sharing an earlier version of this post on facebook (here), and after hearing from at least two other witnesses (both much closer to the protagonists at the time), I have come to believe that my memory of the event is not fatally skewed. What I didn't do ahead of this post is re-read Mind and World, and I have not tried to obtain the original manuscripts, if they still exist, of the papers presented at the Author-Meets-Critics session I am about to describe.
On Saturday, April 27 1996, in Chicago, at the Palmer House, there was an epic, bewildering Author Meets Critics session on McDowell's (1994) Mind and World with Charles Taylor and Putnam as Critics and John Haugeland presiding (see here for the program). It was near the end of my first year in graduate school, and more than 25 years ago, so I wouldn't trust by memory on fine-grained philosophical issues. However, at the time there were plenty of fans of McDowell in the Chicago philosophy department, which subsequently tried to hire him (while I was still a PhD student), and we did some kind of student  reading group on Mind and World that year. So, I was excited about the event, and prepped to be impressed. (Not everyone at Chicago was a fan of McDowell, for example one of Howard Stein's most beautiful papers is organized as a searing critique of McDowell's Mind and World.) 
Just to give you a sense of my stance then: while I was enmeshed in Quine, Davidson, and Putnam at the time (these had been staple of my undergraduate education), I found reading McDowell a frustrating experience; I constantly felt that when I finally grasped what he was claiming, I didn't see the pay-off relative to work put in. In preparing this post, I notice I am not alone in this, one of the protagonists of my story below, Hilary Putnam, actually starts his published contribution to Reading McDowell: On Mind and World (2002, edited by Nicholas H. Smith, London: Routledge) "I find Mind and World an enormously difficult book—as difficult as it is important." (174)*
What's unclear from the remark I have just quoted is whether this was Putnam's view before the session or an effect of the session. For, Putnam's chapter in Reading McDowell does suggest that the session itself transformed his understanding. He writes, "When I encountered Mind and World I naturally read it in the light of the direct realism that McDowell defended in such papers as his 1982 British Academy Lecture, “Criteria, Defeasibility, and Knowledge.” When I read an ancestor of the present essay to the Central Division of the American Philosophical Association, to my surprise I discovered that McDowell regarded the issues as entirely independent." (177) There is an accompanying footnote (n. 5) that I will quote below. 
At the time, I was also a dogmatic naturalist (but not the “bald naturalists” that are McDowell's official target, but the more real patterns, take a stance, find robustness, kind of naturalist) -- think more Dennett/Wimsatt than the Churchlands -- , so unlikely to be sympathetic to his position in the exchange. Eventually I grew out of my dogmatic naturalism, but not in virtue of my exposure to McDowell. As it happens, my shift away was the effect of a reading group I did with John Haugeland on a manuscript copy of Dennett's Freedom Evolves, where befitting a fine teacher, John, made me (the Dennett group-y) take on the role of Dennett critic in our morning discussions of the manuscript at the Bonjour Bakery in Hyde Park. This forced me to question my commitments in a way that drove me into a species of skepticism.
The session attracted a packed room (Private Dining Room #9, which makes me guess there were about 75 people present, but it's been a few years since I saw the inside of those rooms at the Palmer House). To be sure, I think Taylor went first. (But the program says Putnam, and I do have a memory of him re-grabbing the microphone, so that makes sense, perhaps, too. ) It was the first and only time I saw Taylor in person. I found him genuinely charismatic and imposing, but it's possible my perception of him was colored by my exposure to Taylor's Sources of the Self: The Making of the Modern Identity, which had appeared while I was an undergraduate student and which I bought before I graduated. I tried reading Sources before I went to graduate school, but I found it difficult because I was constantly reminded of my lack of knowledge. (At the time I was an Isaiah Berlin aficionado, and Berlin did not have this effect on me.) I don't think I ever sat down to read through Sources, but I have read many sections multiple times.
A few years after the events I am about to recount, in 2000, Taylor published a review of two of McDowell's collections, Mind, Value, and Reality and Meaning, Knowledge, and Reality, in which he ascribes to McDowell "an extremely interesting and original philosophical position, one of the most subtle and penetrating on the contemporary scene" (The Philosophical Quarterly, 50(199), p. 243). And, in passing, he calls Mind and World, "a major recent book." 
Taylor starts his contribution to Reading McDowell, with the following praise, "I hardly know where to begin in commenting on John McDowell’s rich and interesting Mind and World. Of course, everything I say stands against a background of massive agreement with the main line of his thinking, and excitement and admiration for his formulations." (106) This understates how I remember Taylor's presentation.
For in my memory, Taylor seemed to offer huge amount of --world historical --praise for McDowell, and some modest criticism at the end. This effusion is not wholly absent in Taylor's contribution to Reading McDowell, because Taylor treats McDowell as making possible "a “fusion of horizons” [which] seems imminent" (p. 108). In my memory, at the session, Taylor was more adamant that the moment had arrived. And that we had taken the first steps in a world historical philosophical revolution in which Taylor and McDowell were joint agenda-setters (which would also bring together the analytic and continental traditions). But it is possible that I simply misunderstood him in my youthful enthusiasm. There is, however, evidence in his contribution to Reading McDowell that hints at a a reconsideration. For, in the paper Taylor notes himself "I’m genuinely not sure whether we’re dealing with a disagreement, or just a shift in emphasis." (p. 110; see also "some uncertainty in relation to McDowell’s argument" on p. 114)** McDowell's response to Taylor at the event was rather surprising to me (after so much praise), because he clearly suggested that Taylor (one of the best readers in the field) had seriously and simply misunderstood him. 
The exchange between McDowell and Putnam was stranger yet. I should say that at this point I had encountered Putnam a few times in person as a visitor to my undergraduate department (Tufts) and also somebody who one might bump into on the Cambridge (MA) streets if one was in the company with another professional philosopher and talk to. In order to prepare for graduate school I had, in fact, at the suggestion of Jody Azzouni read the three volumes of his collected Philosophical Papers, but strikingly little of work after 1990. As it happens at Chicago, Stein and Tait were relentlessly critical of Putnam, and I was busy learning that not everyone agreed about his stature. 
Putnam started his comments kind of granting that his own earlier criticism of McDowell was mistaken, that he had in fact underestimated the significance of McDowell's argument, but that he now was excited about McDowell for various reasons.*** McDowell's response pretty much implied that Putnam was wrong then, and now and that Putnam, too, had misunderstood him.
There is some evidence that supports my memory. As I noted above, Putnam comments on the exchange in footnote 5 to his contribution to Reading McDowell. I quote note in full:

In his reply to my APA paper, McDowell accused me of crediting him “with aims I don’t have, and not crediting me with aims I do have.” And he went on to complain that

Putnam evidently thinks my primary aim is to insist on “direct realism” about perception, to reject a picture in which perceptual experience makes contact with the world only at an interface. He talks as if this interface conception is simply there as a problem for us, because of how modern philosophy has unfolded. To defend “direct realism” in this sort of spirit, one would need to undermine all the rationalizations philosophers have concocted for the interface conception. That is why it bothers Putnam that I don’t go into the Argument from Illusion and all that. He thinks I make my book unnecessarily difficult by presupposing earlier work on such topics. (p. 188)+

In addition, there are various locutions in his chapter that signal caution about his interpretation of Mind and World (e.g. "if I do not misunderstand it"). I am pretty confident Putnam added these signals of caution after the APA session.
I think that after McDowell's response to Putnam, Haugeland tried to direct the discussion to the (somewhat stunned) audience, but that's when (in my memory) Putnam retook the floor and microphone, and offered a kind of complex ad hoc reconciliation of McDowell's response and his view. It was not a happy moment because Putnam was clearly aggrieved by McDowell's response.
A few years later, I audited a few seminars with Putnam. And there I learned that his practice inside the classroom and outside was to take on an extreme version of the principle of charity. He would always assume that his interlocuter -- student or peer -- was saying something massively important and insightful and he would run with it through intricate number of permutations. (I don't think he was always like this, but that's for another time.) But at this point of his life, I don't think there was anything that could have prepared him for McDowell's response.
The subsequent Q&A with the audience was kind of a hushed, disbelieving experience. Michael Kremer asked a question (I had not met him yet, so I would not have known it was him) Here's a link to his question: I do recall an audience member say loud enough 'if these giants didn't understand you, what chance do lesser mortals like us have' to elicit some chuckles in the back. (No it wasn't me!)
As I noted above, later I got to know Haugeland pretty well, and I have regretted not asking him what it was like to chair that session. In response to a draft of this post that I circulated on facebook, Professor Kukla, a former PhD student of Haugeland, who also witnessed the event, has reported it was an acutely "uncomfortable experience" for Haugeland.
Now, it is, of course, by no means implausible that both Taylor and Putnam misinterpreted Mind and World. (As I got to know Putnam better I thought this quite plausible, in fact.) And McDowell has, of course, every right to say that. I mention this because it's possible you may read this post as critical of McDowell. That's not my intention. To be sure, there was something in his response that to me at the time seemed to lack a generosity of spirit and undoubtedly that colors my memory. (After all, one can equally see in his stance a magnanimous self regard that does not require the approval of others!) But most of all, at the time I was surprised by his boundless confidence that the author knew the meaning of the text better than his accomplished readers. For students of McDowell, there may be interesting starting points for how his experience at Oxford shaped his philosophical persona (see Michael Morris' reflections here).
As I said above, obviously, you shouldn't trust my memory as the final word on this episode, but I do think there is a moral here. One that reiterates one I have peddled on digressions before (recall this post on Dennett on Bennett and this post on Wimsatt on Bennett). There is, after all, in contemporary epistemology and in the practice of so-called contextual history of philosophy a defeasible premise that peers (or epistemic peers) are in a privileged position relative to the rest of us. This may be true, but the solidity of that position may be more feeble than is commonly allowed. 

*I thank Michael Kremer for alerting me to Reading McDowell: On Mind and World. In fact, Putnam also gives a possible source/explanation for my frustration. The kind of view that I then adhered to, which in his chapter in Reading McDowell Putnam plausibly describes as kind of "typical" among analytic philosophers of the day, "In Mind and World, however, these positions are not so much as mentioned, and this seems to me either a serious oversight or, if the omission is intentional, a tactical error." Another ground for my frustration is mentioned by Putnam shortly thereafter, "McDowell’s commitment to Sellarsian terminology" (186) McDowell's published response to the former observation is characteristic of the tone of his response at the APA session "This reflects the same inattention to the dialectical organization of my book." (Reading McDowell 292)
+Later in his contribution to Reading McDowell, Putnam reiterates his puzzlement at McDowell's response to his interpretation, "It is at this point that I am puzzled by McDowell’s vigorously expressed belief that Mind and World does not presuppose direct realism." The accompanying footnote (n. 21) links back to note 5 quoted.
**Interesting enough, Taylor does not mention the APA session at all in his contribution to Reading McDowell.
***Something of that tone survives in the end of Putnam's contribution to Reading McDowell, where he calls some feature of McDowell's philosophy "exceptionally deep and luminous" (187)

Covid Diaries: Highs and Lows

Published by Anonymous (not verified) on Thu, 31/03/2022 - 5:00am in

It's time for another Covid Diaries update. (For my official "covid diaries," see hereherehereherehereherehereherehere; hereherehere; hereherehereherehere; here; herehereherehere; here; herehere; here herehere, here; here; and here). It's been a complex few weeks for me.
I want to start with a tremendous high. Last Tuesday I taught the last session of my intro lecture course to an overflowing auditorium. (I have over 600 students, and all the lectures are recorded and available with a thirty second delay.) At the end of my lecture I tagged on a few minutes of quasi-impromptu remarks. I thanked them from the heart for their encouragement and kindness during the semester; that they respected my boundaries and were unfailingly kind about my invisible/cognitive disability. This generated a tremendous applause. And I joined in the cheer, applauding them.
I then added a few remarks on the significance of political theory and the course, and closed with a kind of blessing wishing them wisdom (etc.) What happened next was surreal (like in a Hollywood movie you don't believe); I received a standing ovation. Eventually I joked -- which is what I do when I feel uncomfortable, I guess -- that I would hand out signatures at the end of class. That got the applause to stop. But I was mobbed by students who gave me flowers, thank you cards, chocolates, drawings, and -- never make this joke again -- a long line of kidz who wanted signatures. This lasted an hour! (Students had applauded after each lecture, so I knew there was appreciation.) During all of this, I knew I was going well beyond my cognitive limits and that I would have to deal with headaches and nausea. I walked home, got soup, and tried to sleep.

The next morning I woke up with a headache (the worst of the 7 weeks of lecturing), and decided to take it easy. I watched the end of the lecture on video a few times enjoying the moments again, and checking my memory of the event. By the end of the afternoon I was much improved, and could enjoy early Spring.

I also received news from HR that I won my battle with them about back-pay for holiday-pay that they had deducted in virtue of my disability. After consulting the union and jurisprudence, I had pointed out to them that according to European jurisprudence that holiday is a human right and that you can't lose it even if disabled or sick. (I learned from the union, that they generally obtain the pay out on behalf of people who are let go in virtue of their disability at the end of the contract. But that people like me who might return to work often end up losing a few days of holiday pay.) HR granted that they have no right to withhold it over 2021 (especially because they had already agreed to pay out in 2022!).

Later that week, I had a meeting with my department chair that I initiated. Under Dutch disability rules, in a few months my occupational physician, an outside expert, the department, and myself have to decide about my future. It's pretty clear now that I won't recover fully in the next two months The department has been very supportive (I have a few minor kvetches), but in all the communication to me it's always been about hoping for full recovery. So, I wanted to know how the department views a future with me if I don't fully recover. The meeting was encouraging and constructive. The real key for the department will be whether I can return to non-lecture format teaching or not. There is a lot more to say about this meeting, but I felt reassured that there won't be an effort to push me out.

After that, I decided to return to London. But not before my sister taught me some meditation tricks, and my mom  delivered some fantastic chocolate cookies.

Over the week-end I arrived in London exhausted. And the first 72hrs were both joyous and challenging catching up with the family after nearly 8 weeks away (with just one week-end visit). I had non-stop headaches and nausea for a few days. And I am reminded of my limits after two months of near self-isolation. Basically my symptoms are under control unless I interact socially with others for more than twenty-five minutes. 


Today, I had a meeting with the neurologist in the NHS long covid center at UCLH. She was a very kind and thoughtful physician. (I also learned that I was initially slotted to be seen by her in October -- she remembered my dossier -- but because they got overwhelmed with emergency care, I got pushed back. ) After taking my history and doing some cognitive testing, and discussing the situation with me, she decided to treat my symptoms like a kind of migraine. (A big contrast to My Dutch neurologist.) Her hope is to get the headaches under control first, and that I will get better and better in social environments over time. (She was also happy to hear that I had no teaching for four months.) I ran a number of the Dutch occupational therapy treatments by her, and that was instructive, too. She didn't promise miracles, but assured me that people with my symptoms do recover even after a year plus. Also, it's so nice to have a neurologist that takes my covid problems seriously. (Yes, I am pissed off at my Dutch neurologist.)

Tomorrow, my students take their final exam, so I am hoping that this time next week, I can close the door on course related stuff for the academic year. (It's astonishing  how many logistical and other curve balls come your way when class size is this huge.) I have returned to my daily swim, and next week I return to my research. I also look forward to my regular blogging. I am still withdrawing from conferences and other events, but I am growing hopeful I can return to these later in the year.

Even in a Welfare State Being Sick Is Expensive and Trying to get Care draining (Covid Diaries)

Published by Anonymous (not verified) on Fri, 25/02/2022 - 10:00pm in

In January 2021 (recall), after I tested positive for covid-19 in London, I contacted my GP in Amsterdam. She was gracious in acknowledging that her initial diagnosis (stress) of my symptoms was mistaken. (For my official "covid diaries," see hereherehereherehereherehereherehere; here; here; here; hereherehereherehere; here; herehereherehere; here; herehere; here here; here, and here). On the phone she urged me to get a blood-test to establish some base-lines for my disease (amongst other reasons). Because I was not part of the NHS (yet), I found a private provider who came to my home. Much to my amazement there were numerous providers of blood tests in London who cater to the very large ex-pat community. Within 24hrs, in the middle of a lockdown and stories of long lines of ambulances waiting to deliver urgent care patients, I had my test results and a hefty bill. I paid the bill. After consulting with my travel and health insurance companies, I decided to submit (via a nice app) to my Dutch medical insurance. The insurance company specializes in medical care workers (since my better half is a surgeon), and I have always been very happy with them. When a few weeks later, I checked on its status, I noticed it was declined. I contact the insurance company which informed me that I needed a proper referral from my GP. 

I contacted my Dutch GP -- where the practice was, of course, also groaning under Covid restrictions and added volume of care --, and explained the situation. Thankfully my GP had good notes, and it was agreed to provide with a referral for the insurance company. I was then introduced to the secured email system they use to communicate sensitive information to patients, and I was reminded that I could use the (less secure) web portal for communications with the GPs while I was in London. In the year since, I have become very familiar with the quirks of both software systems (but about that some other time), but they have also made life much much easier (especially as my brain fog developed).* So, a few weeks after submitting the initial declaration, I resubmitted it. 

I think most regular readers realize that my family lives in London, whereas I work and have a place in Amsterdam. (I eventually joined the family GP in London, and so entered the NHS system.) In fact, I bought my 1BR in the Fall of 2019. This was, in fact, the first bit of property that I owned in my life. And as 2020 developed, travel between London and Amsterdam became increasingly cumbersome. And just before it became nearly impossible, my Chair suggested I head to London as we were transitioning to remote teaching. (Subsequently, I negotiated a teaching leave during the Fall because I accumulated a lot of extra hours.) So, for most of 2020 and 2021, the final book boxes remained unemptied in my living room. That Fall (2020), because I didn't have a home office space, and the British Library was closed, I subscribed to one of those office companies so that I could get some research done and have a quiet please for contact with my colleagues and PhDs.

Okay, back to that insurance claim. Early last year I forgot about it because I had more important things on my mind: like not burning down the house accidentally while making lunch, figuring out how to coordinate the exams for a massive lecture course from my sick-bed in another country, and, say, my inability to walk more than fifteen minutes with my family. But 300€ is a lot of money even in good times, so eventually I remembered, especially when, under ordinary social security rules my salary started to be cut after nine months of illness (at the start of October 2021). This amounted to a 15% salary cut. Not huge, but noticeable in a two-household single family with a school-going kid. At that point, I took a sober look at my expenses, and made some non-trivial cuts: I gave up my US phone-number (after thirty years or so), paused my habit of collecting antique books, didn't renew a whole bunch of subscriptions to learned journals and magazines, and stopped my habit of ordering out when alone and took up cooking again (at which time I was less likely to burn down the house). During the early phase of my illness I also eventually remembered to halt my office subscription. None of these decisions felt like hardship, and whatever stress I had about my illness, I am blessed that I am not especially worried about my financial future. 

So, in the Fall of 2021 I contacted my insurance company which suddenly became much harder to reach due to their service agents working from home, the heavy volume increase in claims (by folk like me), and, I assume, increased sick leave (some of this information comes from the message they repeatedly provide you with while whiting for an agent). And because I was not feeling so well during this period, I invariably gave up after waiting after endless periods on hold.  I return to the claim below.

Now, the insurance claim is not the only such extra expense I have encountered. And I will spare you the many examples. Unlike in the American system where these kind of things can be catastrophic, the extra expenses per occasion amount to 10-20€ at a time. In the Dutch context this is primarily due to the fact that many individual, specialist care providers in the Dutch system are opting out of direct contracts with insurance companies, so that they can charge slightly higher rates. (The rates have a mandated ceiling to them, but they like to charge near the ceiling.) And at the urging of my occupational physician I have tried out some of these care providers (some of which providing highly experimental care). In most cases, I have simply swallowed the cost, but I have also tried to get my university to pay for some of the additional costs (the margin between what my insurer will pay and the amount I will pay), and much to my frustration the university declined to do so (even though the care is being undertaken at the urging of the occupational physician). Don't get me wrong I don't feel arm-twisted by the occupational physician; I am happy she is on the look-out for care that might help.

As an aside, you may wonder why I bother with the Dutch health care system, if I am now part of the NHS (where nearly everything is free except for some modest co-payments for prescription drugs). The simple answer is that the wait-periods for non-urgent care -- and long haul is not considered urgent -- is really extraordinarily long in the NHS. (There is a lot of quiet suffering in the UK!) Obviously, this is partially the effect of switching resources and people to treat urgent Covid-19 care, but it is also function of structural underfunding of NHS, and the way its referral procedures and prescriptions function. It's quite amazing really that a few weeks delay in the Dutch lead to modest apology, and it would be treated as a miracle of efficiency in the NHS. (In a nearby possible world, I would do comparative health care spending research by now.) So, I keep my Dutch GP informed of my treatment and consultations with the long haul clinic at UCLH, and she helps coordinate my Dutch care. So, I try to get the best of both worlds, but it is exhausting to get care for myself.  (I will ignore in this post the many things that make it infuriating including the fact that many Dutch specialists treat long covid as a life style burn out or as primarily a lung disease.)

Last week, I needed to call my insurer again to figure out reimbursement on a new health care provider and in particular how to make the insurance codes match on her bills to me and my claim submissions. The wait was short, and I got a wonderful agent on the phone. And after we solved that problem (it would cost me, I guess, 10-20€/visit), I decided to ask her about the blood test claim of January 2021. Thanks to the app, it was easy to hunt down all the information in her system, and after, putting me on hold, and looking through the claims, she admitted it was unclear to her why I was not paid out. But she couldn't make the decision, the claims department had to do it. And then she informed that she did not get priority with the claims department, but that she would also be put on hold and that the wait would be long. Would it be okay if she called me back next week? I noted and wrote down her name, and happily agreed to these terms. I also noticed I had gone well beyond the 30 minutes I can handle phone-conversations. And so went to bed to give my head a rest.

Fast forward to the present. I just got off the phone with another kind insurance agent who had no record of my conversation ever happening last week. He never doubted that it did happen. He and I went through the case again, and he agreed with his colleague's evaluation that it was odd I was not paid yet, but formally this was a decision of the claims department. This time, I asked if he could send me an email or a letter that we had had this conversation. He agreed. And he also suggested that the company would only contact me if they declined to pay. If the claims people sign off, I would get the usual notice on my app, and the money. I happily agreed to those terms. When we hung up I noticed the conversation I had lasted 27 minutes and 5 seconds. It was time to make another espresso.

Now, to reiterate, none of this is catastrophic American style. I don't have the risk of collecting agency breathing down my neck, eviction, etc. But it has given me a glimpse of the ordinary struggles that poor people with chronic diseases have even in reasonably well functioning welfare states. (And, of course, Dutch recent history -- google 'toeslagenaffaire' or 'Dutch childcare benefits scandal' -- suggests it does not work so well for poor people who have a migration background.) Expenses accumulate in open-ended fashion just as the source of income is reduced. It eats up energy to keep track of these, and to try to get claims paid out. This is alongside the emotionally draining aspect of trying to get oneself (or loved ones) the care they need, and navigating complex bureaucratic systems and the not infrequent passive aggressiveness of overworked care workers who may not be able to help you at all. (The ones that clearly think they may be able to help you tend to be much nicer!) As a male professor, I have a lot of social capital, and I have non-trivial number of connections in medicine. My rule of thumb is, if the whole process is difficult for me, it must be agonizing for folk with much fewer social and financial resources.

So, if your underlying disease makes it difficult for you to concentrate and have modestly long conversations, trying to get care (while partially working and being a dad/husband/son/brother/uncle, etc.) actually undermines one's heath and sanity. And it's a peculiar social fact that when your expenses increase due to need, your income gets cut. Meanwhile, that blood test remains un-reimbursed.



*The NHS, by contrast, uses a standardized portal for GPS that is cumbersome and time-consuming, and actually likely to lead more errors.