Tuesday, March 31, 2009

Culture and Reality

I've just finished writing a lecture on Plato's views on poetry. One thing that really needs to be understood is that, for the Greeks, poetry was their mass entertainment, something like East Enders today, as well as being regarded as providing education in moral values (not for nothing do poets feature prominently in the first two books of the Republic).

It's gratifying to once more see similar concerns raised in contemporary society - this time teachers complaining about the effects of reality TV on children.

Sunday, March 29, 2009

The Obligation to Review Papers

Interesting thread on Leiter, here. I weigh in myself, here. One of my questions has also been picked up elsewhere.

Specifying Ranges

This reminds me of my old geography teacher, Mr Wright, who made sure people gave ranges like 10k-40k, rather than 10-40k by marking our mock exams harshly. As he put it, 'how would you have written a range that really was between 10 and 40,000?'

Saturday, March 28, 2009

Calculating Publication Metrics

This useful article shows the difficulty with trying to measure the worthiness of a publication by the journal's 'impact factor'. (And, especially, further difficulties, like dividing that impact by co-authors).

At the end of the day, what matters is quality, not quantity. In today's management-driven universities, there's a real danger a number of great figures from the past would have 'perished' because they simply didn't publish enough...

Map of Plato's Republic

I'm currently trying to write a lecture on Plato's Republic. Since the (later) division of the work into ten books isn't particularly helpful, I came up with this map - thought I'd post it here for reference, in case anyone else finds it useful.



Argument with Cephalus, Polemarchus & Thrasymachus



Challenge to Socrates



Initial founding of good city; division of labour



Early education of Guardians; censorship of poetry



Upbringing of the Guardians, inc. physical regimen



Account of virtues, inc. justice



Division of individual soul (psyche)



Prescriptions for the Guardians, inc. family life and war



Rule of philosophers; true philosophers distinguished from lovers of sights and sophists



The Form of the Good: the Sun and Divided Line



The Cave



Education of the Guardians



Deviant constitutions (timarchy, oligarchy, democracy, tyranny) and corresponding men



Comparing the happiness of just and unjust men



Exile of imitative poetry



Immortality of the soul and afterlife rewards

Thursday, March 26, 2009

Forthcoming ETMP Article

I have a paper on weighted lotteries, entitled 'A Defence of Weighted Lotteries in Life Saving Cases' (DOI 10.1007/s10677-009-9157-7), forthcoming in Ethical Theory and Moral Practice, which is now online here (subscribers only).

Tuesday, March 24, 2009

Journals for Moral/Political Philosophy

As an early career researcher, I'm still scoping the market for potential research outlets. I've posted before on the issue of journal rankings. Now, thanks to polls conducted by Brian Leiter and Thom Brooks, I have some more information to go on.

Leiter results:
1. Ethics (Condorcet winner: wins contests with all other choices)
2. Philosophy & Public Affairs loses to Ethics by 150–52
3. Philosophical Review loses to Ethics by 174–25, loses to Philosophy & Public Affairs by 141–54
4. Journal of Philosophy loses to Ethics by 196–16, loses to Philosophical Review by 78–67
5. Journal of Political Philosophy loses to Ethics by 184–12, loses to Journal of Philosophy by 92–69
6. Nous loses to Ethics by 186–18, loses to Journal of Political Philosophy by 84–69
7. Philosophy & Phenomenological Research loses to Ethics by 191–10, loses to Nous by 86–55
8. Utilitas loses to Ethics by 198–15, loses to Philosophy & Phenomenological Research by 76–68
9. Mind loses to Ethics by 189–19, loses to Utilitas by 80–68
10. Philosophical Studies loses to Ethics by 190–16, loses to Mind by 85–58
14. Journal of Moral Philosophy
16. Ethical Theory and Moral Practice
17. Political Theory

Brooks results:
1. Philosophy and Public Affairs (Condorcet winner: wins contests with all other choices)
2. Ethics loses to Philosophy and Public Affairs by 12–11
3. Journal of Political Philosophy loses to Philosophy and Public Affairs by 27–1, loses to Ethics by 26–1
4. Journal of Philosophy loses to Philosophy and Public Affairs by 29–1, loses to Journal of Political Philosophy by 14–8
5. Politics, Philosophy, and Economics loses to Philosophy and Public Affairs by 27–0, loses to Journal of Philosophy by 14–8
6. Journal of Moral Philosophy loses to Philosophy and Public Affairs by 27–3, loses to Politics, Philosophy, and Economics by 15–10
7. Utilitas loses to Philosophy and Public Affairs by 27–2, loses to Journal of Moral Philosophy by 14–10
8. Law and Philosophy loses to Philosophy and Public Affairs by 26–1, loses to Utilitas by 10–5
9. Political Theory loses to Philosophy and Public Affairs by 26–1, loses to Law and Philosophy by 9–8
10. Philosophical Review loses to Philosophy and Public Affairs by 25–2, loses to Political Theory by 8–7
17. Political Studies
=27. Philosophy
29. Ethical Theory and Moral Practice
34. Res Publica
35. Contemporary Political Theory

No surprises to many that the top two in both polls are Ethics and P&PA, albeit that their order is reversed. There are some interesting differences between the two, however. What's particularly interesting is to see the high placement of general philosophy journals, such as J. Phil or Phil. Rev., which I'd be less inclined to look at than the likes of JPP or PPE. Brooks' blog also includes some general politics journals, such as Political Studies (though not, it seems, APSR). The choice which field to appeal to is also something that I've commented on before.

Lotteries to Decide Football Matches

It was on this day in 1965 that Liverpool beat FC Cologne on the (second) toss of a coin, after a 2-2 draw over two legs and extra time.

Tuesday, March 17, 2009


I handed over the keys to my office today. I'm now temporarily without anywhere of my own to work (other than my bedroom, of course - I'm not literally homeless). In the past, I've compared PhD Comics to 'Dilbert for grad students', but in fact Dilbert once again better captures the wonder of having and losing an office - with even an implicit comment on levelling down.

Sunday, March 15, 2009

Pricing Incentives

In markets, prices typically act as incentives, encouraging production of what's in demand (and encouraging people to switch their consumption to other goods). Prices can also be artificially altered to influence consumer behaviour. For example, GPs have recently rejected proposals to tax chocolate, while MPs are currently calling for minimum prices on alcohol.

Both these proposals involve sticks rather than carrots. If they want to encourage healthy eating, then I'd like to see the money raised used to subsidize fruit and vegetables, lowering the price on things we presumably want people to consumer more of. It could be argued that such moves are paternalistic but, like the taxes on unhealthy products (and, for that matter, compulsory motor helmets) they could be justified as reducing the burden we place on the NHS (and thus others).

UPDATE: Anyone interested in this issue, and looking for a PhD scholarship, may want to look at this.

Saturday, March 14, 2009

Man Utd 1-4 Liverpool

Now that has to be our best performance and result since at least, oooh, our last match. We've felt hard down by in several recent matches against Utd over the last few seasons, and not had a good record under Benitez, but this completes a memorable league double (after our win at Anfield).

United took the lead mid-way through the first-half, with a Ronaldo penalty after Reina needlessly up-ended Park (no complaints there - perhaps Reina felt pressured into it given Hyypia's lack of pace, but Park wasn't going anywhere dangerous at the time). Parity was restored eight minutes later, when Skrtel hit a long ball for Torres to chase - Vidic let it bounce and Torres was past him to beat Van Der Saar.

Some Utd fans had made a lot of the fact that Torres didn't do too much to trouble their defence last season, but he certainly gave Vidic a torrid time today. I think he did have one penalty shout of his own, when Vidic blocked him off with two out-stretched arms in the penalty area - maybe it would have been given had we not been at Old Trafford. We did get one of our own, however, when Gerrard surged into the area only to have his feet clipped from under him by Evra (who, surprisingly, wasn't carded). Gerrard stood up to despatch the penalty and complete a fantastic half of football. 2-1 at the break, but a long way to go.

The second half was surprisingly open and, when Ferguson introduced Giggs, Scholes and Berbatov (a more threatening trio than Babel, El Zhar and Ngog I have to admit) I feared the worst. I did comment to my friend, Tom, though that it was risky if they were to pick up any injuries. What I didn't expect was for Vidic to earn a straight red card - this time, unable to cope with another Gerrard run and hauling him to the ground, rugby-style. To make matters even better, Aurelio curled a fantastic free-kick round the wall and into the corner of the net, to give us a two goal cushion as well as the man advantage.

Despite this, the game never looked entirely safe, as we unsurprisingly were forced to spend a lot of time defending. I'd been surprised when Riera had been replaced by Dossena (rather than Babel, whose pace I thought would pose danger on the break), but did say again to Tom that it would be funny if he followed up his first goal against Real with another here - and he did, running on to a long clearance from Reina and lifting it expertly over Van Der Saar with his first touch. Maybe we've been too harsh on him this season - perhaps the problem is that he's not a left-back but an attacker!

I still think the league is beyond us and, to be honest, I'd be even more worried about facing Utd in Europe after this (which will no doubt fire them up) - so perhaps that's a draw to put money on, if you're a betting man. Nonetheless, it's great to savour the moment.

Friday, March 13, 2009

Random Awards

Distributing awards at random is not something that I'd be in favour of. The point of a lottery is that it is blind to 'merit'.

Interestingly, Brian Barry - who passed away earlier this week - suggested that elections provide one way of deciding who should rule when we assume all are equal. Lotteries would be an alternative: we could select our representatives by lot.

Crossing the Road

This BBC feature compares pedestrian crossings in different countries. Note this comment from Oxford:

It all depends on where you are. In Oxford, no one drives through the centre of town if they can help it. The historic streets are very narrow, and lots of them don't really go anywhere much, and added to that a few key streets in the centre of town have been pedestrianised. This means that pedestrians tend to treat all the central streets as their own, and drivers know to drive slowly because people WILL just walk out.

Oddly, I can think of one street in particular where this used to happen all the time. A few years ago the council installed a pedestrian crossing. Suddenly the previously patient drivers started to behave as though the street was theirs and to get angry if pedestrians didn't wait at the crossing.
Jess, Oxford, UK

Thursday, March 12, 2009

Planning Chimp

Today, I was teaching tutorials on abortion. One of my favourite articles on the topic is Tooley's 'Abortion and Infanticide'. In it he argues that one only has a right to life if one is able to conceive of oneself as a continuing being over time. The result is that neither a foetus nor a young infant has a right to life. The argument also has interest to other areas of practical ethics, such as animal rights. It could be used to argue, for example, that most animals have a greater interest in avoiding pain than in continuing to live - something I find plausible.

This recent news story, of a zoo chimp that collected stones to throw at people later, came up in the tutorials though. It suggests that some animals are able to imagine and even plan for the future. Maybe this chimp has more right to life than a human baby!

Tuesday, March 10, 2009

Liverpool 4-0 Real Madrid

This was a great result - our joint-biggest win of the season I believe (with the 5-1 win over Newcastle) and particularly satisfying given that some connected to Real had predicted that they would win home and away. Gerrard and Torres were on top form and even the much-maligned Dossena scored!

Monday, March 09, 2009

Polluting the Polls

In this article, forthcoming in the Australasian Journal of Philosophy, Jason Brennan argues that we have not a duty to vote well (which is too demanding), but a duty not to vote badly. While some have previously argued against a general duty to vote, this goes further, in arguing that some people may have a duty not to vote.

Once again, Dilbert is ahead of the political philosophy here.

Sunday, March 08, 2009

Wadham Job

It's been a tough year on the job market, so I was surprised that this 6 hour stipendiary lectureship in politics wasn't better advertised. (I don't recall seeing it on jobs.ac.uk and it isn't on the departmental website.) Not a great catch for anyone with a completed PhD admittedly, but better than nothing - and it may also suit those writing up.

I note that at least they allow their lecturer to 'weight' hours (I don't get this privilege).


This BBC article examines the US tipping culture. It raises some good points - like why should one add 10% or 20% to a bill, rather than a flat rate, when it is no harder to pour a $10 bottle of wine than a $100 one? Presumably this is a form of progressive redistribution - those who can afford the $100 wine can also afford to pay more to the lowly-paid bar staff.

It also suggests that tipping provides an incentive for good service. I'm unsure of this claim. It seems that the practice could in theory have that result, but if 10% (or whatever) becomes a standard - expected even for mediocre service - then it's no longer any incentive for extra effort beyond the call of duty, but merely what is expected. To have force as an incentive, it seems to me that the gratuity must be genuinely discretionary.

Thursday, March 05, 2009

Random Decision Making

In his Democratic Authority, David Estlund claims that "Democratic legitimacy requires that the procedure can be held, in terms acceptable to all qualified points of view, to be epistemically the best (or close to it) among those that are better than random" (p. 98). I've always been somewhat unsure what the 'better than random' bit is doing; if the best procedure is random, why isn't that enough? This Dilbert strip seems to make the point.

Wednesday, March 04, 2009

Nice Work If You Can Get It...

City law firms are apparently paying graduates (modest sums of £5k-£10k) to defer their start dates (and full salaries) by a year...

How Many Friends?

As if freshers' week wasn't enough, the anxieties of many students are no doubt added to by the who-has-the-most-'friends' competition that is Facebook. This BBC article discusses how many friends one should have - or, perhaps more accurately, one is normally likely to have (further discussion on CT).

I guess from my experience it's reasonably true, although I would note that the internet is changing the nature of friendship. In sixth form I was part of a very close group of about eight and we saw each other almost every day. Since coming to university, I've found it seems more normal to have different friends from different circles (college, department, extra-curricular interests, etc). One advantage of social networking sites is that they enable you to stay in touch with people, even separated by distance. I'm no longer so close to old friends from school, but still talk to several that way and it's good to always have the avenue of communication open and be able to follow news in their lives.

Personally, I'm happy to use facebook fairly indiscriminately - for example, adding people I've only met once at a conference, or perhaps not at all in real life (provided I know them 'virtually'). Obviously this means that many aren't really 'friends' in any but the most extended sense, but networking is important in life (and academia particularly), and I can certainly vouch for the benefits of keeping in touch with people I've met at conferences.

Tuesday, March 03, 2009

Liverpool 2-0 Sunderland

I only tuned in at half time (having been dining in college) and my first reaction - other than being possibly more relieved than disappointed to find the score of 0-0 - was surprise at seeing Mascherano deployed at right back. Obviously, playing Skrtel there against Boro didn't work. I was hoping to see Stephen Darby given his chance - but, apparently, after being told that he would play he picked up an injury in training. With all three of our right backs injured and Real Madrid in our next match, that could be a real selection dilemma for Benitez: personally, I'd be happiest seeing Jamie Carragher shunted over again (though there are some stories circulating that he's refused to play there, I think that's unlucky - more plausible is the story that he's feeling the effects of tiredness or illness).

Anyway, in so far as the matter in hand goes, this was a fairly routine win. Again, it seems that we struggled to convert chances - having about two dozen shots (half on target) - but it was particularly pleasing to see Ngog notch another. We'll need more from him, Kuyt and Babel if Torres continues to be dogged by injury troubles. It looks too late to catch United - they're still four points ahead with two games in hand - but we must aim to stay ahead of Arsenal and Villa and compete with Chelsea for second spot.

Is Shame Learned?

This discussion on the BBC website suggests that shame of nudity is not natural but socially conditioned, perhaps to serve social interests in fidelity. It could have implications for our moral codes more generally.

Monday, March 02, 2009

Corpus Disqualified On University Challenge

As readers will know, there's been a lot of attention given to Corpus Christi's win on University Challenge this year. Sadly, the team has now been disqualified, since one of the contestants was (due to failure to get PhD funding) was no longer a student by the time of the final.

This is obviously very sad news for all involved, particularly the other three members of the team (though, of course, they're no less clever for this). I find it strange that the BBC had not at any point checked this eligibility beforehand, but if they weren't told maybe that's fair enough. If there was a rule breach then stripping Corpus of the title is presumably justified, but what I do find strange is awarding it to Manchester. Just because Manchester reached the final, there's no way of knowing whether or not they would have beaten whoever would have taken Corpus' place - I think it's a serious injustice there.

Sunday, March 01, 2009

School Lottery Review

A second lottery story in the same day (after this)!

Ed Balls on the School Admissions Code, here: "The code allows a role for random allocation, but I would be very concerned if it was happening other than as a last resort when other ways of allocating places have been exhausted."

UPDATE: Discussed on CT here.

Another Penalty Lottery

I kept half an eye on this afternoon's Carling Cup final and decided to switch the Five Live commentary on when it went to penalties. I was just in time to hear Mark Lawrenson say something along the lines of 'yes, it's a lottery now'. After the event he changed his tune - he said that the Man Utd players took better penalties and deserved to win. So, is it a lottery or a test of skill?