Tuesday, September 30, 2014

Philosophical SF (Science Fiction / Speculative Fiction): Four Lists and a Project

I'm increasingly convinced that science fiction, or more broadly, "speculative fiction" is a powerful philosophical tool. The specificity of the possibilities considered, and its emotional and imagistic power, engages parts of the mind that more abstract forms of speculation leave hungry. Possibilities are livened, affecting how we think about them.

Suppose you agree.  What might you want to read (or watch)?

A couple dozen professional philosophers who enjoy SF, and two SF writers with graduate training in philosophy, have agreed to offer me lists of ten "personal favorite" works of philosophically interesting SF, along with brief "pitches" pointing toward the works' philosophical interest. I'll be rolling out these lists four at a time on the blog.  At the end, I will compile a mega-list of all the lists, as well as some observations about the aggregate results.

I emphasize that individuals' lists are not intended as thoroughly researched "top ten" lists -- just suggestions of some works that the contributors have enjoyed and found philosophically engaging.

If you are a professional philosopher (or an SF writer with graduate training in philosophy) and you would like to contribute a list, email me. (Corrections are also welcome.)

Any reader who wishes to add one or more suggested works to the comments section, please feel free!

So, the first four lists:


List from Joshua Dever (Associate Professor of Philosophy, University of Texas at Austin):

Mark Danielewski, House of Leaves (novel, 2000). The opening of chapter 4 is a beautiful test case in whether a tiny datum can drive a massive theory change.

Samuel Delany, Dhalgren and Triton (novels, 1975 and 1976). Explorations of just about every imaginable alternative sociological and political structure and theory.

Philip K. Dick, Radio Free Albemuth (novel, 1976). Time stopped in the first century AD, and restarted in 1945. Come up with a theory of time to make that consistent!

Russell Hoban, Riddley Walker (novel, 1980). Like that Star Trek episode “Darmak”, except, you know, good. Also, best post-apocalyptic novel ever by a significant author of children’s literature.

Sigizmund Krzhizhanovsky, “Quadraturin” (short story, 192-something). There’s a superabundance of science fiction about weird physics and metaphysics of time, but a disappointing dearth of the same with space. This is an exception.

Ursula K. Le Guin, “The Author of the Acacia Seeds, and Other Extracts from the Journal of the Association of Therolinguistics” and “The Ones Who Walk Away From Omelas” (short stories, 1982 and 1973). The first: always nice when science fiction remembers that linguistics is a science. The second: a powerful counterexample, but note only to certain forms of consequentialism. Think of it as an argument for good social choice theory.

China Miéville, Embassytown and The City & The City (novels, 2011 and 2009). The first is a fun, if a bit clunky, bit of exploratory philosophy of language. The second is a particularly adventurous instance of exploratory metaphysics.

Thomas Pynchon, Mason & Dixon, Episode 19 (portion of a novel, 1997). The story of the missing eleven days resulting from the transition from the Julian to the Gregorian calendar. More fun metaphysics of time, plus a bit of philosophies of language and gender.

David Foster Wallace, Infinite Jest (novel, 1996). Philosophy by virtue of mentioning “Montague Grammar and the Semantics of Physical Modality”, science fiction by virtue of being set in the Year of the Depend Adult Undergarmet, fun by virtue of including basically everything in between.

H.G. Wells, “The Remarkable Case of Davidson’s Eyes” (short story, 1895). The definitive counterexample to immunity to error through misidentification.


List from Lewis Powell (Assistant Professor of Philosophy at University at Buffalo, SUNY)

Leonard Richardson, Constellation Games (novel, 2012): Aliens make first contact, and Ariel Blum’s first reaction is to hope that they’ll let us play their video games. They do. The novel is much better than this premise would lead you to expect. Examines issues in social/political philosophy concerning scarcity of resources (and post-scarcity societies), anarchism and social organization, the (dis)value of immortality, and the role of art and games in human life.

Ursula K. Le Guin, The Dispossessed (novel, 1974): A gripping story investigating a society that has embraced and internalized a full-blown communalism. Examines issues of privacy and property, and the individual’s relationship to society.

Ursula K. Le Guin, The Left Hand of Darkness (novel, 1969): first contact story about someone encountering a society with radically different manifestations of gender roles, sexuality, and social norms. Examines issues of gender and sexuality, as well as love and friendship.

Ted Chiang, “Hell is the Absence of God” (short story, 2001): Story set in a world where everyone has concrete evidence of the existence of God and an afterlife, but no better understanding of why there is suffering. Examines issues in philosophy of religion, epistemology, the problem of evil and divine hiddenness.

Ted Chiang, “Division By Zero” (short story, 1991): one of the few works I’ve seen of mathematical science fiction (rather than empirical science fiction), impressive treatment of the possibility that arithmetic is inconsistent.

Ted Chiang, “Story of Your Life” / “Evolution of Human Science” (short stories, 1998/2000): These stories are very different, but both raise fascinating questions about the nature of science, the role of humans in science, and the consequences of dealing with scientific progress that exceeds the understanding of individual humans.

PD James/Alfonso Cuaron, The Children of Men (novel, 1992/movie, 2006): While there are a number of plot differences between the film and the book, both do an excellent job of investigating reactions to an existential threat to humanity arising from total infertility.

Star Trek: The Next Generation, “Who Watches the Watchers” / “First Contact” / “Thine Own Self” (tv episodes, 1989/1991/1994): The prime directive (non-interference with less advanced civilizations) is one of the most fascinating elements from Star Trek. These episodes do an excellent job of exploring the ethics of non-interference and undisclosed observation, and raise questions about the withholding of beneficial advances required by it.

Mary Shelley, Frankenstein (novel, 1818): It seems almost unnecessary to list this work, which is such a widely read classic. Shelley’s tale of the “modern Prometheus” does an exceptional job of raising questions about the nature of humanity and the ethics of creating life.

China Miéville, Embassytown (novel, 2011): A novel about people trying to interact with an alien race who think and communicate in a fundamentally different manner than us. A more sophisticated take on this concept than the TNG episode Darmok, and with considerably more interest for philosophers of language.


List from Amy Kind (Professor of Philosophy, Claremont McKenna College) (short stories only):

Isaac Asimov, “Evidence” (1946). Probes the plausibility of the Turing Test.

Jorge Luis Borges, “The Immortal” (1947). An intriguing exploration of why immortality may not be quite what we’d bargained for; pairs well with Bernard Williams’ “The Makropulos Case: Reflections on the Tedium of Immortality.”

Octavia Butler, “Bloodchild” (1995). Explores the nature of gender roles via a story about an alien race who need humans for procreative purposes.

Arthur Clarke, “The Nine Billion Names of God” (1953). Could God’s having a purpose for us provide our lives with meaningfulness?

Greg Egan, “The Infinite Assassin” (1991). How are we related to our counterparts throughout the multiverse?

Lois Gould, “X: A Fabulous Child’s Story” (1972). What role does gender identity play in our lives? What would life be like without it?

Ursula K. Le Guin, “Nine Lives” (1968). What is it like to be a clone? And more specifically, what is it like to have one’s connection to other clones severed after having been raised together with them?

John Morressy, “Except My Life3” (1991). Another story probing questions of identity via consideration of what life might be like when you’re one of a set of closely connected clones.

Norman Spinrad, “The Weed of Time” (1970). What would it be like to experience time in a non-linear fashion?

Roger Zelazny, “For a Breath I Tarry” (1966). A beautiful depiction of a machine’s quest to understand what it is like to be human. (See also Isaac Asimov’s novella, Bicentennial Man and Kurt Vonnegut’s “EPICAC”)


List from Steven Horst (Chair of Philosophy, Wesleyan University)

C.S. Lewis, Space Trilogy (Out of the Silent Planet / Perelandra / That Hideous Strength (novels, 1938-1945). Notable for using the sci-fi genre to explore Christian ideas of the fall, intelligent aliens, angels, celestial intelligences, magic, and the dangers of totalitarianism wrapped in the mantle of science.

Neal Stephenson, The Baroque Cycle (Quicksilver / The Confusion / The System of the World (novels, 2003-2005). Set as historical novels and developed around the core of interactions between Newton and Leibniz, explores the origins of modern systems of science and finance in counterpoint with alchemical memes.

Neal Stephenson, Anathem (novel, 2008). At the risk of a major spoiler, this book explores ideas of the quantum multiverse, with the added bonus that some characters are stand-ins for the views of people like Husserl, Gödel, and Bohr.

Madeline L’Engle, A Wrinkle in Time / A Wind in the Door / A Swiftly Tilting Planet (novels, 1962-1978). This may have been my first introduction to science fiction as a child, and while it is not the most intellectually challenging series about time travel (and dimensional travel, in the case of the memorable Cherubim that is both singular and plural), it is perhaps still the most memorable and endearing.

Andy & Lana Wachowski, The Matrix (movie, 1999). Not only the most influential movie about virtual reality, but one that implicitly poses interesting questions about what counts as “real”, as the Matrix-world is both the world we assume to be reality and is thoroughly intersubjective.

Larry Niven, Ringworld and sequels (novels, starting 1970). An enormous engineered world encircling a distant star provides a context for exploration of the variability of the human phenotype and contrasts with two alien species and a third that turns out to not be as alien as we first imagine.

Star Trek: The Next Generation, “The Measure of a Man” (TV episode, 1989). The trial to determine whether the Android Data is a person or the property of Star Fleet provides the context for an engaging exploration of personhood and artificial life.

Battlestar Galactica (TV series, 2003-2009). Over six seasons, we are drawn into an increasingly complicated dialectic about the original metallic Cylons, the Cylon “skin jobs”, and by implication, the nature of humanity and personhood, as well as some teaser forays into shared virtual reality that were to be explored in the uncompleted prequel series Caprica.

Fred Hoyle, The Black Cloud (novel, 1957). The late British astronomer’s novel starts out looking like a novel about a disaster from deep space, but takes a turn to explore the prospects of communication with an alien intelligence very different from ourselves.

J.R.R. Tolkien, “Ainulindalë” (in The Silmarillion, published 1977). Tolkien’s Neo-Platonic creation myth puts the rest of the stories about Middle Earth in a distinctly different cosmic context, hints of which can be seen in the better-known works only after one has read the cosmic “backstory”.


More lists later this week!

Thursday, September 25, 2014

Three Kinds of Transparency in Self-Knowledge (Or Maybe 1 3/4 Kinds); and How the World Looks If You're Disagreeable

Transparency is a fun concept, as applied in the recent philosophical literature on self-knowledge (e.g., here; see also these past posts). I want to extend the transparency metaphor to self-knowledge of personality traits, where philosophers haven't yet taken it (to my knowledge).

First, the established versions:

Transparency 1: Sensory experience. As G.E. Moore and Gilbert Harman have noticed, when you try to attend to your visual experience you (usually? inevitably?) end up attending to external objects instead (or at least in addition). Attend to your experience of the computer screen. In some sense it seems like your attention slips right through the experience itself, lodging upon the screen.

Transparency 2: Attitudes. As Gareth Evans notices, when someone asks you if you think there will be a third world war, you typically answer by thinking about the outside world -- about the likelihood of war -- rather than by turning your attention inward toward your own mental states. More contentiously, thinking about whether you want ice cream also seems to involve, mostly, thinking about the world -- about the advantages and disadvantages of eating ice cream.

In both types of case, you learn about yourself by attending to the outside world. One feature of this metaphor that I especially like is that you can learn about distortions in yourself by noticing features of the world that don't align with your general knowledge. Gazing through a window, if the trees are a weird color, you know the window is tinted; if the trees wiggle around as you shift head position, you know the window is warped. If the lamplights at night radiate spears, you've learned something about distortions in your vision. If your paper is The Best Thing Ever Published, you've learned something about your egocentric bias.

This brings me to:

Transparency 3: Personality. Since I think personality traits and attitudes are basically the same thing, I regard Transparency 3 as a natural extension of Transparency 2. (And since 2 and 1 are also related, maybe we have 1 3/4 kinds of transparency rather than three kinds.) To find out if you're the kind of person who loves children, think about children. To find out if you're an extravert, think about parties. Since your personality colors your view of the world, one way to learn about your personality is to look at a relevant part of the world and notice its color. (You can also consider your past behavior; or directly try a label on for size; or ask friends for their frank opinion of you. Transparency-style reflection on the world isn't the only, or even always a very good, route to self-knowledge.)

This approach might work especially well for the "Big Five" personality trait Agreeableness. "Agreeable" people are those who self-rate, or are rated by others, as being concerned for other people, interested in them, sympathetic, helpful. Several recent studies suggest that people who self-rate as agreeable tend also to be more likely to rate others as agreeable (sympathetic, helpful, etc.), and also to rate other people positively in other ways too, especially if the other person is not very well known. If you're a sweetheart, the world seems to be full mostly of sweethearts and interesting people; if you're a jerk, the world seems to be full of jerks and fools. What I'm proposing to call the transparency approach to self-knowledge of personality simply involves running this observation the other direction: From the fact that the world seems full of uninteresting and disagreeable people, infer that you are a disagreeable person; from the fact that the world seems full of warm, loving, interesting people, infer that you are a relatively sympathetic, concerned person.

Now it would be really interesting if it turned out that these sorts of perceiver effects were actually better predictors of underlying personality as constituted by patterns of real-world behavior than are the typical self-rating scales used in personality psychology -- but it's probably too much to hope that the world would align so neatly with my own theoretical biases. (Hm, what does that last judgment reveal about my personality?)

Tuesday, September 23, 2014

Network Analysis of the Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy

Andrew Higgins has sent me several interesting social network analyses based on my son's and my recent citation analyses from the Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy.

First, some pretty pictures, then some explanations. I can't embed the hi-res pictures properly in this narrow-column post, so please right-click to "open link in new tab" for the full view, then zoom in and out, scrolling around. If you want pictures hi-res enough to read even the smallest font entries, I've posted them here, here, and here.

First, SEP cited authors:

Next, SEP articles:
Finally, SEP top 100 cited authors and top 200 articles:
So, what do these networks represent?

The closer two authors or articles are, the closer together they are in the social/intellectual network, as measured by overlap in citation. For authors, they are closer if they tend to be cited together in the same entries. For articles, they are closer if they tend to cite the same authors.

For the authors, the larger the font, the more they have been cited. The transition of label colors from black to blue to purple to red indicates increasing "centrality" to the network, where "centrality" is a combination of three factors: (a.) how much the author (or, for articles, the authors it cites) is cited in other SEP entries, (b.) how much the author is cited by more "central" articles specifically, and (c.) the extent to which an author or article constitutes a "short path" between more remote nodes (e.g., Popper and Putnam on the path between the philosophy-of-mind cluster and the philosophy-of-science cluster, being cited in both areas). Citation rate and centrality tend to correlate but sometimes diverge, as in the case of Sartre and Nagel (middle center of the authors graph), with Nagel more cited but Sartre more central.

In the articles graph, font size and color indicate how many references the article includes; in the other graphs, the articles' font has been minimized.

Finally, here's a picture of the network broken down into six groups of authors and articles, determined by network proximity, using a modularity measure that detects the most natural groupings of nodes (labeled manually based on Higgins's judgment about the general theme of each group). Line thickness and color represents the strength of the between-group connections. Numbers and node size indicate the number of authors and articles represented by each group. :

The thing that I [ES] am most struck by is how the detailed layouts of authors and articles, despite being generated by a purely mechanical procedure, seem to fairly accurately reflect my own subjective impressions about sociological group relationships in the discipline.

If you have questions about how the results were generated, please feel free to contact Andrew directly. I'm hoping, too, that he'll check the comments section of this post for the next week or two.

Update, September 24:

Check out this one too, from InPho DataBlog in 2012 (HT Colin Allen).

Wednesday, September 17, 2014

The MacArthur Drought in Philosophy

See here.  The last MacArthur "genius" fellowship awarded to someone they classified as philosopher was in 1993.

On the whole, scholars outside of philosophy tend, I think, not to see much value in what most professional philosophers do.  The MacArthur drought is one reflection and measure of that.

Not that prizes matter.  Sheesh.  We're too busy thinking about important stuff like whether the external world exists (82% of target faculty agree that it does).  The MacArthur folks probably think that climate change is a more important topic.  But if the external world doesn't exist then the climate can't change, can it now?  So there!

Tuesday, September 16, 2014

Use of "She" and "He" in Philosopher's Index Abstracts

The Philosopher's Index has long been the standard database of philosophy articles (though that might soon change, with PhilPapers mounting an impressive challenge). As one measure of the greater visibility of men than women in philosophy, I looked at the rates at which "she" and "he" appear in the Philosopher's Index article abstracts from 1940 to the present.

One interesting thing about analyzing abstracts is that mentioning someone in an abstract implies a high degree of attention to that person -- much higher than is implied by a passing reference (the usual target of bibliometric analysis). Moreover, if the abstract contains a pronoun, that implies that the person is being mentioned at least twice in the course of summarizing the article's content (first with proper name, then later with pronoun).

Here are the ratios in a graph:

[click to enlarge]

In the 1940s, there were 293 abstracts containing the word "he" and 5 containing the word "she", a ratio of 59:1. So far in the present decade it's 5465 to 883, about 6:1 -- a large and fairly steady decline. However, even corrected to a logarithmic scale, it looks like the decline might be slowing (it's hard to be sure).

What does a 6:1 current ratio of "he" to "she" indicate? To explore this a bit more, I looked at usage patterns in 2013, randomly selecting 100 articles containing "he" and 100 articles containing "she".

Among the 100 "she" usages in 2013, 37 employed "she" with apparent generic, gender-neutral intent (e.g., "whenever an agent acts, she tries or wills to act"); 47 referred to a specific individual (usually a contemporary author whose view was being discussed); 8 used the phrase "he or she" or "he/she"; 6 were third-person references to the author herself; and 2 referred to a non-specific woman (e.g., to the mother in an article on surrogate pregnacy).

Among the 100 "he" usages, 7 employed "he" with apparent gender-neutral intent (e.g., "a doxastic state comprises the doxastic commitments an agent would recognise were he fully aware"); 86 referred to a specific individual (contemporary or historical); 2 used "he or she" or "he/she"; 2 were third-person references to the author himself; and 3 referred to God.

If we take these two 100-samples from 2013 as representative of the current decade, then we can multiply back by total occurrences in 2010-2014 to estimate a couple of interesting frequencies. 54.65 x 86 = an estimated 4700 occasions, so far this decade, in which a man's work is discussed centrally enough in the abstract for the author to employ the pronoun, compared to 8.83 x 47 = an estimated 415 occurrences for women -- about an 11:1 ratio of discussions of men to discussions of women. Thus, we can see that that the 6:1 ratio was actually somewhat misleadingly egalitarian if taken as a measure of discussion targets, due to fact that about half of the occurrences of "she" in the abstracts were using the generic "she" or "he or she".

(I also examined the 5 "she" abstracts and a random 100 "he" abstracts from the 1940s. "She" referred to an individual once, was used in a general "he or she" once, and was a third-person reference to the author 3 times. "He" was used with apparent gender-neutral intent 4 times, in a "he or she" once, to refer to a specific individual 17 times, and to refer to the author himself 78 times. In the 1940s, abstracts were much more likely to be written in the third person, and they were generally shorter, offering less occasion for a pronoun reference to an individual who is a target of discussion.)

We can also compare rates of generic "he" and "she" usage in the 2010s. It looks like "he" and "she" as (supposedly) gender-neutral pronouns are about equally common in current philosophical usage, while "he or she" and "he/she" were about half as common: "he" 54.65 x 7 = est. 383; vs. "she" 8.83 x 37 = est. 323; vs. "he or she"/"he/she" 54.65 x 2 + 8.83 x 8 = est. 180. (My sample contained no instances of "she or he" or "she/he".)

"They", of course, is more clearly gender neutral, though the formal propriety of its use in the singular remains unfortunately controversial, and I could find no clear instances of the singular "they" used in a sample of 100 "they"-containing abstracts from 2013 (e.g., no usages like "a doxastic state comprises the doxastic commitments an agent would recognise were they fully aware").

Friday, September 12, 2014

Council of UC Faculty Associations Statement on "Civility" and Academic Freedom

Just found this in my inbox:

On Friday Sept. 5, Chancellor Dirks of UC Berkeley circulated an open statement to his campus community that sought to define the limits of appropriate debate at Berkeley. Issued as the campus approaches the 50th anniversary of the Free Speech Movement, Chancellor Dirks' statement, with its evocation of civility, echoes language recently used by the Chancellor of the University of Illinois, Urbana and the Board of Trustees of the University of Illinois (especially its Chair Christopher Kennedy) concerning the refused appointment of Steven Salaita. It also mirrors language in the effort by the University of Kansas Board of Regents to regulate social media speech and the Penn State administration's new statement on civility. Although each of these administrative statements have responded to specific local events, the repetitive invocation of "civil" and "civility" to set limits to acceptable speech bespeaks a broader and deeper challenge to intellectual freedom on college and university campuses.

CUCFA Board has been gravely concerned about the rise of this discourse on civility in the past few months, but we never expected it to come from the Chancellor of UC Berkeley, the birthplace of the Free Speech Movement. To define “free speech and civility” as “two sides of the same coin,” and to distinguish between “free speech and political advocacy” as Chancellor Dirk does in his text, not only turns things upside down, but it does so in keeping with a relentless erosion of shared governance in the UC system, and the systemic downgrading of faculty’s rights and prerogatives. Chancellor Dirks errs when he conflates free speech and civility because, while civility and the exercise of free speech may coexist harmoniously, the right to free speech not only permits, but is designed to protect uncivil speech. Similarly, Chancellor Dirks is also wrong when he affirms that there exists a boundary between “free speech and political advocacy” because political advocacy is the apotheosis of free speech, and there is no “demagoguery” exception to the First Amendment.

Before the slippery slope of civility discourse we remark that the right to free speech is not limited to allowing the act of speaking or engaging in communicative actions to express ideas publicly, nor is it contingent on the notion that anyone else needs to listen, agree, speak back, or “feel safe.” The right to free speech is constituted through prohibitions on the infringement of speech by the state and other public institutions and officials. Moreover, while civility is an ideal—and a good one—free speech is a right. The right to free speech does not dissipate because it is exercised in un-ideal (un-civil) ways.

Second, we underline that the right to freely speak on public and institutional issues is one of the three pillars of academic freedom. Academic freedom is a specific—though not exclusive—right of professors. The three pillars of academic freedom that extend to individual members of the professorate are: (1) the freedom to conduct and disseminate scholarly research; (2) the freedom to design courses and teach students in the areas of their expertise; and (3) the right to free speech as laid out in the 1940 Statement of Principles of Tenure and Academic Freedom which in this context prohibits the professional penalization of professors for extramural speech. Ensuing from academic freedom is the right and duty of faculty to decide, collaboratively and individually, standards and thresholds for teaching and research, without interference from administrators, alumni, or donors. Those determinations are based on standards of scholarly excellence and achievement, which manifest through hiring, academic publishing, and peer review processes in which an individual’s academic record is judged by peers. Those who administer institutions of higher learning bear a responsibility for the protection of academic freedom, which includes free speech in the ways described here.

The University of California bears an especial burden to respect these rights. For the rights of academic freedom and the 1st Amendment right to free speech cohere in a way peculiar to a public university. As a public university the University of California is called upon to affirm not only the guild rights of Academic Freedom but the more expansive rights of the 1st Amendment—which after all, are possessed by students and staff as well as faculty.

On the basis of all of the above, CUCFA Board deems necessary to release the following declaration and to ask its members, and all UC faculty to press their Senates to pass it as a resolution:

Taking note of the concurrent rapid growth in non-academic administrative positions in most colleges and universities and the significant reductions in state/government funding for public universities during the last decade,

Concerned by numerous accounts across the United States of senior administrators, management, boards of trustees, regents and other non-academic bodies attempting to influence, supervise and in some cases over-rule academic hiring, tenure and promotion decisions, as well as policy and evaluatory decisions traditionally under the purview of Academic Senate and other faculty bodies,

Concerned further by the attempts of senior administrators in the UC system and at many universities across the United States to narrow the boundaries of academic freedom and permissible speech by faculty, students and other members of the university community, and, in particular by the inappropriate and misleading appeal to concepts like “civility” and “collegiality,” deceptively used to limit the “right” to free speech, and as criteria for hiring, tenure, promotion and even disciplinary procedures,

We reaffirm,

That all professional evaluations related to hiring, tenure, and promotions of either present or potential faculty are the sole purview of designated committees composed of faculty members, department chairs, and deans as peers and/or academic supervisors of anyone under review and/or evaluation,

That senior campus and University/system-wide administrators, as well as Regents and other governing boards, or donors to the university and/or its foundation(s), do not have any right to interfere in these processes, and that final decisions on appointment and promotion must be based solely on information in the candidate's file that is related to established categories of teaching, research, and service and that has been added by established procedures of peer academic review.

That we oppose any insinuation that civility, per se, be added either formally or informally as a valid category in the academic personnel process, as well as any attempt by external parties, including donors to the university, government officials, or other forces, to interfere in any personnel decisions, especially through the threat of withholding donations or investments should certain academic policies or personnel decisions be made.


(CUCFA -- The Council of University of California Faculty Associations -- is a coordinating and service agency for the several individual Faculty Associations -- associations of UC Senate faculty -- on the separate campuses of the University of California, and it represents them to all state- or university-wide agencies on issues of common concern. It gathers and disseminates information on issues before the legislative and executive branches of California's government, other relevant state units dealing with higher education, the University administration, and the Board of Regents.)


Personal note: I [ES] think the final clause is too strongly put, if it's intended to express the view that civility should never be a factor in hiring decisions. In my view, it's sometimes reasonable, in hiring, to consider factors like collegiality and the type of classroom atmosphere that a professor encourages, and civility can sometimes be a factor in that.

Wednesday, September 10, 2014

Skill and Disability in Zhuangzi

Shelley Tremain and the NewAPPS "ableism" controversy have me thinking about disability. One of the most interesting philosophers of disability, rarely mentioned in this connection, is the ancient Chinese philosopher Zhuangzi.

At first blush, Zhuangzi might seem an unlikely critic of ableism (prejudice against people with disabilities). Two of the most visible recent Anglophone interpreters of Chinese philosophy, A.C. Graham and P.J. Ivanhoe both defend "skillfulness" interpretations of Zhuangzi, according to which what Zhuangzi most values is a kind of skillful responsiveness to the world that goes beyond what can be captured in words -- like the skill of a diver or a master wheelwright. You might think, then, that Zhuangzi's ideal would be the renowned, competitive athlete or the strong, healthy, elite craftworker (cf. early Yangism which emphasizes preserving the body; N.B. neither Graham nor Ivanhoe take the skillfulness interpretation in this direction).

I've criticized the skillfulness interpretation of Zhuangzi twice already on this blog. What I want to highlight now is how frequently Zhuangzi offers disabled people as positive exemplars, and how that might connect to his views about skill and conventional values.

The number of physically disabled exemplars is quite striking, given the brevity of the core text (Ch. 1-7). Here are some (Ziporyn, trans., with a couple modifications):

* When Gongwen Xuan saw the Commander of the Right he was astonished. "What manner of man are you, that you are so singularly one-legged? Is this the doing of Heaven or of man?" He answered, "It is of Heaven, not man. When Heaven generates any 'this,' it always makes it singular, but man groups every appearance with something else" (3.6).

* In the expiation ceremony, cows with white spots, pigs with upturned snouts, and humans with hemorrhoids are considered unfit to be offered as sacrifices to the river god. All shamans know this, and they thus regard these as creatures of bad fortune. But this is exactly why the Spirit Man regards them as creatures of very good fortune indeed! (4.18)

* Now Shu the Discombobulated was like this: his chin was tucked into his navel, his shoulders towered over the crown of his head, his ponytail pointed toward the sky, his five internal organs were at the top of him, his thigh bones took the place of his ribs. With sewing and washing, he could make enough to fill his mouth.... When the authorities called for troops... his chronic condition exempted him from service. When the authorities handed out rations to the disabled, he got three large measures of grain and ten bundles of firewood. A discombobulated physical form was sufficient to allow him to nourish his body... And how much more can be accomplished with discombobulated Virtue! (4.18)

* In the state of Lu there was a man called Wang Tai whose foot had been chopped off as a punishment. Yet somehow he had as many followers are Confucius himself. Chang Ji questioned Confucius about it. "Wang Tai is a one-footed ex-con, and yet his followers divide the state of Lu with you, Master. When he stands he offers no instructions, and when he sits he gives no opinions. And yet, they go to him empty and return filled.... What kind of man is he?" Confucius said, "That man... is a sage. Only my procrastination has kept me from going to follow him myself" (5.1-5.2)

* "Many two-footed people laugh at me for having one foot, which always used to infuriate me. But as soon as I arrived here at our master's place, my rage fell away.... I have studied under him for nineteen years and never once have I been aware that I was one-footed. Here you and I wander together beyond shapes and bodies -- is it not wrong of you to seek me within a particular body and shape?" (5.12)

* Duke Ai of Lu consulted with Confucius, saying, "There's this ugly man in Wei named Horsehead Humpback. When men are with him, they can think of nothing else and find themselves unable to depart. When women see him, they plead with their parents, saying they would rather be this man's concubine than any other man's wife.... And yet he's never been heard to initiate anything of his own with them, instead just chiming in with whatever they're already doing. He has no position of power... and no stash of wealth... and on top of that he's ugly enough to startle all the world.... In the end I prevailed upon him to accept control of the state. But before long he left me and vanished. I was terribly depressed, as if a loved one had died, unable to take any pleasure in my power. What kind of man is this?" (5.13).

* Suddenly, Ziyu took ill. Ziji went to see him. Ziyu said, "How great is the Creator of Things, making me all tangled up like this!" For his chin was tucked into his navel, his shoulders towered over the crown of his head, his ponytail pointed toward the sky.... He hobbled over to the well to get a look at his reflection. "Wow!" he said. "The Creator of Things has really gone and tangled me up!" Ziji said, "Do you dislike it?" Ziyu said, "Not at all. What is there to dislike? Perhaps he will transform my left arm into a rooster; thereby I'll be announcing the dawn.... Perhaps he will transform my ass into wheels and my spirit into a horse; thereby I'll be riding along -- will I need any other vehicle?" (6.39)
Now you might or you might not like how Zhuangzi is portraying disability in these passages; regardless it's clear that disability plays a substantial role in Zhuangzi's thinking.

I believe that Zhuangzi's positive portrayal of disabled people is of a piece with his positive portrayal of other disvalued groups in his era, including women, criminals, members of remote tribes, and people practicing the "lower" crafts, and that this in turn fits with his rejection of conventional evaluations generally, including the conventional evaluations of the four main schools of thought to which he reacted: the Confucians (valuing duty to family and state), the Mohists (valuing usefulness and practical benefit), the Yangists (valuing health and long life), and the logicians (valuing clear categorization and rational thought).

But I think Zhuangzi's emphasis on disability also has a specific connection to what I view as his critique of skill. Skillful action implies a standard of success and failure; and Zhuangzi is suspicious of such standards. The weasel is great at catching rats, but ends up dead in a net (1.14); Huizi was a great master of logic and Zhao Wen of the zither, but it is not clear whether they really accomplished anything worthwhile (2.27); archery contests start as tests of skill but devolve into wrangling (4.14). So what is successful by one standard fails by another. It's not that all these activities fail by the one true, absolute standard. Rather, there is no one true, absolute standard for Zhuangzi. Zhuangzi even repeatedly challenges the general assumption that life is preferable to death (3.7, 6.25, 6.46-47, 2.41 ["How do I know that in hating death I am not like an orphan who left home in youth and no longer knows the way back?"]).

By presenting disabled people as equal to or even superior to the non-disabled people around them, Zhuangzi is challenging conventional ideas about success and failure, about what is good and what is bad, and about what skills and abilities are worth having.

Zhuangzi also gives us this striking story about trying to force a standard appearance and set of abilities upon an unusual person:

The emperor of the southern sea was called Swoosh. The emperor of the northern sea was called Oblivion. The emperor of the middle was called Chaos. Swoosh and Oblivion would sometimes meet in the territory of Chaos, who always attended to them quite well. They decided to repay Chaos for his virtue. "All men have seven holes in them, by means of which they see, hear, eat, and breathe," they said. "But this one alone has none. Let's drill him some." So each day they drilled another hole. After seven days, Chaos was dead (7.14-15).
It is on this note that the Inner Chapters, the authentic core of the Zhuangzi, ends.

Revised Sept. 11

Wednesday, September 03, 2014

Philosophy Is Incredibly White -- but This Does Not Make It Unusual Among the Humanities

Tina Fernandes Botts and colleagues have recently posted a fascinating analysis of the shockingly low numbers of black- or African-American- identified philosophers in the United States. According to their data, 1.3% of U.S. philosophers self-identify as black (compared to 13% in the general U.S. population).

Now I was all set today to work up some speculations on why philosophy is so different from the other humanities and social sciences in this regard (a favorite hypothesis: a disciplinary addiction to the cult of genius plus a high degree of implicit bias in anointing geniuses). Then I went to the Survey of Earned Doctorates to look up some of the raw data. There, I found that the overwhelming whiteness of philosophy is not so unusual among the humanities, if one digs down into the subfield data.

Since I suspect some other philosophers might also be surprised to discover this, I thought I'd aggregate the three most recent years' data by humanities subfield (U.S. citizens and permanent residents only), considering only subfields with consistent SED classifications across the period and excluding general and catch-all categories.

Starting with philosophy we see:

  • 84.5% white
  • 6.8% Hispanic 
  • 3.0% Asian
  • 2.0% black or African-American
  • 0.0% American Indian
  • 3.6% multi-racial, other, or unknown

  • (Respondents describing themselves as Hispanic were not counted toward any other category.)

    Looking only at "white" and "black", here are all the other coded humanities, bolded if either the white percentage exceeds or the black percentage falls below that in philosophy:

    Foreign Languages:

  • French & Italian literature: 87% white, 3.4% black
  • German literature: 91% white, 1.2% black
  • Spanish literature: 51% white, 0.9% black (45% Hispanic)

  • History:

  • American history (U.S. and Canada): 82% white, 7.3% black
  • Asian history: 53% white, 0.8% black (38% Asian)
  • European history: 90% white, 1.6% black
  • History, science, technology, and society: 85% white, 2.7% black
  • Latin American history: 50% white, 6.6% black (41% Hispanic)
  • Middle/Near-East studies: 84% white, 0.0% black

  • Letters:

  • American literature (U.S. and Canada): 78% white, 6.6% black
  • Classics: 91% white, 0.4% black
  • Comparative literature: 73% white, 4.0% black
  • English language: 79% white, 7.1% black
  • English literature (British and Commonwealth): 86% white, 1.7% black

  • Other humanities:

  • American/U.S. studies: 60% white, 14.6% black
  • Archaeology: 85% white, 1.6% black
  • Art: 81% white, 1.5% black
  • Drama/theater arts: 78% white, 5.8% black
  • Music: 77% white, 2.7% black
  • Musicology/ethnomusicology: 78% white, 2.6% black
  • Music performance: 79% white, 2.2% black
  • Music theory and composition: 87% white, 0.5% black
  • Religion/religious studies: 81% white, 4.3% black

  • These data thus stand in sharp contrast to the gender data, where philosophy is unusual among the humanities in remaining overwhelmingly male. Philosophy is joined by French, German, and Italian literature, English literature, classics, European history, archaeology, and music theory in being mostly non-Hispanic white folks.

    Now in a way it's not too surprising that the study of German and Greek literature, European history, etc., should tend to disproportionately attract white folks. After all, the average white person probably identifies with such literatures and histories as part of her own ethnic or cultural heritage more than does the average non-white person. Perhaps, then, the best explanation of the overwhelming whiteness of philosophy is similar: Despite aspiring to be a broad, topically-driven inquiry into fundamental questions about truth, knowledge, beauty, and morality, perhaps philosophy as currently practiced in the U.S. is experienced by students as something closer to the study of a piece of ethnically European cultural history.


    Also see:
    Why Don't We* Know Our Chinese Philosophy?
    Citation of Women and Ethnic Minorities in the Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy
    SEP Citation Analysis Continued: Jewish, Non-Anglophone, Queer, and Disabled Philosophers.

    Wednesday, August 27, 2014

    Brilliant Piece on Empathy by the Ever-Engaging Paul Bloom


    I can't wait for the book.

    Bloom argues against giving empathy a central role in normative moral psychology. But by defining "empathy" somewhat narrowly, he perhaps makes his thesis a little easier to defend, and less radical, than if he were to come out against strong feelings of compassion generally.

    Tuesday, August 26, 2014

    On the Boycott of Urbana-Champaign

    I rarely post on hot political topics (unless quantitative analysis of philosophers' lack of diversity counts), but one hot political topic has been very much in my mind this week: the boycott of University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign. I've been forced to consider the issue especially carefully because I was scheduled to give a talk to the Philosophy Department there in December, and UIUC was starting to invite speakers for a proposed mini-conference on experimental philosophy the next day, where I would give the keynote address.

    The boycott arose after Steven Salaita, who had been scheduled to start teaching at UIUC this term, was summarily dismissed by the chancellor of UIUC in the wake of some controversial tweets about Israel and Zionism. (His contract had not been completely finalized yet; sometimes they aren't until after one has already started teaching.) His old tweets can be found here.

    Much has been said on both sides (e.g., against Salaita 1, 2, 3; in defense of Salaita 1, 2, 3). My opinion is that the pro-boycott case is stronger than the anti-boycott case: Salaita's tweets were not sufficient grounds for the chancellor's extreme and unusual action; and even if they were sufficient to justify revoking his position, Salaita did not receive due process. A strong response is warranted.

    However, I do feel compelled to add two points that haven't been as clearly acknowledged by the pro-boycott side as I would have liked to see:

    (1.) Given the recent and not-so-recent history of extreme violence against Jews and journalists, reasonable people reading Salaita's tweets might understandably be upset to see these public statements coming from a senior scholar in a position of trust and authority -- even if carefully reading the tweets in context might show them to be less hateful than they at first seem.

    (2.) The argument that the UIUC chancellor behaved wrongly in canceling Salaita's appointment is not identical to the argument that a boycott is the best response. A boycott sends a strong statement; but it also harms many people who have done no wrong. I believe that graduate students are especially harmed, since interacting with visiting scholars and speakers is central to their education, exposing them to views other than their professors' own and putting them in contact with the larger scholarly community.

    With heavy heart, I am honoring the boycott. I have canceled my talk and abandoned my conference plans.

    Tuesday, August 19, 2014

    The Top Science Fiction and Fantasy Magazines

    ... in the English language, at least as implied by certain awards nominations and "best of" placements.

    Okay, I'm a dork. I want to apologize right away for this list, for two reasons, but then also excuse myself for two reasons.

    First apology: It's a little weird for me to occupy space in a philosophy blog with talk about science fiction magazines. I know! Excuse: I've come to think that science fiction, and other types of "speculative fiction" (e.g., Borges), is an interesting and valuable way to explore the metaphysical, ethical, and epistemological dimensions of various "what-if" possibilities. The concreteness of speculative fiction, and the way the stories engage the emotions and imagination, has I think both epistemic virtues (you think through the specific scenario somewhat better) and shortcomings (you might be too influenced by particular incidental features). Serious speculative fiction belongs in the philosopher's toolbox.

    Second apology: It's silly to take rankings like this very seriously; and also, in certain respects, such rankings tend to reinforce the privilege of the status quo. Excuse: However, in another respect, lists level the playing field. I've started publishing science fiction, and until recently I had no idea where to send things. So I started looking at the original venues for some of the stories I liked in the "Best of" anthologies I'd been reading. This seemed better than just searching "science fiction magazines" on the web and seeing what popped up. The list below is really just a systematization of my efforts, as an outsider without word-of-mouth connections. It magnifies the advantage of insiders if outsiders are at sea about what is read and respected by those at the top of the sci-fi publishing hierarchy. (The SFWA list of qualifying markets isn't necessarily a good guide.)

    Okay, I know, I'm still a dork. Feel free to stop reading now, lest you become a dork too!

    Method and Caveats:

  • I gave each magazine one hit every time it had a story nominated for a Hugo, Nebula, or World Fantasy award (at short story, novelette, or novella length), 2004-2013.
  • Each magazine also got one hit every time a story was included in the Dozois, Horton, or Strahan "Best of" anthologies, 2004-2013 (Horton starting 2006, Strahan starting 2007). I would have included the Hartwell-Cramer anthologies too, but I didn't have access to the full lists. (I might update if I can get access.)
  • I am not attempting to include the horror / dark fantasy genre, or other related genres, except incidentally as those other genres happen to appear in Hugo, Nebula, World Fantasy, Dozois, Horton, or Strahan.
  • Prose only, not poetry.
  • I'm not including edited anthologies -- only regular magazines -- though about half of all nominated stories and "Best of" selections appear in edited anthologies.
  • I'm not attempting to correct for frequency of publication. (Notably, GigaNotoSaurus publishes only one story a month.)
  • I also don't attempt to correct for a magazine's only having published during part of 2004-2013. Reputations of defunct magazines (e.g., SciFiction) slowly fade, and they are sometimes restarted. (Weird Tales!) Reputations of new magazines (e.g., Lightspeed) slowly build. A ten year window seems right.
  • I take the list down to magazines with two hits. One hit might be a fluke. But actually there are some very good magazines with only two or three hits. A bit more about that at the end.
  • I welcome corrections.

  • Results:

    1. Asimov's (197 hits)
    2. Fantasy & Science Fiction (146)
    3. Subterranean (47) (started 2007)
    4. Clarkesworld (43) (started 2006)
    5. Analog (38)
    6. Tor.com (33) (started 2008)
    7. Strange Horizons (32)
    8. Interzone (31)
    9. SciFiction (26) (ceased 2005)
    10. Lightspeed (25) (started 2010)
    11. Fantasy Magazine (16) (started 2005, merged into Lightspeed, 2012)
    12. Postscripts (11)
    13. Jim Baen's Universe (10) (ran 2006-2010)
    13. Realms of Fantasy (10) (ceased 2011)
    15. Apex (6) (started 2005)
    16. Helix SF (5) (ran 2006-2008)
    17. Beneath Ceaseless Skies (4) (started 2008)
    17. Electric Velocipede (4) (ceased 2013)
    19. Black Gate (3)
    19. Black Static (3) (started 2007)
    19. Cosmos (3) (started 2005)
    19. Flurb (3) (ran 2006-2012)
    19. The New Yorker (3)
    19. GigaNotoSaurus (3) (started 2010)
    25. Aeon Speculative Fiction (2) (ceased 2008)
    25. Conjunctions (2)
    25. Futurismic (2) (ceased 2010)
    25. Lone Star Stories (2) (ceased 2009)
    25. Weird Tales (2) (off and on throughout period)

    Two things are immediately striking about this list:

    First, really just a few magazines dominate the nominations and "best of" selections -- especially Asimov's and F&SF. Given the chanciness and subjectivity and imperfections of the submission and selection process, and given the fact that excellent authors might sometimes prefer venues other than the top few on this list, I find it difficult to believe that those few magazines really have that proportion of the highest quality stories. Almost half of the hits are from the top two, and 83% are from the top ten. And there are very good magazines that don't appear on this list at all (Nature's "Futures" series, Lady Churchill's Rosebud Wristlet, Daily Science Fiction, Flash Fiction Online, Abyss & Apex...).

    The graph below captures this distribution visually (click to enlarge):

    Second, excluding the two prestigious "literary fiction" magazines on the list (The New Yorker and Conjunctions) 20 of the 27 magazines either started or ceased publication during this ten year period. It's a troubled industry. All but a few magazines fail after a few or several years, but dedicated editors regularly launch new magazines (or scoop up the right to old titles) and try again.

    [BTW, the Pushcart Rankings served as a partial model.]

    Update, Aug. 20:

    In the comments, Sean Wallace suggests re-analyzing with a five-year window to see if the dominance patterns are shifting. The results, through 5 hits:

    1. Asimov's (100)
    2. F&SF (66)
    3. Clarkesworld (42)
    3. Subterranean (42)
    5. Tor.com (33)
    6. Lightspeed (25)
    7. Interzone (21)
    8. Strange Horizons (18)
    9. Analog (16)
    10. Fantasy (14)
    11. Apex (6)
    11. Postscripts (6)
    12. Realms of Fantasy (5)

    Not radically different, though as Sean suggests, it does show some broadening away from Asimov's and F&SF toward others in the top ten.

    Second update, Aug. 20:

    Following another suggestion of Sean's, I looked at five and ten years' selections of novelettes and short stories from the Locus Recommended Reading List (no novellas this time).

    Over a five-year window, the spread is considerably flatter than my original ten-year list above, with the number one Asimov's (60) approximately doubling the number 5 Subterranean (25) and five times the number 10 Beneath Ceaseless skies (13). Also Intergalatic Medicine Show, Interfictions, Nightmare, The Dark, and Tin House now appear (2-3 hits each).

    Over a ten-year window, the top-ranked magazines start to pull away again, with Asimov's (164) and F&SF (142) well ahead of the 3rd to 7th ranked (all 31-40 hits). Magazines on this list that are not mentioned above are Argosy, MIT Techology Review, Harper's, and Lady Churchill's Rosebud Wristlet (2-3 hits each).

    See The Underblog for my full Locus ranking lists.

    Monday, August 18, 2014

    Why Don't We* Know Our Chinese Philosophy?

    (* "we" U.S.-based philosophy professors)

    In 2001, I published a piece in the American Philosophical Association's Newsletter on the Status of Asian & Asian-American Philosophers & Philosophies. In light of my recent reflections about the visibility of non-Western philosophy and philosophers, and especially this remarkable piece from an Asian-American who left philosophy, I thought I'd reproduce a revised version of the essay here. I've appended two new substantive notes at the end.


    Why Don't We Know Our Chinese Philosophy?

    APA Newsletter on the Status of Asian & Asian-American Philosophers & Philosophies, 1 (2001), 26-27; revised 2014.

    Philosophers in the United States have all heard of Confucius (Kongzi) and Laozi (Lao Tzu). Some have also heard of their approximate contemporaries in classical China: Mencius (Mengzi), Zhuangzi (Chuang Tzu), Mozi (Mo Tzu), Xunzi (Hsün Tzu), and Han Feizi (Han Fei Tzu). So why haven't most of us read any of their works?

    Are they not really philosophers? Even applying the narrowest criteria for what counts as a "philosopher", it would be strange to deny that Mozi and Xunzi are philosophers. Both produced long, discursive works on ethics and political philosophy; both support their views with reasoned arguments; both offer counter-arguments to opponents' views. Han Feizi is similar in structure, though more narrowly focused, like Machiavelli, on advice for achieving political power. Mencius and Zhuangzi did not write in standard philosophical essay format, but both offer persuasive arguments for positions in ethics, political philosophy, philosophy of mind, and epistemology. Unconventional format should no more disqualify Mencius and Zhuangzi than it does Nietzsche and Wittgenstein. Confucius and Laozi are more fragmentary and less argumentative; but many ancient Greek philosophers are even more fragmentary than Confucius and Laozi.

    Nor do these philosophers rely on any narrowly religious dogma; rather, they start from considerations that are for the most part intuitive and widely acceptable even in the contemporary United States. Despite the fact that their works are more often taught in Religious Studies than in Philosophy departments, their religious commitments are less invasive and dogmatic than the religious commitments of many European philosophers. Mengzi's and Xunzi's arguments are far more secular than Descartes's and Berkeley's.

    Perhaps, then, these classical Chinese philosophers are insufficiently important to warrant broader attention in the United States? If "important" means good, it's not clear that this is so. Although to some extent such judgments are a matter of taste, in my estimation Mengzi and Xunzi's views of moral psychology are as good as anything we have going now [note 1], and their debate about whether human nature is good or bad is considerably more sophisticated than the corresponding debate between Hobbes and Rousseau. Zhuangzi's skeptical and relativist arguments are as lively and challenging as Descartes' first two Meditations, Sextus Empiricus, or Peter Unger, and his positive vision is interestingly distinct from that of any major philosopher in the West.

    If we assess importance by historical influence, different potential criteria come into competition. Considered globally, Confucius, Laozi, and to a lesser extent the other major classical Chinese philosophers have been enormously influential, probably more influential in Eastern Asia than Socrates, Plato, and Aristotle have been in Europe and the Americas. Even in the United States among the general population Confucius and Laozi are better known and more broadly discussed than any but a handful of European philosophers.

    Still, perhaps the proper measure of historical importance for us philosophy professors in the U.S. in deciding what to teach and read is the influence that a particular philosopher has had on contemporary philosophy in the United States. Here, finally, we might have a justification for our ignorance of classical Chinese philosophy.

    But it is then worth inquiring why classical Chinese philosophers are not especially influential in contemporary U.S. philosophy. One possibility is historical accident: Because the dominant culture in the United States traces back to Europe, the classical Chinese philosophers were not taught to, and thus not read by, the succeeding generations. Ignorance thus apparently justifies ignorance: Because we don't know their work, they have little impact on our philosophy; because they have little impact on our philosophy, we are justified in remaining ignorant about their work.

    That seems like a regrettable state of affairs, unless we already know that these philosophers wouldn't have much positive influence on our thinking even if we did read them. But if they are as good as I know them to be, it's hard to see why reading them wouldn't have a positive influence on us -- not unless our education has so distorted us that we are unprepared to learn what they have to teach. [note 2]


    Further thoughts, 2014:

    Note 1: When I wrote this in 2001, empirical moral psychology was still dominated by intellectualistic models that left little room for emotion and spontaneous reaction, and seemed really to be measures of how good a moral philosopher one was (esp. Lawrence Kohlberg's stage theory). Philosophical moral psychology was not, in my view, a whole lot better. The intervening years have seen a huge surge of interest in morality as a phenomenon in which emotional and intellectual processes, spontaneous reactions, habit, and more thoughtful reflection, all come together in complicated ways. We are finally starting to catch up with Mengzi and Xunzi! (In this one respect at least.) If you had been reading ancient Chinese philosophy in the 1990s, you might have been surprised that the field hadn't moved past Kohlberg even sooner. My own reaction was to criticize intellectualist models of moral psychology by close empirical examination of the moral behavior of ethics professors -- a project that grew directly out of my work on Mengzi and Xunzi.

    One huge advantage of reading outside of the dominant tradition, in my view, is that it helps you see past the narrow trends and presuppositions of your current cultural situation -- and the farther out of the mainstream you go, the more so.

    Note 2: In this piece I didn't comment on the possibility of implicit bias (or even explicit bias) against Asians in U.S. philosophy departments, but I have become increasingly convinced that it plays an important role.


    Readers might also be interested in these items, brought to my attention by Daily Nous:

  • More on Philosophy's "White Man" Problem
  • The Embodied Mind: An Interview with Philosopher Evan Thompson
  • Thursday, August 14, 2014

    SEP Citation Analysis Continued: Jewish, Non-Anglophone, Queer, and Disabled Philosophers

    Last week, I created a list of the 267 most-cited philosophers in the Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy. I analyzed this group by gender and ethnicity, finding only 10% women and 3% ethnic minority. I've done some further analyses, but several people have urged me also to look at some other groups that might suffer prejudice, to see how they show on the list.

    Before getting into that, let me emphasize: I regard this list as a rough metric of a sociological phenomenon, mainstream visibility in recent Anglophone/analytic philosophy. I do not regard it as a metric of objective quality or importance from a global perspective.

    Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Transgender, Queer Philosophers:

    Judith Butler, David Hull, and Kwame Anthony Appiah are pretty visible members of this group. Among philosophers deceased 20 years or more ago, H.L.A. Hart and Richard Montague are also widely viewed as LGBT. I am hesitant to name living or recently deceased philosophers, even if they are "out", unless they seem willing to put themselves forward publicly as examples, but based on conversations I've had with others in the discipline, I estimate a minimum of 2-4 additional LGBT philosophers among the 267. It's perhaps also worth noting that two of the most famous gay men of the 20th century almost make the list, Michel Foucault (20 entries) and Alan Turing (19). I welcome further information, but only if consistent with respecting people's privacy. It's an interesting question to what extent current Anglophone philosophy exhibits prejudice against this group (and whether perhaps there is more prejudice against transgender people than against other LGBT people).

    Disabled Philosophers:

    I know no philosophers on this list who have a very visibly obvious physical disability (excepting those who acquired disability later in life, often due to ageing, after their reputation was established), unless we include Paul Feyerabend, who walked heavily on a cane due to a war injury. Please correct me if I am mistaken! Less obvious disabilities are of course more difficult to identify, and it's not clear exactly how to categorize disability. I am aware of a couple philosophers on this list who have disvalued speech patterns such as stuttering. I hesitate to spotlight individual living or recently deceased people in this category unless they put themselves forward, but the ancient Chinese philosopher Han Feizi is interesting in this connection: He is said to have stuttered so much that he turned to writing so that his opinions would be taken seriously. Certainly, too, there are at least a few philosophers on this list with histories of depression, severe anxiety, and/or alcoholism, as well as serious chronic physical diseases, though my information here is too sketchy to warrant quantitative analysis. Shelley Tremain has recently presented data suggesting that in North America the percentage of employable disabled people in philosophy departments is very much less than the percentage in the general population.

    Non-Anglophone Philosophers:

    I have already commented on how Anglophone this list is. Foucault, for example, at 20 entries by my method, doesn't even rank. (He does have his own dedicated entry, though.) Anglophone/analytic philosophers just don't cite recent European philosophers very much. (Here's one analysis I did in 2012 that shows the amazing magnitude of this tendency in the top-ranked journals.) Can we quantify this a bit more?

    I've done some quick biographical searches of the top 50 philosophers on this list (actually 53, given ties). If my biographical information is correct, only nine (17%) were born in non-Anglophone countries. But actually that substantially underestimates Anglophone dominance. Derek Parfit was born in China, but to English parents who returned to England when he was still an infant. Thomas Nagel was born in Yugoslavia but was educated at Cornell, Oxford, and Harvard. Bas van Fraassen was born in Netherlands but emigrated with his family to Canada when he was 14 or 15. Timothy Williamson was born in Sweden but went to grammar school in England, and then Oxford. Nicholas Rescher was born in Germany but came to the U.S. at age ten. Joseph Raz was born in Mandate Palestine and got a Magister Juris at Hebrew University, but then went to Oxford for his doctorate and publishes entirely or almost entirely in English. That leaves Alfred Tarski (Polish), Karl Popper (Austrian), and Jaakko Hintikka (Finnish) as the least Anglophone members of the group, though both Popper and Hintikka still published mostly in English. Worth noting, too: All three are in the oldest generation I analyzed (born 1900-1930).

    Among the top ten philosophers on the list, eight were born in the U.S., one in Britain (Bernard Williams), and Nagel went from Yugoslavia to the U.S.

    Again, please correct me if I have committed any errors.

    I doubt that the proper moral to draw is that Heidegger was right that philosophy is best done in certain languages but wrong about which particular language is the best.

    Jewish Philosophers:

    Eric Schliesser comments that this list "is a testament to the successful emancipation of Jewish men in the Anglophone world". And maybe that's right. Fully half of the top ten philosophers on this list are Jewish or have Jewish backgrounds: Putnam, Kripke, Nozick, Nagel, and Nussbaum. (I'm relying on internet sources of iffy reliability for Nagel and Nussbaum, so I welcome confirmation or correction.) A quick-and-dirty count using personal knowledge and Wikipedia's list of Jewish philosophers (except in one case where I doubt Wikipedia's accuracy), I count 35/267 (13%), which is probably an underestimate. But even going with that low-ball estimate, the proportion of Jews on this list substantially exceeds the proportion of Jews in the population as a whole (2% of the U.S. population, for example).

    But before we hasten too quickly to the conclusion that there is no prejudice against Jewish philosophers, it's worth noting that early 20th century Germany, despite outrageous levels of antisemitism, also had an impressive number of very influential Jewish philosophers, including Edmund Husserl, Ernst Cassirer, Hermann Cohen, Max Scheler, Walter Benjamin and Martin Buber.

    [Updated Aug. 15, Aug. 18]

    SEP Citation Patterns: Further Analysis and Thoughts

    Last week I posted a list of the 267 most-cited contemporary philosophers in the Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy, including a gender and ethnicity analysis. I've been fiddling around with the data a bit more (as well as correcting a few errors).

    Comparing my 2014 analysis with my 2010 analysis:

    * In 2010, I posted a similar list. The biggest methodological difference is that I included historical entries in 2014, while I had excluded them in 2010. Thus, Jonathan Barnes (71st), Julia Annas (81st), Anthony Kenny (95th), and many other historians appear on the 2014 list but not in the 2010; and Martha Nussbaum, Jonathan Bennett, Christine Korsgaard, for example, appear higher up the 2014 list (9th, 30th, and 58th, respectively) than the 2010 list (19th, 52nd, and 99th).

    * Another striking difference is several logicians' much higher ranking in 2014. For example, Jaakko Hintikka rose from 76th to 30th, Alfred Tarksi from 72nd to 46th, Kit Fine from 82nd to 48th, and Nicholas Rescher from 72nd to 48th. My first thought was that this might reflect a large number of new SEP entries in logic and philosophy of math. And maybe that is part of the story, but a quick perusal of the SEP entries published between 2010 and 2014 does not show a particularly striking trend in that direction.

    * I was also struck by Stephen Darwall's shift from 156th (21 qualifying entries in 2010) to 66th (48 qualifying entries in 2014), despite the fact that there was no general rise in ethicists' rankings.

    Year of Publication:

    I searched each bibliographic line for four-string digits "1900", "1901", etc., assuming that virtually all such strings will be publication years of cited work. On that assumption, the most cited year is 2003 and the runner-up is 1999. The citation advantage of publication about 10-15 years ago is very strong, as is evident from this figure:

    The peak citation year was 2000 in my 2010 analysis.

    Also, if you squint at the graph above, you'll notice what seems to be dips in the production of cited work during the two world wars.

    The Baby Boom Philosophy Bust?

    In 2011, I conjectured that the generation of philosophers hired during the 1960s to teach the baby boomers -- the depression-war generation -- sat atop the social hierarchy in philosophy through the 1990s and prevented the baby boomers from attaining as much visibility as they otherwise would have. If so, this would explain the relative paucity of boomers in the topmost slots: Nussbaum is the only boomer in the top twenty, whereas depression-war babies occupy ten of the top twenty slots (Lewis, Kripke, Nozick, Nagel, Searle, Fodor, Dennett, Harman, Jackson, and van Fraassen). Now another possibility is that the baby boomers have not yet had time for their influence to be fully felt and reflected in the SEP. Indeed, this is quite possibly the case. Even the older boomers are still in their 60s and philosophers often produce very influential work late in their careers. On the other hand, the SEP's bias toward recent work, as reflected in the chart above, would seem if anything to favor the boomers over the older generations. Also, in an earlier analysis of Philosopher's Index, I found that philosophers tend to receive peak professional attention (in the form of mentions in the abstracts of philosophy articles) around ages 55-70, which is the current age range of the baby boomers. Then again (back on the first hand), if we look at the entire 267 and not just the top 20 -- still a very select group! -- the boomers are about as well represented as the previous generation.

    Methodology: Second Authors and Multiple Citations per Entry:

    My technique (as mentioned in the post) was to only count first authors. Second authors proved computationally intractable. I did keep noticing names of some people who were often appearing as second authors and who thus deserve to show higher on the list. Let me apologize for the unfairness of this. I'm tempted to list some names, but since I can't do so systematically I fear compounding the unfairness toward the regularly appearing second authors who didn't happen to come to my attention. If someone wants to attempt a systematic repair, I would welcome that.

    My technique was only to count the number of front-page entries in which the author's work is cited, not total number of citations. Prepping my 2010 analysis, I tried it both ways, and counting total SEP entries rather than total bibligraphic lines produced a list with better face validity as a measure of visibility in Anglophone philosophy. My impression is that this was because although having four different works cited in one entry probably does tend to reflect more visibility on the topic than having only one work cited, it probably doesn't reflect four times as much visibility. (For example, Kaplan and Soames have four bibliographic lines each in the entry on names, while Kripke only has one line.)

    Re-analyses: Schliesser and Leiter:

    Eric Schliesser suggests an interesting measure of closeness to the sociological core of Anglophone/analytic philosophy by considering what percentage of the list you can count as former teachers of yours. (I, like Schliesser, count 4 [1.5%].) Another measure might be how many of the authors on the list you recognize well enough to be able to say in what subfield they made their main contribution. (For me, this would have been maybe all but ten.) Eric also makes an interesting point about Jewish philosophers, which I'll discuss in a follow-up post.

    Brian Leiter re-analyzes the data to rank departments by summing the entry count of the faculty appearing on the list. Interestingly, there is considerable overlap between the rankings derived by this SEP-based method and Leiter's 2011 Gourmet Report rankings of philosophy departments in the English-speaking world. All but three departments in this "SEP top twenty" appear in the top twenty of the Gourmet Report's rankings, and those three (UT Austin, Notre Dame, and Duke) all appear in the Gourmet top 30. Conversely, all but three of the Gourmet top 20 departments appear in this SEP-based top twenty, with the exceptions (Cornell, Arizona, and Toronto) all in the last spot among the Gourmet's top 20 (a 5-way tie for 15th). I find it very striking that these two superficially very different methods yield such similar results. It suggests, to me, that whatever sociological phenomenon the Leiter rankings capture is also captured pretty well by looking at SEP citation rates. There is much less overlap, in contrast, between the top scoring schools in the 2010 NRC research rankings and either the Leiter or SEP rankings (e.g., CUNY, Yale, USC, and UCLA, in this SEP-based top-twenty, are all 50th or lower in the NRC if one sorts by the average of the high and low research scores).

    More Group Analyses:

    A number of people have urged that I look at potentially disadvantaged groups besides women and ethnic minorities, especially queer, disabled, Jewish, and non-native English speaker. So I'm working a follow-up post about that, hopefully up later today.

    Update: I've posted the analyses.

    Thursday, August 07, 2014

    The 267 Most-Cited Contemporary Authors in the Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy

    As I mentioned Monday, my son sent me a list of bibliographical entries in the Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy, so I thought I'd update some of the citation analyses I did in 2010-2011. Below is an ordered list of the most-cited contemporary authors.

    Some caveats:

    * "Contemporary" means born 1900 or later.

    * Each author is counted only once per entry, and then only if that author receives a bibliographical line as the first-listed author on the entry's main page. Evaluating second authorship proved intractable. Sorry! I recognize that this results in substantial underestimation of second-listed authors, which is especially regrettable when authorship order is determined alphabetically rather than by magnitude of contribution.

    * Unlike my 2010 list, this list includes the historical entries.

    * The SEP has a strongly "analytic"/Anglophone perspective. So Foucault, for example, at 20 entries, didn't quite make the cutoff.

    * If you just plug the author's name as search term into SEP's front page, you'll get substantially more page hits than my method delivers (e.g., people in editing roles, or as second authors, on in subentries, or as false positives). So please don't critique my numbers via that method! I do welcome more thoughtful corrections.

    * After computerized sort, I hand-coded the data, in some cases correcting misspellings and merging authors (e.g., Ruth Barcan = Ruth Marcus), more often separating authors with similar names (e.g., various A. Goldman's). I estimate coding error of up to about +/- 2 entries.

    * Unsurprisingly, given the state of the discipline, it's overwhelmingly white men. For more details, see my gender and ethnicity analysis.

    1. Lewis, David (214)
    2. Quine, W.V.O. (164)
    3. Putnam, Hilary (131)
    4. Davidson, Donald (120)
    4. Rawls, John (120)
    6. Kripke, Saul (117)
    7. Williams, Bernard (104)
    8. Nozick, Robert (96)
    9. Nagel, Thomas (94)
    9. Nussbaum, Martha C. (94)
    11. Searle, John (93)
    12. Chisholm, Roderick M. (92)
    13. Armstrong, David M. (87)
    14. Fodor, Jerry (86)
    15. Dummett, Michael (84)
    16. Dennett, Daniel (83)
    16. Harman, Gilbert (83)
    16. Jackson, Frank (83)
    19. Strawson, P. F. (82)
    20. van Fraassen, Bas C. (77)
    21. Dworkin, Ronald (74)
    22. Williamson, Timothy (72)
    23. Geach, Peter T. (71)
    24. Chalmers, David J. (70)
    24. Kitcher, Philip S. (70)
    26. McDowell, John (69)
    26. van Inwagen, Peter (69)
    28. Sober, Elliott (66)
    28. Stalnaker, Robert (66)
    30. Bennett, Jonathan (65)
    30. Hintikka, Jaakko (65)
    30. Mackie, John L. (65)
    30. Plantinga, Alvin (65)
    30. Raz, Joseph (65)
    35. Parfit, Derek (64)
    35. Scanlon, T. M. (64)
    37. Adams, Robert M. (63)
    37. Goldman, Alvin I. (63)
    37. Popper, Karl (63)
    40. Ayer, A. J. (60)
    40. Dretske, Fred (60)
    40. Hacking, Ian (60)
    43. Feinberg, Joel (57)
    43. Gibbard, Allan (57)
    43. Goodman, Nelson (57)
    46. Burge, Tyler (55)
    46. Tarski, Alfred (55)
    48. Alston, William P. (54)
    48. Earman, John (54)
    48. Fine, Kit (54)
    48. Frankfurt, Harry G. (54)
    48. Rescher, Nicholas (54)
    48. Wright, Crispin (54)
    Continued on the Underblog.

    [Corrected Aug 8 - Aug 14.]

    Citation of Women and Ethnic Minorities in the Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy

    I've just posted a list of the 267 contemporary authors (born 1900 or after) who are most cited in the Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy. Unsurprisingly, given the state of the discipline, the list is dominated by white men. How much so?

    I count 27 women on the list: 10% of the total. There is only one woman in the top 50 (Martha Nussbaum, ranked 9th), and seven in the top 100 (Nussbaum, Korsgaard, Anscombe, Anderson, Annas, Thomson, and Young).

    Impressionistically, it has seemed to me that female philosophers have been more likely to go into ethics, political philosophy, or history of philosophy than into metaphysics, epistemology, mind, logic, or language; and some of Josh Rust's and my data (from five U.S. states) partially support that generalization (28% of sampled ethicists were women, vs. 17% of non-ethicist philosophers). So I coded each philosopher as ethics/political/history or not, based on where their primary influence has so far been. (There were a few close calls, but mostly it was pretty clear.) My impression was strikingly confirmed: 16/27 (59%) of the women had their primary influence in ethics, political philosophy, or history of philosophy, compared to 77/240 (32%) of the men (Z = 2.7, p = .006).

    I'm not sure what the explanation for this is, assuming that my analysis here is correct. I welcome your thoughts.

    We can also examine gender distribution by age. I was able to find birth year data for most of the philosophers on the list, and I estimated the remaining 45 based on year of bachelor's degree, PhD, or first publication. I created four age groups: birth year 1900-1929, 1930-1945, 1946-1959, 1960-present. Women constituted 5/58 (9%) of the oldest generation, 5/102 (5%) of the depression-war generation, 15/88 (17%) of the pre-1960 baby boomers, and 2/19 (11%) of the youngest group. This suggests some increase in the representation of women over time, but hardly an overwhelming shift. (To put some inferential statistics on it: mean male birth year 1939 vs. mean female 1945, t = -2.3, p = .03.)

    How about ethnic minorities? That's much harder to judge. The list looks very white, but names and physical appearance can sometimes be misleading. Also ethnic categories are somewhat labile, and it's not clear how to think about mixed-ethnicity cases. Among the top 100, there's only one person I'd be inclined to think of as other than non-Hispanic white: the Korean-American philosopher Jaegwon Kim, tied for 61st. [Updated Aug. 8: Due to a transcription error, I left one name out of the top 100, and that shifted Sorabji down to 101.] (Please correct me if I've missed someone!) The rest of the list isn't a whole lot more diverse -- maybe seven members of ethnic minorities total among the whole 267 (3%)? (If you have specific knowledge about people on the list who identify as ethnic minorities, I'd be interested to hear.)

    Summarizing these estimates, then:

    Top 50: 2% female, 0% minority,
    Top 100: 7% female, 1% minority,
    Top 267: 10% female, 3% minority.
    I regard these data as broad confirmation of what we all already knew -- perhaps a little more systematic and depressingly specific. At the highest levels of visibility in contemporary mainstream Anglophone analytic philosophy (as measured by citation in the discipline's leading reference source), men vastly outnumber women, and ethnic minorities are virtually absent. The effect appears to be larger the greater the visibility. The effect might also be larger among our older and recently deceased contemporaries than it is in the younger generations, but even if that is so, it remains very large in all groups.

    [Updated Aug. 8 - Aug. 14]