Virtual Philosophy Colloquia

Published by Anonymous (not verified) on Mon, 30/03/2020 - 6:00pm in

“I’m trying to create, in my own little word, a network of virtual colloquia and workshops for people stuck at home.”

[with apologies to Giotto]

That’s Robert Pasnau, professor of philosophy at the University of Colorado, whose “own little world” is the world of medieval philosophy. He wrote in to share the news that he is now putting on a series of virtual colloquia in medieval philosophy. The first “Virtual Medieval Colloquium”, which took place last Thursday, featured Eleonore Stump (St. Louis University). The next one is this Thursday and will feature Peter Adamson (LMU Munich).

The colloquia take place over the videoconferencing platform Zoom, and are recorded. They’re hosted by the Institut d’Etudes Avancées de Paris.

It’s a great idea. If you’re aware of other similar initiatives, please let us know in the comments.

Professor Pasnau is also putting together a network of students who are writing PhD dissertations in medieval philosophy so they can set up virtual dissertation workshops. For more details, see his blog, In medias PHIL.


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Ivanhoe from Sungkyunkwan to Georgetown

Published by Anonymous (not verified) on Mon, 30/03/2020 - 3:15pm in

Philip J. Ivanhoe, currently Distinguished Chair Professor in the College of Confucian Studies and Eastern Philosophy at Sungkyunkwan University in Seoul, South Korea, and director of the Sungkyun Institute for Confucian Studies and East Asian Philosophy , will become chair of the Department of East Asian Languages and Cultures at Georgetown University.

Professor Ivanhoe, who moved to Sungkyunkwan from City University of Hong Kong in 2018, is known for his work in Asian philosophy, especially Confucianism, Buddhism, and ethics. He is the author of, among other things, Confucian Moral Self Cultivation. You can learn more about his research here and here.

He takes up his new position at Georgetown, which may include a joint appointment with Department of Philosophy there (though nothing official in that regard has been announced yet), in July.

(via Justin Tiwald, who noted an announcement of the move at Warp, Weft, and Way.)

The post Ivanhoe from Sungkyunkwan to Georgetown appeared first on Daily Nous.

The Role of Philosophy & Philosophers In The Coronavirus Pandemic (guest post)

Published by Anonymous (not verified) on Sat, 28/03/2020 - 2:53am in

In a previous post, I asked for suggestions from readers for topics related to the pandemic to post about and discuss here. One suggestion, from Jonathan Fuller (Pittsburgh), was the role of philosophy and philosophers during the pandemic. In the following guest post*, Alex Broadbent, Dean of Faculty of the Humanities, Professor of Philosophy, and Director of Institute for the Future of Knowledge at the University of Johannesburg gives his take on that subject. 

A version of the post originally appeared at his blog, Philosepi.

The Role of Philosophy & Philosophers In The Coronavirus Pandemic
by Alex Broadbent

What is the point of philosophy? That’s a question many philosophers struggle with, not just because it is difficult to answer. That goes for many academic disciplines, including “hard” sciences and applied disciplines like economics. However, unlike physicists and economists, philosophers ought to be able to answer this question, in the perception of many. And many of us can’t, at least to our own satisfaction.

I’ve written some opinion pieces (1,2) and given some interviews during this period, and I know of a handful of other philosophers who have done so (3,4). However, I also know of philosophers who have expressed frustration at the “uselessness” of philosophy in times like these. At the same time, I’ve seen an opinion piece by a computer scientist, whose expert contribution is confined to the nature of exponential growth: something that all of us with a basic mathematical education have studied, and which anyone subject to a compound interest rate, for example through a mortgage, will have directly experienced.

Yet computer science hasn’t covered itself in glory in this epidemic. Machine learning publications claiming to be able to arrive at predictive models in a matter of weeks have been notably lacking in this episode, confirming, for me, the view that machine learning and epidemiology have yet to interact meaningfully. Why do computer scientists (only one, admittedly; most of them are surely more sensible) and philosophers have such different levels of confidence at pronouncing on matters beyond their expertise?

There are no experts on the COVID-19 pandemic

This pandemic is subject to nobody’s expertise. It’s a novel situation, and expertise is remarkably useless when things change, as economists discovered in 2008 and pollsters in 2016.

Of course, parts of the current situation fall within the domains of various experts. Infectious disease epidemiologists can predict its spread. But there is considerably more to this pandemic than predicting its spread. In particular, the prediction of the difference that interventions make requires a grasp of causal inference that is a distinct skill set from that of the prediction of a trend, as proponents of the potential outcomes approach have correctly pointed out. Likewise, the attribution, after the fact, of a certain outcome to an intervention only makes good sense when we know what course of action we are comparing that intervention with; and this may be underspecified, because the “would have died otherwise” trend is so hard to establish.

Non-infectious-disease epidemiologists may understand the conceptual framework, methodology, terminology and pitfalls of the current research on the pandemic, but they do not necessarily have better subject-specific expertise than many in public health, the medical field, or others with a grasp on epidemiological principles. Scientists from other disciplines may be worse than the layperson because, like the computer scientist just mentioned, they wrongly assume that their expertise is relevant, and in doing so either simplify the issue to a childish extent, or make pronouncements that are plain wrong. (Epidemiology is, in my view, widely under-respected by other scientists.)

Turning to economics and politics, economists can predict the outcome of a pandemic or of measures to control it only if they have input from infectious disease epidemiologists on the predictive claims whose impacts they are seeking to assess.

Moreover, the health impact of economic policies are well-studied by epidemiologists, and to some extent by health economists; but these are not typically knowledgeable about the epidemiology of infectious disease outbreaks of this nature.

Jobs for philosophers

In this situation, my opinion is that philosophers can contribute substantially. My own thinking has been around cost-benefit analysis of public health interventions, and especially the neglect of the health impact – especially in very different global locations – of boilerplate measures being recommended to combat the health impact of the virus. This is obviously a lacuna, and especially pressing for me as I sit writing this in my nice study in Johannesburg, where most people do not have a nice study. Africa is always flirting with famine (there are people who will regard this as an insult; it is not). Goldman Sachs is predicting a 24% decline in US GDP next quarter.

If this does not cost lives in Africa, that would be remarkable. It might even cost more lives than the virus would, in a region where only 3% are over 65 (and there’s no evidence that HIV status makes a difference to outcomes of COVID-19). South Africa is weeks into the epidemic and saw its first two deaths just today.

Yet the epidemiological community (at least on my Twitter feed) has entirely ignored either the consequences of interventions on health (merely pointing out that the virus will have its own economic impact even without interventions, which is like justifying the Bay of Pigs by pointing out that Castro would have killed people even without the attempted invasion. And context is nearly totally ignored. The discipline appears mostly to have fallen behind the view that the stronger the measure, the more laudable. Weirdly, those who usually press for more consideration of social angles seem no less in favour, despite the fact that they spend most of the rest of their time arguing that poverty is wrongly neglected as a cause of ill-health. Do I sound disappointed in the science that I’m usually so enthusiastic about, and that shares with philosophy the critical study of the unknown? Here we have a virus that may well claim a larger death toll in richer countries with older populations, and a set of measures that are designed by and for those countries, and a total lack of consideration of local context. Isn’t this remarkable?

There is more to say, and many objections; I’ll write this up in an academically rigorous way as soon as I can. Meanwhile, I’ll continue to publish opinion pieces, where I think it’s useful. Right now, my point is that there’s a lot for philosophers to dissect here. I don’t mean in this particular problem, but in the pandemic as a whole. And the points don’t have to be rocket science. They can be as simple as recommending that a ban on sale of cigarettes be lifted.

What is required for us to be useful, however, is that we apply our critical thinking skills to the issue at hand. Falling in with common political groupings adds nothing unique and requires the suspension of the same critical faculties that we philosophers pride ourselves on in other contexts. This is a situation where nearly all the information on which decisions are being made is publicly available, where none of it is the exclusive preserve of a single discipline, and where fear clouds rational thought. Expert analyses of specific technical problems are also readily available. These are ideal conditions for someone trained to apply analytic skills in a relatively domain-free manner to contribute usefully.

Off the top of my head, here are a handful topic ideas:

  • How to circumscribe the consequences of COVID-19 that we are interested in when devising our measures of intervention (this is an ethical spin on the issue I’m interested in above)
  • The nature of good prediction (which I’ve worked on in the public health context – but there is so much more to say)
  • The epistemology of testimony, especially concerning expertise, in a context of minimal information (to get us past the “trust the scientists FFS” dogma – that’s an actual quote from Twitter)
  • The weighing of the rights of different groups, given the trade off between young and old deaths (COVID-19 kills almost no children, while they will die in droves in a famine)

One’s own expertise will suggest other topics, provided that the effort is to think critically rather than simply identify people with whom one agrees. I very much hope that we will not see a straightforward application of existing topics: inductive risk and coronavirus; definition of health and coronavirus; rights and coronavirus; etc. To be clear, I’m not saying that no treatment of coronavirus can mention inductive risk, definition of health, or rights; just that the treatment must start with Coronavirus. My motto in working on the philosophy of epidemiology is that my work is philosophical in character but epidemiological in subject: it is philosophical work about epidemiology. Where it suggests modifications to existing debates in philosophy, as does happen, that is great, but it’s not the purpose. The idea is to identify new problems, not to cast old ones in a new light. Perhaps there are no such thing as the latter, but then again, perhaps it’s only by trying to do the former that we can ever achieve the latter.

Call to arms

The skill of philosophers, and the value in philosophy, does not lie in our knowledge of debates that we have had with each other. It lies in our ability to think fruitfully about the unfamiliar, the disturbing, the challenging, and even the abhorrent. The coronavirus pandemic is all these things. Let’s get stuck in.

The post The Role of Philosophy & Philosophers In The Coronavirus Pandemic (guest post) appeared first on Daily Nous.

Next Year’s “Extra Brutal” Philosophy Job Market: Alternatives & Short-Term Opportunities?

Published by Anonymous (not verified) on Sat, 28/03/2020 - 12:54am in


hiring, philosophy

Between August 1, 2018 and July 31, 2019, there were approximately 180 junior jobs, 70 postdocs, and 60 open-rank positions in academic philosophy in the United States advertised.

data and image by Charles Lassiter

That data was compiled by Charles Lassiter, associate professor of philosophy at Gonzaga University, and is from a post at his blog. He takes a closer look at the junior positions and notes that about a third of them are not tenure-track:


data and image by Charles Lassiter

Dr. Lassiter then looks at where there jobs are:

Academic philosophy jobs (junior, post-doc, open rank) in the U.S. during the 2018-19 job market (data collected and image created by Charles Lassiter)

There are likely going to be much fewer dots on the 2020-2021 version of that map, owing to the COVID-19 pandemic. Here is a map, last updated earlier today and published in The Guardian, showing the distribution of COVID-19 cases in the United States:

And here is a crowdsourced list, collected by Karen Kelsky (of the academic career consultancy The Professor Is In), of schools that have announced hiring freezes or pauses (here’s a Google spreadsheet of that list created by Malcolm Keating of Yale-NUS). Given how it is being created, I am not sure how reliable it is. But there is no doubt that, given the turmoil caused by the pandemic to universities, not to mention the costs (89% of university presidents surveyed about COVID19 are somewhat or very concerned about the “overall financial stability” of their schools, according to Inside Higher Ed), there will be susbstantially less hiring going on in the near future.

At the same time, while the pandemic has (and will continue to) delay some academic work and deter some moves, dissertation defenses are proceeding (virtually) and there is not likely to be much of a reduction in the number of job candidates. If the financial troubles of some universities lead them to cancel current searches or let go of faculty (non tenure-track faculty are especially vulnerable here), that could add to the number of job candidates.

What to do?

One reader (a tenure-track professor at a liberal arts college), concerned about “how extra-brutal the market is going to be”, suggested a post which solicits

(a) suggestions for short-term alternatives to the academic job market for fresh philosophy Ph.D.’s. and
(b) ways by which more institutions and senior philosophers might create such short-term options.

As an example of the former, there’s the Presidential Management Fellows Program, first brought to my attention by Shane Wilkins, and which several philosophers have taken part in.

As an example of the latter, the professor who wrote in recently learned that their school has a fund for its alumni to create post-doc positions, including in philosophy. Universities and their associated foundations may have other little-known options like this—maybe yours does—but it may require some investigative work to find out. It would be helpful, though, to hear about the various types of such opportunities so those who are asking around have a better sense of what to ask around for. So please share what you know.


The post Next Year’s “Extra Brutal” Philosophy Job Market: Alternatives & Short-Term Opportunities? appeared first on Daily Nous.

Why You Need to Believe That Others Can Love You

Published by Anonymous (not verified) on Fri, 27/03/2020 - 4:38am in

It's often hard, especially for self-loathers, to believe that others can love us. A new book explains why we have to believe this, even without any evidence to support it.

Teaching Philosophy to High Schoolers Stuck at Home

Published by Anonymous (not verified) on Fri, 27/03/2020 - 12:15am in

With K-12 students across the world at home instead of school, and with school districts varying in how they are educating them under these circumstances, some parents are taking it upon themselves to supplement their children’s education.

And some are interested in teaching their kids philosophy.

One follower of Daily Nous asks:

With schools closed, I would like to develop an informal intro to philosophy course for my high school daughters. Thought it would be nice for us to learn together. Would you mind giving a recommended reading list or syllabus for an improvised intro to philosophical course? Thanks.

It would seem to me that such a course should make use of materials easily and freely available online, and could include primary and secondary readings, videos, lectures, interviews, podcasts, etc.

Here’s one suggestion to start: Plato’s Crito (which is available here along with many of Plato’s other works), followed by the first chapter of William Frankena’s Ethics, available here, in which he unpacks Crito in a straightforward style similar to how many philosophy professors might.

What are your suggestions?

Related: “Stock a High School Library with Philosophy Books“, “Online Philosophy Materials for High School Students“, “Designing a High School Logic & Critical Thinking Course“, “A Collection of Stories for Teaching Ethics

The post Teaching Philosophy to High Schoolers Stuck at Home appeared first on Daily Nous.

A New Look at Old Ideas About Heaven and Hell

Published by Anonymous (not verified) on Thu, 26/03/2020 - 11:47pm in

Most ideas about an afterlife do not come from the Old Testament or Jesus—and the New Testament is neither clear nor consistent on the subject.


Published by Anonymous (not verified) on Wed, 25/03/2020 - 11:26pm in


Links, philosophy

New links in the Heap…

  1. “A cartography of impact” to help philosophers “recognize, reconcile and mobilize their professional and public role” — how “field philosophy” looks from the point of view of Britain’s Research Excellence Framework
  2. Philoso-piece Theatre — from Christina Van Dyke (Calvin). Part One: Aristotle’s Nicomachean Ethics
  3. “Much has been said comparing the scientific consensus on anthropogenic climate change with the growing consensus of public health officials about how to respond to Covid-19” — “We think this comparison is inapt and dangerous,” write Eric Schliesser (Amsterdam) and Eric Winsberg (South Florida)
  4. A helpful visualization about the value of social distancing and staying home — created by Siouxsie Wiles, a microbiologist and science communicator based in New Zealand
  5. “Molecular jitter in the system” — Nature or nurture? It turns out there may be a third option: random “noise”
  6. Philosophers on Medicine — a series of conversations with various philosophers, hosted by Jonathan Fuller (Pitt)
  7. A philosophy professor is part of a group of parents who take turns providing an online educational experience for their kids — Benjamin Mitchell-Yellin (Sam Houston State) shares how he has introduced them to philosophical questions about identity

Mini-Heap posts appear when 7 or so new items accumulate in the Heap of Links, the ever-growing collection of items from around the web that may be of interest to philosophers. Discussion welcome.

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!


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Is the Cure Really Worse Than the Problem?

Published by Anonymous (not verified) on Wed, 25/03/2020 - 5:59am in

Could social distancing and an economic downturn be worse the deaths caused by COVID-19? No, and here's why.

Khalidi from York to CUNY

Published by Anonymous (not verified) on Wed, 25/03/2020 - 12:21am in

Muhammad Ali Khalidi, currently professor of philosophy at York University, will become professor of philosophy at City University of New York (CUNY) Graduate Center

Professor Khalidi works in philosophy of science, cognitive science, philosophy of mind, and medieval Islamic philosophy. He is the author of, among other works, Natural Categories and Human Kinds: Classification in the Natural and Social Sciences. You can learn more about his research here. 

He will begin teaching at CUNY in the fall.

(via Nickolas Pappas)

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