The future as it looked from the past

I have a book called Values and the Future on my shelf which I take down and read short passages from occasionally. In one article, Theodore J. Gordon offers “Forecasts of certain technological developments and their potential social consequences” from his vantage point in 1969. The prospect of wide-band communication systems suggests these possible consequences for education:1

Ready and cheap availability of excellent curricula… might make education a respected and common pastime.

Canned lectures by eminent professors may make TV teaching superior to that in resident institutions.

University degrees will be extended to viewers who complete their courses solely on TV. Residency requirements may disappear.

Papers on the JRD thesis

In several papers, I’ve made use of what I call the James-Rudner-Douglas (JRD) thesis: “Anytime a scientist announces a judgement of fact, they are making a tradeoff between the risk of different kinds of error. This balancing act depends on the costs of each kind of error, so scientific judgement involves assessments of the value of different outcomes.”

I have a paper forthcoming in Episteme which explores this theme as well as other issues in William James’ “The Will to Believe.” I just sent off my final draft and brought the version on my website up to date.

I’ve given a couple of talks in which I mull over possible counterexamples to the thesis. I recently wrote that as a paper, I’ve now posted a draft. Comments are welcome.

I have nothing to say, but still I blog

Back in the halcyon days of three weeks ago, I made this glib but sincere post to social media—

I wish fewer of my friends would make posts advancing some conspiracy theory about the election that they dreamed up over breakfast.

In the meantime, the world has gotten very strange. Election speculation is gone, replaced to a large extent by commiseration, solidarity, and plain kvetching. Yet there have been definite in-roads among my friends toward posting broad conclusions about covid-19.1

I have opinions about elections and diseases, but these are times of great uncertainty. It’s a sign that I’m getting old, I guess, but I have less of a taste for the rhetorical mode of laying down facts under conditions of ignorance than I used to do.

A bear says, "I don't know much but I do know this: I will speculate wildly about any subject for the sake of conversation."
comic by Reza Farazmand

Remote feelings

I’ve formulated and not written several blog posts about life in the time of Covid-19.

Last week was Spring Break, which meant that events didn’t quite register the way they would have done any other week. Being at home and not seeing students would have happened anyway. Now classes have resumed, such as they are.

Continue reading “Remote feelings”

Irreconcilable differences

Last time I taught a seminar on pragmatism, I began to doubt that it made sense to see “pragmatism” as a movement and blogged about the fundamental differences between Peirce’s and James’ positions. I’m teaching pragmatism again, and the differences are even more salient this time.

What follows is a somewhat rambling discussion of differences between Peirce and James on method, on truth, and in their general outlook.

Continue reading “Irreconcilable differences”

Bentham’s philosophical remains

Back in the 90s, when I wanted to move my website off university servers, I brainstormed possible domain names. I settled on fecundity partly just because it sounds good, but also because I learned the word from reading Jeremy Bentham. A webcam pointed at Bentham’s dressed-up remains was a highlight of the internet back then, and the association amused me.

Continue reading “Bentham’s philosophical remains”

Multiple choice allows for objective grading

The Introductory Philosophy Quiz has been on my website pretty much since the beginning, and it was a transcription of a quiz that Ryan and I had on the office wall. The following question occurred to me while I was proctoring an exam today, and I couldn’t resist adding it.

Select the best answer.

  • A. B is the best answer.
  • B. A is the best answer.
  • C. There is an instability between A and B; although it is not entirely satisfactory, the best answer is to select one of them randomly or arbitrarily.

Pragmatism texts

I’m teaching a seminar on pragmatism again this semester, so I’ve updated some of the texts in my pragmatism and American philosophy repository. My habits for using git are terrible, so lots of small changes got swept together in one giant update.

The big addition is LaTeX and PDF files for William Clifford’s “The Ethics of Belief.” Although it’s in the public domain, I was unable to find an unabridged version anywhere on the net.1 So I spent some time today making one.2 Starting from OCR on a scan of the 19th-century original, I fixed the formatting, cleaned up the transcription, and whatnot. There may still be some errors, but it’s better than anything else I could find.

The update also adds the third lecture to James’ Pragmatism.