Pandemic and epistemic humility

I was asked by a colleague recently what I think is going to happen in the Fall. My answer was that I don’t even pretend to know.

There’s not too much overlap between my professional expertise and my opinions on our current situation, but there’s this: There is more uncertainty than you’d like to admit, but that doesn’t mean that you can say whatever you want. This holds both in general and in the present specifics.

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Sacrobosco via Morgan Mar

I recently discovered David Morgan Mar’s fun blog 100 Proofs that the Earth is a Globe. He’s adding things over time, so he’s only up to 42 proofs so far.

I browsed the site looking for a proof that I know from Copernicus. It figures in debates about underdetermination, and it’s a stock example I give to students to illustrate the Duhem-Quine problem.1

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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.

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Kantian hustle

Reading an interview with Mark Johnston, I learned a fact that I can’t believe I didn’t know before: As a student, Immanuel Kant made money as a pool shark. Johnston gives this extended quote from one of Kant’s university friends:

Kant’s only recreation was playing billiards… [He] had nearly perfected [his] game, and rarely returned home without some winnings. As a consequence, persons refused to play with [him], and [he] abandoned this source of income, and chose instead L’Hombre, which he played well.

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The mysterious island

Deep within these grooves of Academe,
In quiet cubicles, white and bare,
Hunched homunculi strain and labor
(Like monks of old in cloistered cells
Balancing angels on needles’ points)
At tasks bizarre with tools outrageous
Through days and nights of anguish unrelenting.

Edith Eliot1
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Measuring influence

At The Splintered Mind, Eric Schwitzgebel gives what he describes as “a rough measure of current influence in … ‘mainstream Anglophone philosophy’.” His method starts with citations in the Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy. Considering only authors born after 1900, he tallies up the number of distinct articles in which they are cited.

The highly-influential Hilary Putnam is cited in 168 articles. Using that to ostensively define a unit, identify that as 1 Putnam of influence.

Putnam is in third place on the list, behind WVO Quine (1.14 Putnams of influence) and David Lewis (1.59 Putnams).

The inevitable vanity search and a little math reveals that I have 77.4 milliPutnams of influence.1 Should I be chuffed about that? Can I put it on my CV?

Blogs come and go

There’s also the general cultural shift from blogs to social media.

Jenny Saul

The pull quote is from the announcement that the Feminist Philosophers blog is shutting down. It had a good run, but it’s sad to see it go.

Imagine some kind of segue here.

My colleague Monika Piotrowska wrote a recent post for the Blog of the APA about the possibility of de-extinction. Last week I complimented her on the post, and she expressed surprise that I’d seen it. I still do the old-school thing of using an RSS reader to follow blogs that I care about.

Saul is right, though. Lots of things that would have been on a blog a decade ago are now Tweeted or Facebooked. This post could drift off into maudlin reflection, dismay at the state of culture, or references to Marshall McLuhan. But I’m not going to do it. 🙄

If you’re looking for an RSS reader, I highly recommend The Old Reader. It was founded after Google torpedoed GoogleReader, and the founders were programmers who just wanted something that had the same basic functionality. They subsidize it with a Premium option, but the free account will aggregate up to 100 blogs. I’m using only about two-thirds of that.

Pedagogy and the early modern syllabus

Ruth Boeker’s syllabus for teaching early modern philosophy is featured today at the Blog of the APA.

Ruth was a visiting assistant professor here in Albany several years ago, and her current practice reflects things she did here. Our campus teaching center has been a big promoter of Team-Based Learning for many years. She first encoutnered it here and recommends, as further reading on TBL for anyone interested, a pair of articles written by our local experts. (One of whom is Philosophy PhD alum Kimberly Van Orman.)

So, yay! Cheers to all.