Wednesday, July 22, 2009


Society for Analytical Feminism
Feminist Philosophy in the Analytic Tradition

SAF Session at the Central Division APA 
Palmer House Hilton, Chicago, Illinois
February 17 - 20, 2010
The Society for Analytical Feminism invites submissions for a session at the 200 Central Division APA meetings to be held in Chicago in February 17-20, 2010.  
The Society seeks papers that examine feminist issues by methods broadly construed as analytic, or discuss the use of analytic philosophical methods as applied to feminist issues. Reading time should be about 20 minutes. Authors should submit either  (1) a paper, or (2) an extended abstract, as detailed as possible (up to 1000 words) accompanied by a bibliography. Please delete all self-identifying references from your submission to ensure anonymity.  

Submit papers as a Word attachment to .
The deadline for submissions is August 15, 2009.
Graduate students or underfunded professionals whose papers are accepted will be eligible for the Society’s $250 Travel Stipend. Please indicate on a separate page (or in your covering letter) if you fall into one of these categories.
The Society for Analytical Feminism provides a forum where issues concerning analytical feminism may be openly discussed and examined. Its purpose is to promote the study of issues in feminism by methods broadly construed as analytic, to examine the use of analytic methods as applied to feminist issues, and to provide a means by which those interested in Analytical Feminism may meet and exchange ideas. 

Monday, July 20, 2009

Legal Rights for Nature

Here is an article from yesterday's Boston Globe, "Sued by the forest: Should nature be able to take you to court?"

The idea of granting legal standing to natural entities is not a new one. In the case that spurred this article, a town in Maine passed an ordinance that grants rights to "natural communities and ecosystems" in order to try to protect their aquifers from taking by the Nestle corporation (which bottles the water under the Poland Spring label). What's interesting is that rights are granted to natural, non-human entities in order to protect them from another non-human entity, a corporation.

So the question that has to be raised is whether granting rights to ecosystems will solve the problem of mis-use by corporations. History would suggest that, instead, corporations (who can pay for very, very clever lawyers) are likely to find ways of subverting ordinances or even using them to their advantage. The real problem is that corporations are not accountable to all the moral considerations that human communities believe are worth accounting for. 

I've been reading about cases of indigenous populations who have been displaced directly or indirectly by conservation projects. These cases create moral dilemmas for environmentalists. Preserving ecosystems and species is a valuable goal, but at what human cost? A legal framework that gives rights to ecosystems could be used to justify protected areas that displace humans. It would, in some sense, be a simple solution that would settle the problem. But it would settle it in a way that is too easy because it would not work through the moral balancing of the needs of nature vs. the needs of humans.

More on Sotomayor and neutrality

In violation of the rules of blog time (namely, the NOW lasts only one day at most), here is a timeless clip evaluating last week's Sotomayor hearings.

Yes, objectivity, neutrality, bias. It would be easier to make fun of the view that bias isn't bias if you can't see it yourself if it weren't for the philosophical difficulty of theorizing what does count as neutral knowledge. 

And one more comment: Why did I hear over and over the statement that Sotomayor is "an admirable judge, an admirable woman," when we never hear someone called an admirable man in addition to being an admirable judge.

The Colbert ReportMon - Thurs 11:30pm / 10:30c
The Word - Neutral Man's Burden
Colbert Report Full EpisodesPolitical HumorJeff Goldblum

Friday, July 17, 2009

Noam Chomsky vs Jerry Springer

Below is a video clip passed on to me by Greg Janssen. 
Greg, do you realize that the calculus has not yet been invented that can measure the infinitesimally small size of my sense of humor? Oh, now I get it. This is funny because of the banner that announces that Neil is dating a positivist. Come on! Everyone knows that all positivists are straight and all positivists are male, so therefore... Eh, do you need to see that in syllogistic form?

Thursday, July 16, 2009

Paradigms, Perspectival Knowing, and Politics

Here's a short commentary on the media coverage of Supreme Court Justice nominee Sotomayor's confirmation hearing.

The author's application of Kuhn seems like a stretch based on my own reading but is well in line with popular applications of lessons learned from SSR.  I like the example of flashers. If men don't see flashers and women do, this difference is due to attentional and interpretive reasons and also to the fact that flashers simply aren't as likely to flash men as women. We know different things and interpret reality differently from our diverse social positions in part because of our subjective operations but also because we have different experiences to start with. 

Tuesday, July 14, 2009

What Do Philosophers Do, Anyway?

Not even philosophers can agree on that question. It may be the one discipline which has lost sight of its reason for being as time goes on, rather than having developed a clearer niche. Not only is there wide disagreement among philosophers about what philosophy is and ought to be, but there is hopeless confusion among many non-philosophers. At the same time, there are artists, geographers, and anthropologists who have taken on theorizing that mainstream philosophy has abandoned.

Here Hasok Chang gives his answer to the question, "What is the use of philosophy?"

A historian and philosopher of science, Chang suggests that one function of philosophy of science is to pursue the scientific questions that history contingently abandoned. Doing so is a unique form of inquiry, and an importantly educative form of inquiry, in that it requires deep understanding of history and science and the boldness to ask questions unique to philosophy.

He writes:
Even philosophers tend not to recognize critical awareness and its productive consequences as contributions to scientific knowledge. Thereby philosophy undersells itself. There is a sense in which we do not truly know anything unless we know how we know it, and on reflection few people would deny that our knowledge is superior when we are also aware of the arguments for and against our beliefs.

[I]t is not the job of the historian to develop scientific ideas actively. But whose job is it? Philosophers have no easy excuse here. It is perfectly understandable that current specialist scientists would not want to be drawn into developing research programs that have been rejected long ago, because from their point of view those old research programs are, quite simply, wrong. This is where complementary science enters. Lacking the obligation to conform to the current orthodoxy, the complementary scientist is free to invest some time and energy in developing unorthodox systems.

One clear step is to extend the experimental knowledge that has been recovered. We can go beyond simply reproducing curious past experiments...In complementary science, if a curious experiment has been recovered from the past, the natural next step is to build on it. This can be done by performing better versions of it using up-to-date technology and the best available materials, and by thinking up variations on the old experiments that would not only confirm but extend the old empirical knowledge.

[P]hilosophy can function as the embodiment of the ideal of openness, or at least a reluctance to place restrictions on the range of valid questions. Professional philosophy exists so that questions, and our capacity to ask questions, are preserved for society. These questions may come to be relevant one day. Philosophy of science exists so that scientific knowledge can be preserved and developed in a broad sense that goes beyond the current paradigms.

The primary aim of complementary science is not to tell specialist science what to do, but to do what specialist science is presently unable to do. It is a shadow discipline, whose boundaries change exactly so as to encompass whatever gets excluded in specialist science.
How can Chang's vision for philosophy of science be extended to our other areas of philosophy?

I would say that, without disagreeing with Hasok, I have a somewhat different vision of philosophy, or at least of the areas of philosophy that I find most interesting. Taking off from his description of philosophy as doing what others are unable or uninterested in doing, I think philosophers are uniquely situated to consider problems that resist disciplinary definition.

If philosophy has reached an identity crisis because over the course of two centuries, it has spun off so many of the other disciplines--the natural sciences, the social sciences, linguistics--then we can reclaim our place before and between these disciplines by taking up lines of inquiry that draw them together again. Chang is right to say that
It is absurd conceit to think that we philosophers can “think” better than anyone, so that we can step in and draw some wise conclusions from the scientific material, which scientists themselves are missing because they are sloppy or limited in their thinking.
But we do have the training in flexible thinking to be sense-makers and connectors for the work that is done inside the other disciplines. An anthropologist may be driven by her tenure expectations, her funding opportunities, and the interior compass of her research interests to pursue fieldwork. We philosophers (in our armchairs, more than likely) can find the connections between that fieldwork, what is going on in the political arena, and theories of social justice--a broader scope than disciplinary workers are free (or willing) to take up. In this way, philosophy can be relevant to concrete problems while maintaining an essential difference from other disciplines.

I should say, too, that I had the delight of meeting Hasok Chang at a conference earlier this summer which I'll plug here: the next meeting of the Society for the Philosophy of Science in Practice will be in summer 2011.

Monday, July 13, 2009

Animal Rights and Teaching Ethics

In my Introduction to Ethics class last year I taught food ethics, including animal rights, for the first time. I've shied away from the topic in the past, thinking that the students--or, at least, the students at places where I've taught--would consider it too fringe to make a direct connection with the underlying thought patterns.

On the final exam I asked a question, "What is the most memorable, challenging, or thought-provoking idea that was raised in this class?" 

The most popular, though least illuminating, answer was along the lines of "ethical theories." The second most common answer had to do with a film we watched about farm animal rights, called Wegman's Cruelty. I was surprised by this large response, particularly since discussions after the film were short and shallow.

The film documents animal-rights activists, led by Adam Durand, breaking into the Wegman's egg farm to (illegally) investigate whether the farm violates animal cruelty guidelines. It did, and the footage is dramatic. The case occurred in 2004.

I learned yesterday that Adam Durand is one of my neighbors, and that he has a court date for resentencing tomorrow. His original sentence was illegal and was appealed to the state supreme court. Our court system is often described as biased in favor of defendants. While that's true, there is also a clear bias toward entities that have the money and the power to drag court cases out for years and years. How surprising that this case, a minor case of trespassing, has been in the system for 5 years!

Hello Again

A virtual absence of nearly two months ought to have been enough to renew my blogging batteries. I'm ready to show up here again, and I hope there are folks interested in reading. I should thank A Brood Comb's power-blogroll and, of course, a few dedicated RSS-feed users for making it possible to come and go and still have some readers.

A reminder of what I'm about:
-- comments on teaching, on students, on colleagues, and on what these all make me think about
-- cool links someway somehow related to environmental philosophy, feminist philosophy, pragmatism, philosophy of science....or trees.
-- ideas and citations that I want to save for later, for myself, whether any one in the blogosphere finds them interesting or not

And what I don't do:
-- sentimentality
-- analytic arguments (well, not here anyway, but not because I don't enjoy that style of philosophizing)
-- Heideggerian lingo or any other made-up term that proponents claim can't be expressed in ordinary English
-- stories about kids or pets
-- photos of what I'm cooking, eating, making, growing, climbing, or running past; that's a different kind of experience, a different kind of blog.
-- humor. Not because I'm philosophically opposed but because I'm so unfunny that I can't even identify it. Hmmm...and that provides a ready excuse for letting some sneak in, doesn't it--because if I'm so unfunny that I can't tell the difference, then I can't be expected to exclude the world's jokes, can I?