The Fighting Mongoose

Philosophy, n. A route of many roads leading from nowhere to nothing. -Ambrose Bierce
A group weblog by the graduate philosophy students at the University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee

Tuesday, October 31, 2006

Here's something from an email I sent to Adam:

"One approaches metaphysical inquiry with a number of beliefs. Many of these will not trace back to empirical beliefs, at least not in any direct way. These beliefs may be particular, as for example the belief that I was once a young boy, or they may be more general and theoretical, for example the belief that identity is transitive. One then develops a theory preserving as many of these ordinary beliefs as possible, while remaining consistent with science. There is a familiar give and take: one must be prepared to sacrifice some beliefs one initially held in order to develop a satisfying theoretical account. But a theoretical account should take ordinary belief as a whole seriously, for only ordinary beliefs tie down the inquiry."

Theodore Sider, Four-Dimensionalism

Now, I realize that such a methodology is not one that is exclusive to contemporary analytic metaphysics. Also, I am ready to admit that this may not be the best or even appropriate form of inquiry. However, I am suspicious of those positions that seem dismissive of this sort of project. Again, I may just be interpreting the continentals incorrectly, but it just doesn't seem to me that guys like Nietzsche, Heidegger, and the German idealists (as well as those crazy French postmoderns) are interested in engaging in the above-mentioned investigation. If it happens to be the case that they are, then I'll go and take a look at what they have to say. If not, I am still open to what their reasons may be as to why such a program as the one mentioned here might be wrong or ill-conceived.

Thursday, October 19, 2006

When I worked at my parents' store last summer, I'd bring along something to read to pass the time. I'd read stuff with "metaphysics," or "epistemology" in the title. Customers would come in and ask me what I'm studying in school. I'd tell them that I'm studying philosophy. There'd be a five second silence before they would inevitably ask, "What do you study in philosophy?"

I realized that this question is extraordinarily difficult to answer when the person who's asking barely finished high school, and the vast majority of my parents' customers fell into that category. Most anything that one would study, no matter how abstruse, can always be generalized into something familiar. Quantum mechanics can be restated as "physics," Hellenistic archaeology could be translated as "history," and Victorian literature can be described as "English." However, "philosophy" is about as general as you can get, and even there people are in the dark about what that is. It seems that very few public primary and secondary schools would have a class that would even remotely resemble a philosophy class. So people really have no way of even formulating an adequate concept of philosophy, much less finding any value in the subject.

The situation improves somewhat for people with a college education, but not by much. At this point, individuals have something of an idea of what philosophy is. They may have even taken a few courses. But for the most part, people still find no value in the study of philosophy. The number one question I get from these folks is, "What are you going to do with a philosophy degree?" Some may ask this question with the sincere intention of finding out what philosophers do in the real world, but most ask in that tone of voice implying that philosophy is about at useful for life as a call to Miss Cleo is.

However, others may be pleased to find out that I study philosophy, and, thinking themselves to be conversant in philosophy will then ask me some question like who my favorite philosophers are. They're expecting to hear names like Plato, Aristotle, Augustine, Aquinas, Descartes, Locke, Hume, Kant, Hegel, Nietzche, etc. I proceed to drop names like Saul Kripke, Alvin Plantinga, David Lewis, Brian Leftow, Ted Sider, John Hawthorne, Dean Zimmerman, Rod Chisholm, Willard Quine, Peter van Inwagen, Trenton Merricks, Lynne Rudder Baker, etc. Of course after I say this we again find ourselves in those five seconds of silence.

It's not like these names are obscure, either. Imagine someone (we'll name him Bob) who's only contact with basketball is some book about the history of basketball. You, as a basketball fan, happen to find yourself in a casual, dinner party conversation wth Bob. Bob asks you who your favorite basketball players are. He's expecting to hear names like George Mikan, Bill Russell, Wilt Chamberlain, Jerry West, Kareem Abdul-Jabbar, Larry Bird, Magic Johnson, Michael Jordan, etc. You give him names like Lebron James, Steve Nash, Dwayne Wade, Tim Duncan, Dirk Nowitzski, Shaquile O'Neal, etc. The situation is analogous in philosophy. Grad students follow philosophers like professional athletes. We should make philosopher trading cards.

Of course the interested individual mentioned above may, instead of asking about my favorite philosophers, ask about the kind of philosophy I study. Again, what this person may be expecting to hear will likely be very different from what I am about to tell him/her. Most people don't realize that the type of philosophy that I study is closer to physics, math and linguistics than it is to guys wearing togas and shooting the shit around the agora.

The point of all this is to reveal the prominent gap between the layperson and the professional when it comes to familiarity about what philosophy is and what it is supposed to do. I attribute this gap to the fact that philosophy is nowhere to be seen in elementary, middle, or high schools. Why is this? Why don't they teach philosophy in schools? It's not like biology, american history, shakespeare, or trigonometry will be "practical" to those who will find careers in middle management or customer service. So why not teach kids to think independently at an early age?

Saturday, October 14, 2006

The Leiter Reports have been giving previews of the upcoming Philosophical Gourmet. Here are the top 20 schools for metaphysics and epistemology (which include phil language, phil mind, metaphysics, epistemology, philosophy of action, philosophical logic, and phil religion).

1. Oxford University (4.3)

2. New York University (3.9)

2. Rutgers University, New Brunswick (3.9)

4. University of Notre Dame (3.8)

5. University of Texas, Austin (3.5)

6. Massachussetts Institute of Technology (3.4)

6. Princeton University (3.4)

6. University of St. Andrews/University of Stirling Joint Program (3.4)

9. University of California, Los Angeles (3.3)

10. Stanford University (3.2)

10. University of Pittsburgh (3.2)

10. University of Southern California (3.2)

13. Cornell University (3.1)

13. University of California, Berkeley (3.1)

13. University of North Carolina, Chapel Hill (3.1)

13. Yale University (3.1)

17. University of Michigan, Ann Arbor (3.0)

18. City University of New York Graduate Center (2.9)

18. Columbia University (2.9)

18. Indiana University, Bloomington (2.9)

18. University of California, Riverside (2.9)

18. University of Massachussetts, Amherst (2.9)

Geez. Most of these schools are nearly impossible to get into (with funding). Maybe I should change my interests over to applied ethics or something.

Thursday, October 05, 2006

1) An infant has the same moral worth as it did the day before it was born, and this carries back (at least) through most of the third trimester of pregnancy.

2) During most of the third trimester, labor can be artificially induced with a high survival rate.

3) Therefore, either (non-medically needed) third trimester abortions are immoral or infanticide is moral.

It seems that there is no reason to think that the process of birth adds any moral value to a child. The usual moral grounding for abortion is that a woman has rights to control her body, and I’m sure many of us are familiar with the Violinist example: . The third trimester gives us a different position than the Violinist however, because a woman could “disconnect” without necessitating death. I cannot find any reason then why a woman could not maintain control of her body with a lesser right to have labor induced and simply leave the child for adoption.

Maintaining the right to third trimester abortions then would be a right beyond control of one’s body and be a right to end the life of the child independent of its relation to one’s body. If we wish to say that the moral value of the third trimester child is so low, then it seems that we should simply say that infanticide is permissible.

I find it hard to see an argument for another pro-choice position, but maybe someone can enlighten me.