philosophy

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Philosophy’s Most Beautiful Sentence or Paragraph

Published by Anonymous (not verified) on Thu, 29/09/2022 - 11:35pm in

[This post originally appeared on June 6th, 2015.]

A little while ago there was a discussion on Reddit about “the most beautiful paragraph or sentence you’ve ever read.” I don’t know about you, but I could really go for some reminders about the beauty of our craft right about now. Let’s do a philosophy version of this. What do you think would be a good candidate for philosophy’s most beautiful sentence or paragraph?

(image: detail of “Haggadah (P2)” by Gerhard Richter)

Philosophy Teaching & Learning Materials on Professors’ Websites

Published by Anonymous (not verified) on Wed, 28/09/2022 - 10:50pm in

Individual philosophy instructors often post publicly available resources for students on their websites. Here’s a place to share them.

An earlier post collected links to various guides for students about how to write a philosophy paper, but there are a variety of other materials out there, including reading guides, tips on logic and argumentation, lessons on specific topics, subject summaries, instructional videos, thought experiments, and more. Such information could be useful to students and to other instructors, but it can be hard to find, so I thought it would be worthwhile to create a space to post links to these materials.

If you teach philosophy and have put learning materials on your individual website, please include a link to them and a brief description in the comments on this post. (And if you know of someone who has materials to share, please encourage them to do so.)

The David Solomon Lecture: Government 2.0 a couple of years on . . .

Published by Anonymous (not verified) on Wed, 28/09/2022 - 10:22pm in

Finding a formatting mess when I looked this up on Troppo, I’ve reposted it here for the record. I’m a bit embarrassed by my wooden speaking style.

Here’s the David Solomon Lecture I’ll be giving at the Brisbane Museum of Modern Art in an hour’s time.

I

Whether or not I can speak with sufficient insight to be worthy of giving the David Solomon lecture, I possess at least one qualification. I have known David for over thirty years. As is the way with the illustrious, I knew of him before we met. He was one of the leading political journalists of his day. Yet at a time when he was as well recognised as any, as some were settling into that long period when one’s reputation rises as steadily as one’s powers decline, David was already charting a new course.

While the rest of the first year wannabes struggled, David went from one triumph to another, with the minimum of fuss. I think he was also working for the Financial Review. Then he combined his new qualifications with his journalism to found a landmark publication – a newsletter of analysis of High Court decisions. Interpretation being a foundation of legal thinking, David’s newsletter was a little like the legal commentators of centuries past, influencing the development of the law with its professional interpretation of important cases as they were decided.

I was then re-united with David in 2009 on the Government 2.0 Taskforce. David had just produced an historic report on open government in Queensland. To her credit the new Queensland Premier Anna Bligh realised his report in law without any serious compromises despite what I imagine were the cautions of her more timorous advisors. That legislation was highly influential in a wave of new Freedom of Information legislation subsequently enacted in most states and at the federal level. This embodies in law the new understanding that – to quote the new Federal Act, “information held by the government is to be managed for public purposes, and is a national resource”.

David was a great help in the Government 2.0 Taskforce helping us keep sight of the wood for the trees. There were a tense few weeks in which what had been an outline was converted into the first proper draft of the report. Given the mess the early mass of material was in I recall the music that David’s words were in my ears when he told me at a dinner in the Canberra Lakeside Hotel that the report was really starting to take shape. At last I was achieving the standards he’d set at ANU in 1975.

Finally but most importantly, despite his current august title and role in Queensland as Integrity Commissioner, David is, to use a technical term also developed amongst my peer group all those years ago at ANU – a genuine cutie.

II

My topic tonight is Government in the age of Web 2.0.
For the uninitiated what is now retrospectively dubbed Web 1.0, was a platform for point to point communication by e-mail and hub and spoke communication between websites and their visitors.
Web 2.0 now permits collaboration between all and sundry. Thus, if you visit Wikipedia or Facebook you can read what’s there, but you can also find, converse and collaborate with others.
The world is full of hype about the web. I think one needs to pick one’s way through this hype with exceeding care. But I too have found myself an awed hype merchant. Let me give you a very simple example of just one extraordinary phenomenon of Web 2.0 – the Twitter hashtag. Since the ABC’s program Q&A, I’ve imagined that everyone knows what a Twitter hashtag is. Yet I discovered when speaking to an entire agreement of agency heads and deputies in one state government portfolio recently, that none knew what it was.
The hashtag is simply a string of letters or other symbols prefaced by the hash sign. The ‘hashtag’ for tonight’s lecture is #solomonlecture. Now Twitter allows anyone to view all tweets that contain a hashtag that they nominate. I’m hoping some in the audience are tuned into that hashtag, and perhaps tweeting to it right now.

Now consider for a moment how extraordinary that is. The existence of the hashtag enables anyone, anywhere in the world to tune into a conversation as it occurs. This might not impress you much, but it might if you were a tin pot dictator whose rule the hashtag has just rendered more precarious, or even redundant. It might if you were a resident in Christchurch the day after the earthquake had struck as volunteers around the world sifted through tweets carrying the hashtag #eqnz.

For two hours after the quake, New Zealander Tim McNamara in Wellington had enlisted Crisis Commons volunteers around the world to sift through the 300,000 odd tweets carrying the hashtag to identify the 15,000 odd that contained vital information – like which gas stations still had diesel, which pharmacies still had insulin.

III

What we saw happening in the case of the Christchurch earthquake was the assembly of a made to measure global public good whipped up like a Masterchef dessert. It was initiated by a single person with the knowhow and inclination to contribute to the greater good. But that person’s contribution could be massively leveraged because we are now in a new age of public goods.

The internet itself is a classic public good from the economic textbook – government funded, and available to all on equal terms. Yet a few decades later the backbone that is the internet now houses a massive collection of public resources and virtually none of that was government funded.

On top of industry agreed standards and the hardware that we supply when we connect to the internet are a host of free public goods that perform incredibly specific information tasks. Platforms like Google, Twitter, Facebook and Wikipedia. I spent some time at the commencement of the Taskforce pointing out that none of these Web 2.0 platforms – none of these public goods – had been built by governments. Then I realised that even with existing computer companies like Microsoft scouring the world for the Next Big Thing with multi-billion dollar coffers, not one major Web 2.0 platform was built by an existing organisation. They were virtually all founded by one or two entrepreneurs – some for profit, some from philanthropic drive, though as the Google motto ‘don’t be evil’ suggests, most have some mix of both.

Economics teaches that the provision of public goods is a problem. Why? People won’t build public goods because they advantage everyone. Except that Tim McNamara and hundreds of people around the world wanted to help out and we had the technology to let them.

IV

So one way of taking on board the import of Web 2.0 is to recognise that it has changed the game of many public goods from being a problem for our species to being one of its most exciting opportunities. The task for Government 2.0 is at the very least to get out of the way of such endeavours but preferably to adapt the culture and practices of government to embrace those opportunities.

V

If Tim McNamara was a Government 2.0 entrepreneur sitting outside government, there are plenty within government. As the Government 2.0 Taskforce sat, a cadre of such entrepreneurs made themselves known to me. But not only were they not getting any help or recognition, their life was being made more difficult.

Some of their managers were wondering whether they were really ‘team players’. Shortly after the Taskforce reported I received an e-mail from someone in the Queensland Police Service – but the e-mail was from his private account – always a tell-tale sign. This is what he said.

I have just spent 4 months putting together a proposal for a 2.0 Police website. Naturally enough there are a huge amount of potential benefits but the challenge is getting them to really understand that.

If the penny does drop they are in an excellent position, as they already publish a huge amount of content that would be of enormous public interest and benefit…if it were structured in the right way.

There are plenty of Police websites around the world with really interesting ideas, but not one of them really fully gets the concept as a whole. Incredibly inspiring because I can see the enormous untapped potential, deeply frustrating because I know how difficult it will be to achieve even a small part of it.

I can tell you tonight that that e-mail came from James Kliemt. He thought that social media would be perfect for the police but wasn’t having much success persuading others of this. I like to think our report played some role in helping change attitudes at more senior levels in the service. But for whatever reason James’ entrepreneurialism rapidly went from being seen as a problem to being seen as an opportunity. It has since helped the Queensland Police become an exemplar of Government 2.0 in Australia and around the world.

When the floods and the cyclones came, Queensland’s Police already had sufficient experience of social media to use them to broadcast critical messages, to scotch incorrect rumours and to disseminate crucial information. There are many, many other people to thank but there’s a good chance James’ efforts saved some lives.

The hashtag was #qldfloods in case you’re interested.

VI

During the Taskforce’s deliberations journalists often asked whether our recommendations would be implemented. Journalists often seek to channel their subjects’ inner clairvoyant. I startled some by saying that though I expected our recommendations would be implemented, I’d not be greatly concerned if they weren’t. I thought then, as I do now, that what matters most is that the culture of Government 2.0 take hold.
The good news arising from this fact is that one can have a wider impact than the policy chain of command of which one is a part. The downside is that you can gain control of the commanding heights as we did within the Federal Government and even then progress remains slow. That’s pretty much what I expected and pretty much what is happening now. Our central recommendations were implemented, but the spirit of our recommendations is taking its time to filter through the culture of the organisations that comprise government.
Let me give you some examples.

VII

One of the crucial building blocks of Government 2.0 is the new more open approach to the information. Hitherto agencies, and their lawyers have taken comfort in the plethora of rights that copyright gives them over content they create. Copyright requires those who would do more than extract brief quotes from a document to ask the copyright owner for permission. Yet copyright is often asserted, absurdly enough, over documents that the government is seeking to disseminate as widely as it can.

And though copyright gives the owner the notional right not to have their words misleadingly reproduced, ask yourself when we last saw a government pursue someone in the media for misleadingly reproducing copyrighted government works.

Asserting copyright in government content is thus mostly dysfunctional. It’s incredibly inefficient because there are all sorts of riches there in government produced information and content, and no reason whatever to let people adapt it into public goods as it takes their fancy or swells their bottom line.

But it’s also inequitable. The public has already funded its creation through taxes. So the Taskforce recommended the most open ‘Creative Commons’ licencing as the default. This would entitle citizens to copy, republish, repurpose and indeed to tinker with government funded content. And if there were really a good reason for it, more restrictive licensing could be pursued.

I’m pleased to say that as a result of our report Australia became, to the best of my knowledge, the first government to publish a budget with an open, Creative Commons licence. Yet, although our recommendation for Creative Commons licencing to be the default was accepted, that recommendation seems to be honoured in the breach. I know of no Australian Government website where the default licensing is the one we recommended.

Whilst the Taskforce sat and several times since, I’ve had some enjoyable exchanges with one of my favourite institutions – the ABC. I spoke to many people at the ABC about the fabulous wealth of material they have and the ways in which it could be made even more accessible, even more valuable – for instance making their archives available to schools – using the tools of Web 2.0. We spend tens of millions of dollars promoting Australia as a tourist destination to those offshore, and tens more millions broadcasting Australian content into Asia. But the ABC tries to block foreigners’ access to iView.

Recently the ABC program Catalyst produced a marvellous segment which explains how Kaggle, a start-up company which I currently chair, hosts international data analysis competitions that have set new benchmarks in the analysis of everything from rating chess players to detecting dark matter in the universe. It was easily the best explanation of what we do. So we asked if we could feature this marvellous video on our website. They preferred not.

Where the ABC produces programs that it seeks to sell offshore or after broadcast to recover some of its production costs, one can at least argue that it needs to act more restrictively than is possible with the open licence we recommended as the default. But the video we were seeking to display on the Kaggle website sits happily on the Catalyst website for all to view.

Ironically at around the same time Channel Ten’s 7 pm project produced a story of similar length about a project called Family by Family run by another institution I chair – the Australian Centre for Social Innovation. Though Australian taxpayers didn’t pay for the production of the segment, Channel Ten facilitated others using its content by posting it on YouTube and allowing others to embed it on their websites. Why wouldn’t they? Yet meanwhile, some sections of the public sector, whose reason for being is to produce public goods seem to be on a work-to-rule campaign, going out of their way to spoil the fun. All for no conceivable benefit to anyone.

I recently chaired a panel during the Melbourne Writers Festival which the ABC filmed. They asked me to sign a statement agreeing to the ABC owning “all rights in all media throughout the world in the Recording.” I pointed them to the Taskforce’s report and sought something less grandiose.

Once again there was no sensible reason for the ABC to seek such rights. No-one else wanted to beat the ABC to broadcast our panel. And what if they were? I thought it was “our ABC”. I sent the relevant person a lengthy email seeking some review but, despite several reminders, have not heard back. You may be intrigued to know that the panel I chaired that the ABC sought exclusive global rights to the broadcast of was on the topic of Open Government.

VIII

You might imagine that I am not particularly enamoured of what I’ll call the minimalist approach to Government 2.0. This involves an agency getting a Twitter account and if they’re really brave, a blog and/or a Facebook page. These functions are typically given to the communications people who will practice their usual arts on them. Their preeminent concerns will be that agency spokespeople stay ‘on message’ and that the scope for agency embarrassment is minimised.

This reminds me of the response of many manufacturing businesses when they saw the extraordinary achievements of Japanese manufacturers from the late 1970s on, particularly in the car industry.

To simplify somewhat, Western car manufacturers had managers and engineers overseeing the detailed design of products, their constituent sub-assemblies and the processes by which assembly would take place. Employees and suppliers would then implement these designs according to their superiors’ instructions.

The Japanese had developed a clearly superior system. Where there had always been clear tradeoffs between quality and cost, Toyota showed how much quality in production could lower cost by minimising errors and delay further down the line and built the platform for further production refinements.

Just in time production and getting things right first time was so important that even junior workers were given the authority to stop the line to prevent errors leaking into the next stage of production. Western business tried many shortcuts to this new industrial nirvana. Alas, things rarely went well. Workers remained terrified of stopping the line and when they did, mayhem and recriminations usually ensued – as Western commonsense had always assumed.

For the Japanese approach was not a single rule or even a collection of them. It was a system that contained its own social theory – which was that workers would perform better in teams, rather than on their own, that they turned up every day preferring to do a good, rather than a bad days work. And so the Japanese system armed teams of workers with information about how well they were performing, funded them to meet in ‘quality circles’ to endlessly strategise collaborative quality and productivity improvements, involved them in questions of production design and devolved a range of critical production decisions to them.

I hope you can see the analogies with the minimalist approach to Government 2.0. We have some hard evidence that the challenge of gaining the benefits of modern information technology is similar to the challenge of adopting Japanese production methods. Even before the advent of Web 2.0 MIT economist Erik Brynjolfsson (1998, p. 9) had this to say from his own research into hundreds of firms:

Firms that couple IT investments with . . . decentralized work practices are . . . more productive than firms that do neither. However, firms can actually be worse off if they invest in computers without the new work systems.

. . . So why do so many organizations still retain the old structure?

A plausible reason is that these types of organizational changes are time consuming, risky, and costly. Redesigning management infrastructure, replacing staff, changing fundamental firm practices such as incentive pay and promotion systems and undertaking a redesign of core business processes are not easy.

Intriguingly, as Brynjolfsson speculated in 1998, it has come to pass that amongst heavy users of IT, the disparity between the most and the least profitable firms has grown enormously suggesting that, indeed, getting this right is a tricky business.

Now there is no shortage of management books on how to make organisations responsive and innovative. But the evidence just presented suggests that there is no sure recipe, or if there is it is not easy to apply. Being a really good manager is a bit like being a good parent or a good Prime Minister. There are so many skills to master, so many judgements to make, most in a fog of ignorance even about what is going on right now, let alone what will happen next.

In this fog of ignorance one can do a lot worse than to empower people at all levels to make small, low risk innovations and then gradually try to learn from experience. Indeed this is what markets do. This suggests some complementary strategies.

Firstly we should tap into people’s enthusiasms and intrinsic motivation. I’m always surprised at how rarely this is mentioned. Yet as the Australian Public Service Commission notes in its latest State of the Service Report “High levels of employee engagement also encourage innovation within agencies”. It cites Google’s efforts to drive innovation through employee engagement.

Indeed Google’s then CEO, Eric Schmidt commented (McKinsey, 2011), “2t Google, we give the impression of not managing the company because we don’t really . . . It sort of has its own borg-like quality of its own. It sort of moves forward” on the intrinsic motivation – the passion – of its highly talented workforce. This is encouraged by Google permitting each employee one day in five to work on projects for Google of their own choosing and initiative. As Schmidt acknowledges “20% time is a very good recruiting tool” but he’s even keener on its potential to subvert bad management. “3t serves as a pressure valve against managers who are obnoxious.” I doubt that such a rule should be pursued across the board in the public service but at least one public sector agency – the Victorian Department of Justice has experimented with 10 percent time with apparent success.

Secondly openness can help in various ways. Wherever standards and/or information can be open, others are invited in and their different perspective can lead to new and better approaches. Note for instance that the hash-tag was not the brainchild of Twitter when it launched in 2006 but rather its user community two years later. This innovation and many others were mightily facilitated by Twitter’s preparedness to open its system sufficiently to enable its users to access Twitter any way they liked through third party applications of their choice.

Open information is also crucial. If we have succeeded in fostering increasing experiments in innovation, the better we are at discovering what works, the better we can evolve the system to propagate the successes and terminate or correct the failures.

IX

In a market, firms that are most successful either take over or drive the least successful firms out of business. We can’t replicate that model in the public sector, but if it suffers from many disadvantages against markets, the public sector does actually have some advantages over the market. For the public sector has the reach and the control to gather systematic information over its entire domain.

To explain what I mean let me digress briefly to explain ‘Windows on Workplaces’, a proposal I took to the 2020 Summit. Firms regularly survey their employees to understand how engaged they are in their work. This information has obvious value – most particularly to those considering working for the firm. You might think it’s obvious why it’s not public. Who’d want their dirty linen aired in public? But that doesn’t explain why the best firms don’t publish their results. And if they did, that could create a dynamic which forced other firms to publish their results lest people think they were covering something up.

But the problem is that there is no standard against which all firms report. As a result, no-one can really compare different results. And a standard is a public, which is to say, a collective good. So my proposal was that some leader – the Prime Minister is the obvious candidate but it could be any prominent and well intentioned figurehead – challenge the best firms to join them in developing and reporting to a standard.

Now the public sector is well placed to introduce something like this. Because most public sectors, including Queensland’s, have central bodies which conduct standardised surveys of employees. And as the Australian Public Service Commission (APSC) notes (2010, p. 19) citing the US Merit Systems Protection Board there is “a significant positive correlation between employee engagement scores and agency performance.”

The APSC collects a wealth of data on employee engagement and indeed employee attitudes to innovation and opinions about their own workplaces. It makes that data available to agencies and uses it in its deliberations with them, but releases it in a form that avoids the ruffling of feathers by preventing the disaggregation of the data to reveal individual agency performance.

By contrast America’s Office of Personnel Management publishes detailed data from its survey of government employees. And it does so in machine readable form. As a result the non-profit Partnership for Public Service takes the data and displays it on its website BestPlacesToWork.org to enable anyone to rank any of 290 federal agencies in such areas as skills/mission Match, effective Leadership, training and development, satisfaction with pay, family friendly culture and benefits and work/Life balance. And one can get breakdowns of employee satisfaction by gender, race, age and so on. So Windows on Workplaces actually exists in the public sector in the United States.

As BestPlacesToWork.org says on its website:

The rankings provide a mechanism to hold agency leaders accountable for the health of the organizations they run. They also offer a roadmap for better management and provide an early warning sign for agencies in trouble. Had Congress or government leaders paid attention to the 2003 Best Places survey, for example, they would have found that the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) was last in the employee rankings. That was two years before FEMA’s inept response to Hurricane Katrina, but at the time, few noticed.

By contrast this is the copyright notice on the Australian Public Service Commission’s State of the Service Report (2010, p. ii).

This work is copyright. Apart from any use as permitted under the Copyright Act 1968, no part may be reproduced by any process without prior written permission by the Commonwealth.

X

But let me conclude more optimistically. Innovation is always fragile. It’s fragile because it usually starts small, and it always starts without entrenched friends. It often unnerves a few and can even cause discomfort and alarm. In this environment one might think is already loaded against it, it must fight its way into the light against a thicket of institutions, regulations, practices and expectations all of which grew and established themselves without any thought for it.

Though it’s been slower to emerge than some might have liked, there are signs that Government 2.0 is at least beyond that state of fragility. We know that because for its pioneers it is already becoming an indispensible part of their routine.

In less than three years since I got that e-mail from James Kliemt, the Queensland Police have shown just some of the potential of Government 2.0. It’s not been a completely risk free journey, but quite early on it was clear that it had its benefits for its champion. In February this year the Sunday Mail decided to beat up a largely fabricated story about the police mistreating its puppies (will those police stop at nothing?). But now the Police didn’t have to take it – like so many have to. They fought back on their Facebook page by outlining the facts to over 200,000 followers. And virtually all the commenters were somewhere between disparaging and disgusted at the paper.

Then in June this year under the heading “Police social media site a disgracebook” the Courier Mail quoted legal experts warning that the site could jeopardise convictions. I was alarmed that that might be enough to kill the site. But the Facebook page had become too valuable. Instead of shut it down the police heightened their vigilance for a period and explained the issues to their Facebook fans and their following quickly fell in behind them.

So, if I might be forgiven a Churchillian cliche, this is not the end or even the beginning of the end, but it is perhaps the end of the beginning.

1 http://bestplacestowork.org/BPTW/about/rankingsmatter.php.

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The Guardian’s 2022 Philosophy Rankings

Published by Anonymous (not verified) on Tue, 27/09/2022 - 1:25am in

The Guardian has released its rankings of UK universities at which to study philosophy.

The rankings are aimed at undergraduates. Here’s their description:

Unlike other league tables, the Guardian rankings focus on the things students care about, such as good teaching and job prospects, rather than basing them on academic research. We rank universities through nine different scores, which form a total out of 100. These include what students say about their teaching, feedback and the course itself in the annual National Student Survey. This year we combined 2021 and 2022 to reflect how universities responded to the pandemic. We also look at how big class sizes are through the student-to-staff ratio and how much universities spend on teaching per student, as well as students’ A-level grades and whether their academic performance improves at university (the value-added score), and how likely they are to continue with their course. There’s also data on how many students get graduate jobs 15 months after leaving university. This year, we used data from 2018/19 and 2019/20 to minimise the impact of the pandemic, although there is still some disruption relative to earlier cohorts.

And here are the rankings:

At The Guardian‘s page, you can sort the table by various criteria.

   

 

Mini-Heap

Published by Anonymous (not verified) on Fri, 23/09/2022 - 11:06pm in

Tags 

Links, philosophy

The Heap of Links grows…

  1. “I’ve always thought I was better at helping other people think through their ideas than I was at generating new or ground-breaking things of my own. I used to be ashamed of that, but now that I’ve got students of my own, it’s one of my favourite skills to use” — Audrey Yap (Victoria) is interviewed at What Is It Like To Be A Philosopher?
  2. “Too often, well-intentioned calls to ‘diversify the profession’ of academia seem to be motivated by brute desires for demographic representation…. That intelligence comes in many forms suggests a better rationale” — Devin Sanchez Curry (West Virginia) on appreciating “Grandma’s metaphysics”
  3. Princeton has so big an endowment that it could, from now on, let in every student for free and still have at least $1.9 billion left over each year — So why don’t they? The author raises this question, but doesn’t really try to answer it, and so doesn’t seem to realize what’s to be learned from it (via The Browser)
  4. “The Mystery of Consciousness,” a live public philosophy discussion, took place this past summer in Liverpool — featuring Philip Goff, Laura Gow, Anil Seth, Jack Symes, Rowan Williams, and a string quartet
  5. “Gareth paced up and down and told me he was worrying about me a lot. I had to realise, he said, that I was extremely stupid and would need to work very hard to get any kind of degree. I wasn’t in the least offended” — Lincoln Allison (Warwick) remembers Gareth Evans, who “made intellectual activity exhilarating”
  6. When (and why) are some things best left to the imagination? — Jennifer Church (Vassar) considers the question
  7. “Young Plato,” a documentary about a headteacher in Belfast who brings philosophy into the teaching at his elementary school, will be screened in the United States — it’s “a very engaging film” according to The Guardian

Discussion welcome.

Mini-Heap posts usually appear when 7 or so new items accumulate in the Heap of Links, a collection of items from around the web that may be of interest to philosophers. The Heap of Links consists partly of suggestions from readers; if you find something online that you think would be of interest to the philosophical community, please send it in for consideration for the Heap. Thanks!

Philosophy’s Happiness Literature: More of It, More Empirical (guest post)

Published by Anonymous (not verified) on Thu, 22/09/2022 - 10:43pm in

In the following guest post, Michael Prinzing (Yale) discusses trends in philosophical discussions of happiness and well-being.

Philosophy’s Happiness Literature: More of It, More Empirical
by Michael Prinzing

Something seems to be happening in the philosophy of happiness and well-being. Philosophers seem increasingly interested in what’s going on in the social and health sciences. Some philosophers are even conducting empirical research of their own. But is this a widespread phenomenon, or just a small subset of a sub-discipline? 

To investigate this question, I conducted a bibliometric analysis of articles published in the 50 most-cited philosophy journals on the topics of happiness, well-being, and the good life. (For those interested, I describe my methods at the bottom. The data and R code are available here.) 

Obviously, in the past 50 years or so, there has been a general trend of increasing publication volume—and not just in philosophy. That trend is illustrated by the blue line in the figure below. The blue line (scale on the right) represents the total number of papers published in the top 50 philosophy journals since the mid-20th century. Although growth leveled off a little between 1980 and 2000, there appears to have been fairly steady growth since the 1950’s. 

Things look very different when we turn to papers on happiness, well-being, and the good life. That trend is illustrated by the black line (scale on the left). There we see no growth at all until the turn of the millennium. At that point, the number of publications skyrocketed. Hence, this sub-discipline does seem to stand out from the general trend in philosophy. Moreover, whatever is going on in the philosophy of happiness and well-being, it seems to have started around the turn of the millennium. It’s possible that this has something to do with the rise of “Positive Psychology,” which also emerged at that time. That field of psychological research may have provided fertile ground for philosophers interested in similar topics. Or, perhaps some broader societal trend led to increased interest in happiness and well-being among both philosophers and psychologists.

The second figure, below, illustrates the proportion of papers on happiness and well-being that cited scientific sources. Since there were so few publications per year during the 20th century, I grouped the papers by decade. Prior to the 1980’s, not a single paper cited any scientific sources. In the 1980’s and 90’s, about 10-15% of papers did so. In the 2000’s the proportion jumped to about 35%, and since 2010 papers citing scientific sources constitute the majority.

Overall, then, it seems that not only have happiness, well-being, and the good life become much more popular topics of philosophical discussion, that discussion is increasingly intertwined with empirical research. Indeed, papers in the philosophy of happiness and well-being that don’t engage with scientific research are now in the minority.

Methods

Journal Citation Reports, a database of academic journals, includes 320 journals classified as philosophy journals. I selected the 50 most-cited of these and queried Web of Science for all the articles from those journals that included the terms happiness, well-being (or wellbeing), or “the good life” in the title, abstract, or keywords. This yielded 673 records, dating as early as 1947. After removing a duplicate record and non-articles (some records were book reviews, editor’s notes, etc.) there were 521 papers. Collectively, these 521 articles cited 7,389 sources. However, many of these were cited very few times. Only 318 received at least 5 citations. I categorized each of these 318 sources as either scientific or non-scientific, depending on whether the source is dedicated to reporting or reviewing empirical findings. Thus, this definition does not include journals that occasionally publish empirical findings—e.g., Noûs or Synthese. But it does include sources like the Journal of Personality and Social Psychology (this was the most-cited scientific source, with 78 citations.) It also includes sources like the American Economic Review, which, though it does not publish novel empirical results, is dedicated to reviewing empirical research. Of the 318 sources, 111 were scientific. 5 could not be categorized because it was impossible to determine the exact source from the abbreviated title given by Web of Science, or whether the source was scientific. These were: P BRIT ACAD, CRITICAL NE IN PRESS, DROP, VALUE ETHICS EC, WELL BEING. I then used this categorization to determine how many scientific sources each of the 521 philosophy papers cited.

British Identity: The Empire’s Spectacle

Published by Anonymous (not verified) on Thu, 22/09/2022 - 6:00pm in

The mourning of the Queen’s death has been, largely unconsciously, a nation in a state of 'appearing', writes Joe Haward

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The Queen’s coffin arrived at the west gate of Westminster Abbey on the state gun carriage. The carriage itself was drawn by 142 Royal Navy sailors, followed by a military procession, the King, and other members of the Royal Family. For the millions watching, there was a sense that more than a monarch had died.

As the Procession of the Coffin moved through the Abbey, the Choir of Westminster Abbey sang The Funeral Sentences: “I am the resurrection and the life, saith the Lord.” Ancient words reverberating off ancient walls; the remnants of the British Empire clinging on for one final moment in the spotlight. Yet there will be no resurrection here.

Tributes in prayer were made to the Queen, speaking of service and duty. The Archbishop of Canterbury made an evangelistic plea, imploring those watching and listening to claim for themselves the faith of Elizabeth II. These predatory habits of British Christianity, a sureness that something is being given that will better the world of savages and subjects, effortlessly glided from lips and hung there in the air of that space of privilege. 

The ceremony was quintessentially British – a display of pomp, pageantry and poignancy. It remembered the life of one who represented, to many, what it meant to be British. Yet, paradoxically, such a display of tradition could only highlight all that has been lost, as the long gone Empire leaves us with the spectacle of what once existed.

The long-lived confidence in a culture of advancement and civility, with a God-ordained right to rule over others, faded with every decade of the Queen Elizabeth II's reign. 

The French philosopher Guy Debord once said that "just as early industrial capitalism moved the focus of existence from being to having, post-industrial culture has moved that focus from having to appearing".

The mourning spectacle since the Queen’s death has been, albeit largely unconsciously, a nation in a state of appearing – grieving the loss of its own place in the world, the death of an empire that is held up like a puppet, putting on a lifeless show.

Empire and Being

The Romans left Britannia in the early 5th Century. By 927, the Kingdom of England was formed under Alfred the Great’s grandson, King Æthelstan. A long, complex and bloody history of conflict, invasion, power, and betrayal then unfolded. This was the beginning of being – of what would become British identity, formed and forming, expanding across the centuries over geographic Britain.

That identity of ‘being’ would be shaped into an existence of ‘having’. Five years before the birth of Queen Elizabeth II, the British Empire covered 24% of the Earth’s total land area; a population of more than 413 million people.  

By 1945, everything had changed. Even with its victorious stand in 1940, and the moral prestige this gave, Britain could not escape the shattering impact the war had on Europe’s political structure. The American insistence of the sale of oversea British assets to meet its debts highlighted the transfer of power from one empire to another. Yet this power shift also brought with it an identity change, from having to appearing, exemplified by King George VI. 

His insistence on remaining in London during the Second World War had a profound impact upon British morale. It in many ways defined the role of the modern monarch and how significant the Royal Family could be within society in an ever-changing world. His daughter would go on to symbolise the appearance of stability for the next seven decades of shifting times.

The spectacle of British life continues, with the population distracted by faux 'culture wars' and vapid political announcements that serve only to maintain the illusion of a functioning democracy; stoking the fires of division through the language of a dead empire. But everyone knows it is over.

The queue to see the lying in state of the Queen perfectly encapsulated the unconscious recognition that Britain as we know it has died, and such is our loss, we do not know what to do with ourselves, so we grasp hold of what we know. The past becomes increasingly attractive as the future becomes increasingly uncertain.

Where do we go when our happiest days are behind us? We wait in a queue in the hope those days will not be forever lost. 

Reverend Joe Haward is a community and business chaplain

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Antidismissiveness

Published by Anonymous (not verified) on Tue, 20/09/2022 - 8:34pm in

“When I started reading Derrida, I couldn’t understand what the heck he was talking about; but someone like Kripke, it was easy. I remember chatting to someone once who said to me ‘yeah, this Derrida guy is easy, but when I read Kripke I can’t understand a word he’s saying!’”


[image created with DALL-E]

Those are the words of Graham Priest (CUNY), who is well-known for his defense of dialetheism, the view that there are true contradictions. Interviewed at the Undergraduate Philosophy Journal of Australasia, he acknowledges and understands the typical reaction to dialetheism:

The principle of noncontradiction is so ingrained in philosophers — much, much more ingrained than any kind of naturalism. I mean, it’s been high orthodoxy in Western philosophy for something like 2500 years, and people found dialetheism crazy, almost literally. That’s why we got an enormous amount of pushback… I mean there are lots of wacky ideas out there in philosophy, and you can’t give serious credence to all of them. You’ve got to spend your time investigating those things that you think are more plausible, and if something strikes you as just plain wacky, then you’ve got better things to do in life than think about it. So I understand that.

One theme that emerges from the interview, perhaps naturally from a person familiar with his ideas being thought of as “plain wacky,” is the importance in philosophy of not dismissing the unfamiliar and strange.

The theme comes through when he discusses reading philosophy early in his career:

Coming at philosophy from mathematics, as I did, I read people like Frege and Russell and Carnap — and they have a certain way of writing philosophy. I felt very much at home with that. But then I discovered that there are lots of great philosophers who do not write like that. You know, The Critique of Pure Reason… let alone Aristotle, let alone Marx, let alone Asian philosophers like Nāgārjuna or Dōgen, or philosophers like Heidegger or Foucault. They just have a different way of writing. And that’s okay. There are many different ways of writing philosophy. But I found it very hard, at first, to engage with philosophers who wrote in a style that I wasn’t familiar with. And I wondered sometimes whether they were really good, because I couldn’t understand a word, or whether it was just me.

But over the years, I’ve come to see that there are many different good ways of writing philosophy. If you want to get to grips with what a philosopher is thinking, then you really have to tune into the way they express themselves, what they take for granted, the metaphors they use, the cultural assumptions, etcetera. And if it’s a good philosopher, it’s worth the effort. Of course, what you’re used to depends very much on what you’ve been exposed to when you’re learning philosophy. When I started reading Derrida, I couldn’t understand what the heck he was talking about; but someone like Kripke, it was easy. I remember chatting to someone once who said to me ‘yeah, this Derrida guy is easy, but when I read Kripke I can’t understand a word he’s saying!’ It just depends where you’re coming from. Don’t write-off philosophers just because they’re hard to read — you have to make an effort before you make a judgement! 

The value of antidismissiveness is part of why in-person interactions in philosophy are important:

I’ve traveled a lot, over the years. And one reason I travel is this: if you write a paper on some bizarre topic that goes into a journal, people say, ‘oh, Jesus, this guy believes in contradictions. That’s wacky, I’m not going to read that’. It’s hard to say, ‘okay, I understand that reaction’. But if you are face to face with someone they cannot do that. They say, ‘oh, contradictions, you can’t believe that, that’s absurd’. And you say, ‘why?’ And then they can’t throw the journal away; they’ve got to answer. And what I found, over the years, is that when you put a philosopher on the spot like this, they find it very hard to come up with good reasons. I’m not saying there aren’t good reasons. But what discussion of this kind makes people realise is that dialetheism is not as crazy as it sounds. And even if it’s wrong, there is a really serious philosophical conversation to be had about this.

You can read the whole interview here.

Mini-Heap

Published by Anonymous (not verified) on Tue, 20/09/2022 - 7:41pm in

Tags 

Links, philosophy

New links…

  1. “There has not been time to come up with the nuances on how [AI art generators] should be used, and large numbers of very different stakeholders have suddenly shown up at the artists’ door, kicking it in” — Anders Sandberg (Oxford) on some of the issues AI art raises in moral, social, and political philosophy
  2. “When a philosopher has misgivings about the value of philosophy, they’re not just asking ‘why,’ but ‘why why?,’ which is fancier” — Helena de Bres (Wellesley) recovers her gratitude for philosophy
  3. The Social Epistemology Review and Reply Collective (SERRC) launches a monthly podcast called “Knowledge for Breakfast” — hosted by Fabien Medvecky (Otago) & Michiel van Oudheusden (KU Leuven), the first episode is on “Epistemic Shame and Imposter Syndrome”
  4. You feel attraction to someone? Which of the 12,228 possible versions of this feeling? — Maria Heim (Amherst) on how India’s “sophisticated traditions of philosophical reflection” explore “the nuances of felt experience with fine-grained particularity”
  5. On “private and public sector jobs in a burgeoning ontological sector, involving the commercial and industrial applications of ontology across diverse industries” — an interview with Barry Smith (Buffalo)
  6. Philosophers on the tools of neuroscientific experimentation — a discussion with contributions from Ann-Sophie Barwich, John Bickle, Dan Burnston, Carl Craver, and Valerie Hardcastle
  7. “What is the main impediment to offline creativity? In short, not allowing one’s mind to be offline—rarely choosing, or having the chance, to be alone with one’s thoughts, and to let one’s mind wander” — Peter Carruthers (Maryland) on a contemporary threat to creativity

Discussion welcome.

Mini-Heap posts usually appear when 7 or so new items accumulate in the Heap of Links, a collection of items from around the web that may be of interest to philosophers. The Heap of Links consists partly of suggestions from readers; if you find something online that you think would be of interest to the philosophical community, please send it in for consideration for the Heap. Thanks!

Philosophers as Arts and Culture Critics

Published by Anonymous (not verified) on Fri, 16/09/2022 - 10:18pm in

“Which living philosophers review fiction, movies, television shows, plays, music, art, etc. for non-academic publications?”


[photo by B. Weinberg]

This question arrived in my inbox recently, and seems perfect for a Friday. I think we can understand “non-academic publications” broadly enough to include not just newspapers, magazines, and online publications, but also personal blogs or websites, and regular and public posts/threads/videos on social media, too.

Readers, please share your knowledge here. (Self-promotion welcome.)

I’ll start by mentioning two philosophers I know of. One is Justin Khoo (MIT), who writes film reviews for various sites. The other is Matt Strohl (Montana), who writes about movies at his site (and whose Why It’s OK to Love Bad Movies was published last year).

Your turn…

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