Sunday, April 29, 2007

Worth the wait

At the beginning of last September I enjoined us all to, as I put it then, anticipate the following April (= wait til next year). And here we are. What a difference (um, lessee ...) eight months makes! According to, the Red Sox, who at 16-8 have the best record in baseball, will have their biggest lead in the standings at the end of April in team history. They've taken five of six from the Yankees; closer Jonathan Papelbon has yet to give up a single run in April in his career; starter Jon Lester (coming back from non-Hodgkins lymphoma) is doing well in rehab, about to return; and Manny has only just begun to hit. Not only that, their $100,000,000 man Dice-K, while performing perfectly acceptably so far, is only the second most exciting Japanese pitcher on the team (all hail Hideki Okajima!).

Of course I've just gone and jinxed it. If there's anything about this team it's the ability to put together a string of inexplicable losses sometime in July or August. But you wouldn't want them to just run away with it, would you?

Tuesday, April 24, 2007

Deep space

New Philosophers' Carnival, at The Space of Reasons. Thanks Avery!

Sunday, April 22, 2007

They're at it again

... over at Leiter Reports, with the analytic/continental thing. The impetus this time was a statement on the U. of Michigan Philosophy Dept. webpage explaining to students that (as the statement puts it):
Philosophers disagree profoundly about what the best way to do philosophy is.
That's true enough, and philosophy students should indeed be aware of this if they're not already. The rest of the statement gives the UM department view of what this difference is. It's pretty much the same as the standard line we've heard before from Leiter et al (Leiter calls it "one of the more sensible things I've seen written about this topic"), and I was going to let it go, but in the comments to my last post Colin asks nicely what my view is, so let me try to say a few things.

First go read the statement if you haven't (it's reposted whole at the Leiter link, plus comments). As it points out, Michigan is an analytic department, so it's not surprising that the statement reads like a press release from the winner of an election, newly magnaminous in victory, and professing hope that winners and losers can heal the breach and work together in the future (on the winner's terms, naturally):
The much-discussed ‘analytic/continental’ divide was an artifact of the conviction, held by many English and American philosophers into the 60’s and 70’s, that analysis was the only way of doing philosophy. As this conviction becomes less widely held, and as analytic philosophers expand their areas of interest, the distinction is becoming less and less significant -- with the result that even predominantly analytic departments like Michigan generally offer courses covering all the major ‘continental’ figures.
See, we're overcoming our old closed-mindedness about that other stuff; we even teach it! But as we know if we've seen this before, when "analytic" philosophers give up the notion that "analysis [is] the only way of doing philosophy", what this means is that they no longer believe that what they do is characterized by a particular philosophical method of "analysis." Instead, what they do is characterized more generally as "valuing clarity and precision in formulating philosophical positions, and scrutinizing arguments carefully" -- or, as Leiter tends to put it, simply philosophy done well. The only thing preventing others from overcoming that artificial divide and doing philosophy well themselves, then, is their apparent preference for gnomic obscurity, or perhaps simple charlatanry (like ... well, you know, the usual suspects). And now that we know this, we can go ahead and teach "continental" philosophers ourselves (at least those, like all of those listed -- Hegel, Marx, Nietzsche, Kierkegaard, Husserl, Heidegger, Sartre and Foucault -- who are safely dead); but properly now, i.e. formulating their positions clearly and precisely, and scrutinizing them carefully (instead of, I don't know, "interpreting" them like a holy text or something).

So you have to read between the lines of this purposely bland statement to see what's going on. But "continental" philosophy is not the only kind of philosophy condescended to here. Pragmatism is certainly not "continental" philosophy; so it is either relegated to the history books, on the one hand, or folded in with analytic philosophy on the other (after all, officially anyway, the only good pragmatists are scientific realists). Or check out the threefold division of earlier analytic philosophers: some looked for "definitive resolutions" to philosophical problems, some merely for making them clear; but others -- well, "still others [believed] it would show these questions to be ill-formed ‘pseudo-problems.’" Ah yes, cousin Ludwig – rather a black sheep, I'm afraid; but nobody really reads him anymore, so not to worry. Anyway, that just shows what a big tent we "analytics" have; no rigid orthodoxies here!

As should surprise no one, then, the statement is predictably self-serving baloney. But as Colin mentioned in his comment, I myself come from an analytic background. What then should we "analytics" say about other methods/practices/traditions? Well, that's a hard question to answer. I'll have to put most of it off; but let me say a few things. First, for all my abuse of it, the statement is quite right that "analytic philosophy" no longer names a particular method, or even a bunch of people who all read each other's work. Instead it names a bunch of people who were trained by, or who were trained by people who were trained by, an earlier bunch of people who either shared a method or simply read each other's work. Some of these people have very different attitudes toward other kinds of philosophy than, say, Carnap did. So the "analytic/continental split" is indeed "becoming less and less significant" in that sense.

So while Rorty may have been right a quarter-century ago to complain that analytic departments were those in which the answer to the question of "who is going to teach Hegel and Nietzsche?" was "no one" or "the German department" (or "the English/comp lit department"), this is less so nowadays, even in smaller departments. And in non-pedagogical contexts we see much more interaction: McDowell reaches out to Hegel and Gadamer; Habermas is big on Putnam and Brandom (himself a big Hegel fan); Andrew Bowie aligns Davidson with Schelling and Schleiermacher; Jeff Malpas merges Davidson with Heidegger and Gadamer; the Cavellians are all over Wittgenstein, Heidegger, Kierkegaard, Emerson, and the Romantics; and of course the interest of cognitive scientists in phenomenologists like Merleau-Ponty is old news.

All this is to the good (not like I agree with – or even understand – all of these people, of course). But I would have to agree with Leiter that the overwhelming majority, as well as the trend, in "analytic philosophy" (now understood, again, as the various heirs of a once much more unified "tradition"), continues to regard not only most continental figures, but also the collaborators I mentioned, as inimical or irrelevant to a naturalist program they regard as central to it (if perhaps not constitutive of it as a method would be) -- that is, unless they can be read as naturalists themselves (as Leiter does Nietzsche, as a sort of proto-Quine).

Indeed, one commenter on Leiter's post suggests that a more relevant "split" might be between realists and anti-realists, or between naturalists and their opponents. And while the former seems inadequate (leaving out as it does, well, the rest of us), the latter may indeed be as important as Leiter suggests; but it works better, I think, when we see it as a split within "analytic philosophy" (again broadly construed). On the one side, in the ascendant, we have not only overt naturalism like Leiter's, but any other sort of incorrigibly Cartesian or dualistic view, however manifested: residual metaphysical realism (whether in metaphysical, epistemological, or semantic contexts), resurgent a priori metaphysics, hard-core empiricism, whatever. This of course is most of "analytic philosophy," and I find myself more and more thinking about letting them have the term. On the other side, scattered and demoralized, we have (neo-)pragmatists, (certain) Wittgensteinians, (some) phenomenologists, and others, which I suggest can be grouped in an unfortunately but unavoidably loose and fractious coalition which some have called "post-analytic". The term invites misunderstanding and is somewhat pretentious, but it does at least have the virtue of reflecting both a shared "analytic" background (if such there be) and a somewhat tentative search for new directions, including, possibly, a move toward other, non-analytic areas.

But I'm not wedded to it (the term). I just think that we need something like that to capture my sense that someone like Kit Fine (or James Pryor, or Jason Stanley, etc., etc.) and I, while both "philosophers," aren't even practitioners of the same discipline, let alone members of the same "school"; yet at the same time our differences might very well be traceable back to a wrong turn (or a failure to turn) that one or the other of us (or his main influences) made in the past, such that we can each see ourselves as having the same (ultimate) forebears -- or even to specific doctrines on which we disagree.

So "continental" philosophy need not even enter into it, in this sense. For all I've just said, I still find it much easier to read Pryor and Williamson than, say, Badiou or Zizek. In other words, there's a difference between reading texts such as the latter, which, due to their alien provenance, are painfully opaque, and reading texts which are painfully wrong-headed (even if thereby equally confusing). This means that even while seeing most analytic philosophy as stuck in the mud, "post-analytics" (that still looks funny) should be seen not as crossing over a DMZ to the other side, as much as looking wistfully out the window of a house divided.

So that's my rant. Beat that, Colin ... if you can.

Thursday, April 19, 2007

Truly random nine (power failure edition)

I have two reasons for not posting recently: first, I've been wading through (and occasionally contributing to) a monumental thread at the Valve about Derrida and idealism, which was interesting but (surprise!) inconclusive. Secondly, thanks to the recent nor'easter, we had a) a flooded basement, which had to be dealt with, and b) a power failure. But from these lemons we (eventually) make the bloggy lemonade, yes?

One night after considerable basement-to-lawn water-relocation activity, I fired up the computer, only to be greeted soon after by the sudden onset of near-total darkness (thank you, PSE & G). I say near-total, because my laptop was still on, having switched to battery power. But my aged titanium PowerBook (which must be all of three or four years old) no longer charges very well, and only ever says it has a half-hour of power left (which actually means it's on the verge of shutting down). Besides, the modem went out too.

So I turned it off and instead of fumbling around for some lights, I went to bed. But I was wide awake, so I located my battery-powered discman and headphones, the plan being to listen to something to lull me to sleep. But of course there was no light, so I couldn't just pop in, say, Trances & Drones or anything by Alio Die. So I picked something at random from the many piles of discs within arm's reach. Here is the result of that search for your amusement. The first disc I selected turned out to be:

1. Kettel – Through Friendly Waters (Sending Orbs)

Kettel is a Dutch person/ensemble (I think person), and this is Sending Orbs 001, from a couple of years ago. I've only listened to it a couple of times, but after a few minutes I identified it correctly, which was harder than you might think, as quite a bit of contemporary ambient sounds somewhat like this. There was something about the sequencers though which sounded familiar. After a couple of tracks I found it too busy for my present purposes, so I moved on, to

2. Sogar – Basal (12k)

This too I recognized pretty quickly (although I did get a hint from the slimline case). Here also we have a common style (minimal/pointillist DSP stuff, like virtually everything else on that label), so it wasn't obvious. I like this disc, but I didn't want to hear it just then. Next:

3. Sandoz – Digital Lifeforms (Touch)

Some people swear by the amazingly prolific Richard H. Kirk (ex-Cabaret Voltaire, if you remember them), and I have a number of his discs under various monikers, but I don't. Swear by him, that is. This one is from 1993, and it has some good tracks on it, but like his other discs it's very beaty and not what I was looking for. I failed to identify it, by the way. I listened to most of track 1, not liking its plodding drumbeats at all and wondering what mistake I had made, that this disc takes up space in my collection (but as I said, some later tracks are good). I forget the exact order of the next few discs I chose. One of them was

4. Daniel Menche – Beautiful Blood (Alien8)

Menche is one of the premier American noise artists, and I have several of his discs. This one is billed as being a bit more ambient/listenable than the others, which I suppose it is, compared to, say, legions in the walls, but after several portentous low piano notes at the beginning of track 1, a tremendous burst of static reveals what sort of disc this is. Track two is indeed more drony, and might have worked, but I had not pegged this as either Menche or this particular disc, so I didn't try it.

5. Alp – at home with alp

This one begins with several minutes of rumbling, and I impatiently took it to be one of those avant-garde discs that sounds better on the page than in the ear; and indeed it turns out to have a semi-trendy conceptual-art-ish component, in that all the sounds are derived (as the disc's title suggests) from objects found in the home (track 1: disk drive, kettle, washing machine). I ejected it quickly; but like the Menche disc, if on a smaller scale, this is a fine semi-noisy effort. In fact I think I'll listen to it all later. This is the first Alp disc; his second, out and about with alp, uses found recordings from outside, and has some lovely ambient tracks.

6. Greg Davis – somnia (Kranky)

Here we have a promising title (but of course I couldn't see it). And in fact for heavily DSPed computer music it's very drifty and ambient (as we might expect given the label, home of Stars of the Lid and suchlike). On the other hand, for drifty ambient it has more of a harsh digital edge than one would really want if one is indeed hoping to drift off to sleep. Maybe I'll listen to this one too.

7. Shostakovich – String Quartets 3, 8, & 13 (Fitzwilliam String Quartet)

This was not what I wanted either. Of course I could have gotten a light and located something non-random (looking now, I see several candidates at or near the top of the various piles: not only Alio Die, but Jeff Greinke, Oöphoi, Thomas Köner, Synthetika, shuttle358, etc.). But I was determined to stick it out. Of course this is a great disc too. I recognized it immediately, although I knew it was #3 not because I know it that well, but because it's the only opening work on any single-disc Shostakovich quartet collection I own (I've got two cycles) -- oh wait, I might have a 7, 13, 14 somewhere. You might think #3 was an early work, but DSch didn't start writing quartets right away (good move), and #3 turns out to be a middle-period work from 1946, about the same time as the Ninth Symphony, and totally rocks. Which is not what I wanted to do.

8. Robert Wyatt – shleep (thirsty ear)

Okay, now I know someone's mocking me. The front painting (by Alfreda Benge, Robert's wife) even shows Robert asleep on the back of a gigantic bird. But the music, great as it is (all-star cast, including Evan Parker, Phil Manzanera, Brian Eno, Paul Weller, and Philip Catherine), is not sleepy at all. The opening track, "Heaps of Sheeps," about trying to get to sleep, has been running through my head ever since. Here's a lyrical excerpt:
Still not sleeping,
I tried counting sheep.
One by one,
they leapt across the fence
constructed for them.
Right to left,
across the fence I had constructed.
Having jumped,
they refused further direction.

Each sheep, where it landed,
refusing to exit, remained.
(Creating a vast writhing heap
growing fast on the left).
Try as I might,
I could not stop them entering
once again.
Try as they might,
not one could leave the stage.
As it says on the back of the disc (tweaking Hamlet, no doubt): "fat chance to dream".

But then:

9. various artists – Infraction Sampler 1: Fall/Winter 2005-2006

A short but glorious bath of frayed string chords greets my ear. Here, finally, we have some seriously ambient material, from a fine microlabel dedicated to same. (Check website here.) I did have some trouble IDing this disc though. A CDR was generously included with one of my orders as compensation for having waited so long for a pre-order, and as I have most of the tracks on the discs themselves, I hadn't listened to this one that much. I should have gotten the Ultra Milkmaids/Aidan Baker track (track 3), but it just hadn't occurred to me that this disc might be an anthology, and I was still puzzled about track 2 (an unreleased track by Mifune), which was a very nice guitar/echo piece in a sort of muted Günter Schickert mode. At one point I did indeed start thinking Andrew Liles-y thoughts (track 5), but I knew the whole disc couldn't be him, and I still hadn't put two and two together. If I had stuck it out through track 10 (a track from a forthcoming reissue of Tetsu Inoue's classic World Receiver, which everyone should snap up immediately when it arrives), I would have understood; but I was indeed starting to fall asleep by track 7 or so, so I quit.

But I have learned my lesson: I have placed the Matthias Grassow/Klaus Wiese disc mercurius (Arya) where I can locate it even in the dark.

UPDATE: The World Receiver reissue, I see, has been out for some time. Go get it!

Tuesday, April 10, 2007


If you know what this delightful icon denotes, then you will want to check out this amusing site – not that the site concerns what the icon denotes, mind you! (If not, go here, not like that's a complete explanation or anything.)

HT: Mormon Metaphysics

Wednesday, April 04, 2007

Fair's fair

At Mixing Memory, Chris ameliorates his own lack of postage by sending us to two separate discussions, each between Sam Harris and Some Religious Guy. RG #1 is Andrew Sullivan, and this one's been going on for a while. Last time I checked, they had reached an impasse, but it seems they've been plugging away nonetheless. Good luck, fellas!

RG #2 is celebrity pastor Rick Warren, whose encounter with Harris was documented in this last week's Newsweek magazine. Man, is it ever painful to read (thanks Chris!). Here's where I gave up, about a third of the way through:
WARREN: Where do you get your morality? If there is no God, if I am simply complicated ooze, then the truth is, your life doesn't matter, my life doesn't matter.

HARRIS: That is a total caricature of—

WARREN: No, let me finish. I let you caricature Christianity.
Well, that's okay then.

Sunday, April 01, 2007

No joke

They're not fooling around at the latest Philosophers' Carnival. Check it out!

Wheels within wheels

Today is April 1, which (for the benefit of those from distant locales, spambots or no) we in the U. S. of A. celebrate by playing practical jokes on each other. (I believe that in France they have "poisson d'avril" or some such.) So today I was interested to read of an elaborate stunt that some wiseacres have played on us.

I need to back up a bit. I haven't commented on it, but one extended skirmish in the evolution wars over the past few weeks has been between one Dr. Michael Egnor, a purported neurosurgeon, on the ID side, and various interblogutors on the other, many from scienceblogs (see here and here, for example).

But today it was revealed that the whole thing was a joke:
Over the past month I [i.e., "Egnor"] have engaged in what my friend Bill Dembski ludicly refers to as "street theatre". My posts here [i.e., on the Discovery Institute blog] have been an outlandish parody of the bona fide Intelligent Design position, liberally injected with many of the more simplistic errors of the Young Earth Creationists. My purpose was to see how far we could go before the gullible Darwinists realized they were being taken for a ride. The Discovery Institute has graciously aided (and abetted!) by allowing me a voice on this weblog and by giving me valuable feedback on my comedic output. Together, we have succeeded in duping the Darwinists (like the foul-mouthed duncecaps at the Panda's Thumb and Scienceblogs).
At The Panda's Thumb we find a sporting tip of the cap to the prankster(s), and PZ at Pharyngula is equally red-faced.

So, ha ha? Not so fast. If this is a joke by the Discovery Institute, it's hard to see the point of it. As Mark CC's post (first scienceblogs link above, at Good Math, Bad Math) shows, "Egnor's" misunderstandings of the relevant concept of information are sadly typical and not at all susceptible to the "you actually thought I believed that? Whatta maroon!" treatment. In fact they pretty much hew to the standard ID line on the matter; as does a lot of the rest of what "Egnor" says. And as commenters at PT/PZ point out, if it's hard to tell deliberate balderdash from arguments in earnest, that could just as easily say something about those arguments in earnest as it was supposed to say about those too dense to tell them apart.

Other commenters at these pages – more suspicious, more sharp-eyed, or at least more awake than the rest of us – tell us to take a closer look at the page on which the hoax is revealed. It sure looks like the DI blog ... but instead of "Discovery Institute" it says "Discover"; the trackback URL is to ""; the page is called "Evolution Views & News" instead of "News & Views"; and, at bottom below the trackback, the blurb says "Evolution Views & News presents analysis of that coverage, as well as original reporting that accurately delivers misinformation [!] about the current state of the debate over Darwinian evolution" ... although the subsequent link is indeed to the real DI blog (, that is, rather than Lastly (or is it?), the figure in the logo seems to be wearing an eyepatch (and may thus, if I am up to date on these matters, be a closet Pastafarian).

So, what we have here is in fact (as Maxwell Smart would say), the old fake hoax trick. Unless it itself is a hoax too (the old ersatz fake hoax trick?). In any case, the real entry for Evolution News & Views is here, credited, as it happens, to Dr. Michael Egnor. So is he spoofing us too? Let's take a look.

The post begins with a swipe at materialism. Not surprisingly, Dr. Egnor is not an advocate of this position (i.e., physicalism). Amazingly enough, we agree on this point. Physicalism is a form of metaphysical substance monism: everything that exists is composed of a single substance type -- matter. Its natural opponent is substance dualism, most famously in Descartes. But as I've said before, substance dualism is only the most superficial manifestation of Cartesian subject/object dualism. Once we resolve to stop plucking the dandelion and go for the roots (whether or not we go on to trade them for a rhizome), physicalism is no longer well-motivated. In fact it preserves the dualistic opposition in its negative form (as, similarly, do most forms of several other doctrines: skepticism, empiricism, anti-realism, and a bit further away, consequentialism). The actual dualistic error is the urge to ground the manifest qualitative difference between normative and causal explanations of everyday facts in a corresponding metaphysical difference between types of substance. In resisting this error in the way they do – by affirming a single substance-type and grounding the appearances in it and its various manifestations, it seems to me that physicalists themselves succumb to the pernicious urge.

What this post needs now, I feel, is (hold onto your hats) a lengthy quotation from John McDowell. As he puts it in his awesome paper "Functionalism and Anomalous Monism" (originally from Actions and Events, the second volume of papers from a marathon Davidson conference in 1985, which is out of print, but the paper is now available here as well):
It is quite intelligible [he says in response to an argument of Brian Loar] that [substance dualism] should seem to be [the] basic flaw [of the Cartesian picture], and consequently that a "physicalist" conception of the inner should seem to be exactly what we need instead. But [...] I think this account of the Cartesian picture does not go deep enough; and if we go deeper, this apparent recommendation for "physicalism" disappears.

What is fundamentally at issue is the pull of the idea that reality is objective, in the sense of being fully describable from no particular point of view. [footnote: Nagel's article "Subjective and objective"] This idea is in tension with a natural intuition to the effect that the mental is both real and essentially subjective [in the relevant sense]. Cartesian [substance] dualism results from trying to put these forces in equilibrium: the subjectivity of the mental is (supposedly) accommodated by the idea of privileged access, while the object of that access is conceived, in conformity with the supposed requirement of objectivity, as there independently – there in a reality describable from no particular point of view – rather than as being constituted by the subject's special access to it. [footnote: B. Williams's book on Descartes] Since there is no plausibility in the idea that one could have the appropriate kind of special access to something "physical," the upshot is the notion of a non-"physical" substance.

This account of what generates the Cartesian picture of the inner suggests that to recoil from Cartesian dualism into "physicalism" may be to avoid only a superficial defect; it may be that the fundamental flaw is the attempt to force the mental into an objective mould, something still plainly operative in the supposedly healthy position in which this recoil leaves one. (pp. 394-5 in original; [fetches other volume] 335-6 in the McDowell collection, from which see also "Aesthetic Value, Objectivity, and the Fabric of the World," another corker)
But as you might imagine that's not Dr. Egnor's route (remember him?) to the rejection of physicalism. Here's sentence four of his post:
[M]aterialism is nonsense, because if matter and energy are all that exist, then truth doesn't exist (it's neither matter nor energy). If truth doesn't exist, then materialism can't be true.
Wow. Now let this be a lesson to you (should you need same): a true conclusion does not a non-ridiculous argument make.

But wait! Perhaps he too is joking. Sadly, I believe that he is not. Once again, this is too close to the actual ID line on the matter for the joke to have much point. I think Alvin Plantinga (a philosopher, even, to the shame of our guild) says something like this in his review of Dawkins's book. I'll stop now, but maybe we can pick this up again some time, like when there is no question of spoiling the joke.

UPDATE [4/6]: I missed this accompanying post at the Panda's Thumb, which either does or does not confirm my verdict about Egnor's post.