Thursday, September 24, 2009

Language and Etymology

I was somewhat amused to see this post on the Liverpool FC messageboard, in a discussion that began on the meaning of homosexuality and in which someone had appealed to the Greek root:

The issue is usage, not etymology.

If we go round saying all words mean whatever there [sic] etymological root means, everything will actually mean something else, and language will be destabilised.

Is that what you want? Who the **** are you? Derrida?

Maybe there is a market for Soccer & Philosophy after all...

Monday, September 21, 2009

The Accident of Birth

Those of us who've studied political theory will be used to some, like Rawls, making a great deal of the fact that one's birth is a matter of chance, and thus morally arbitrary. Today, I saw that a BBC editorial blog - weighing in on the question of who should pay for university, students or tax-payers - appeal to the same idea:
"there is also an issue here of inter-generational social justice... More by luck than desert, the generation of Lambert, Balls, Laidlaw and even Peston have had it pretty good... thanks to the accident of when we happened to have been born"

Sunday, September 20, 2009

Plato's Cave Animated

Here. (via John Holbo).

(It strikes me that this is pretty good, but I haven't watched the many other videos).

UPDATE: I think I actually prefer this animation, but by making it much shorter they skip out the fact that there are two (main) stages of enlightenment. The shadows the prisoners see are - importantly - copies of copies (i.e. shadows of statues).

Friday, September 18, 2009

CV Organisation

What should go on a CV and how should it be organised?

This is something that's stressing many on the market, even to the point of debating membership of professional bodies.

One friend of mine told me that he'd had more interviews since lumping all his publications into a single list (peer review journal articles marked by an asterisk). Nonetheless, it seems that that's not the consensus view on how best to structure a CV. My eye was caught by the discussion here.

Spiros suggests that some things, including conference proceedings, popular culture books, online reviews (except NDPR) and any edited volume not by a big name editor/press shouldn't be included on the CV at all. That seems a bit extreme to me, although I think it probably is best to clearly distinguish these items from peer-reviewed research.

My CV has a section for 'research and publications'. (This allowed me to list, in a separate sub-section, working papers and those under review, without being accused of trying to pass them off as publications). Until recently, that was simply divided into 'research articles' and 'book reviews'. The problem with this is that there are one or two items in the latter category that are quite substantial (e.g. I wrote a 2,500 word book review for Res Publica that underwent - an admittedly fairly light - peer-review). On the other hand, not all of my research-related publications are really that impressive. I recently had a summary of my PhD published in an online journal (see here); which is clearly research but it feels a bit wrong trying to pass that off alongside my articles in ETMP, Philosophy and Utilitas.

My latest CV, prepared for another assault on the job market, divides publications into 'scholarly research articles' and 'other pieces' (which includes notes, replies, reviews, introductions, etc). This allows me to put the pieces I want to draw attention to up front, while still including things like the EJPE piece or popular philosophy contributions in the latter, along with my book reviews (I'd consider them to have about equal weight - which I know is virtually none). I also put my 'working papers' sub-section between the two, so people associate it with further scholarly research on-going.

I'm quite happy with the current layout, but others should feel free to discuss their preferred layouts or advice.

Monday, September 14, 2009

Bleg: Name An Article?

Ok, unusual call for help. I have a revise and resubmit on an article on democracy and non-voting. In it, I point out that behind a lot of recent arguments for compulsory voting is the (often implicit) assumption that it is democratically better if more people vote. I argue that this is not obviously the case and that non-voting may actually be helpful - e.g. because it tends to be those most affected by a decision who are more likely to vote on it and there are democratic reasons to think that they ought to have more say.

At the moment, the article is simply called 'Democracy and Non-Voting.' I quite like this title actually - it's not especially clever or catchy, but short and too the point. One of the referees did ask, however, whether I might be able to come up with something a bit more engaging. Any suggestions gratefully welcomed.

Sunday, September 13, 2009


The latest (summer 2009) issue of the Erasmus Journal for Philosophy and Economics is available here (I assume that link will be here in future). I mention it only because they include a selection of recent PhD thesis summaries, including mine.

Longest Piece of Music

It's another old philosophical question: if a tree falls in the forest, and there's no one there to hear it, does it make a sound? (It's one relatively easily answered, unlike this variant.)

Here's a new one though: if a composer creates a 1,000 year long piece of music, then no-one will ever hear the whole thing, so what's the point?

Friday, September 11, 2009

Should We Save Animals First?

Interesting discussion on the BBC about whether it's right to spend large sums on an animal hospital rather than putting the money towards saving human lives.

Can Maggots Create Art?

We've all heard the one about chimpanzees typing out Shakespeare. I'm not so sure that maggots, of their own accord, could create a piece of art. Nonetheless, if a human decides to use them to create a piece of art, then I guess that makes him still the artist...

Monday, September 07, 2009

Is Nudity a Crime?

Apparently - according to this BBC article - nakedness as such isn't a crime in the UK, only if it 'offends decency'. I'm not sure this is really much more liberal, given that surely anyone naked could be accused of this and arrested, so there will certainly be a 'chilling' effect. Nonetheless, a useful case to remember next time I'm teaching Mill's On Liberty.

Sunday, September 06, 2009

Are Coin Flips Fair?

Interesting discussion here (via Thom).

Personally I'm inclined to think this isn't much of a problem, at least provided that parties don't have/try to use this knowledge. The fairness of a coin flip rests on epistemic randomness - because it may be the case that I have flipped the coin already, so the answer is determined but unknown to you when you call (since the coin is covered by my hand).

People with the knowledge here may be able to eke out a slight advantage, but then the knowledge can also be used to counteract such gamesmanship (e.g. by 'randomizing' whether you flip the coin in your hand after catching it). A little knowledge is a dangerous thing, at least if it's the preserve of the few, but if all have it the problems can be overcome.

Laws of Attraction

Good news: it seems that intelligent men are attractive to the opposite sex.

Bad news: being round attractive women makes men stupid(er).

Does this mean that intelligent men are likely to date lots of ugly women?

Saturday, September 05, 2009

Jobs by Lottery

It's finally happened: jobs are being allocated by lottery! There's no sign of any further selection procedures, bar age (over 18) and Italian residency (and, presumably, the capacity to spend 28 euros doing one's shopping), although being in supermarkets it's probably fair to assume all ticket holders are qualified for the job. Moreover, it probably beats cronyism and nepotism which, I'm told, play a large part in the allocation of many jobs in Italy.

Friday, September 04, 2009

Why Not Socialism Update

I mentioned in my Cohen obituary that I wasn't sure about the status of his new book. I have an answer here, thanks to Harry. Even better, you can read the gist of it reported in the New Statesman.

p.s. See also further tributes and anecdotes on Leiter.

Wednesday, September 02, 2009

The Simpsons on Art

I only caught the last ten minutes or so of The Simpsons last night (which I rarely watch at all these days, due to not watching a lot of TV at all and it being a bit early for mealtime, even on C4+1). It was this episode, in which Homer becomes an 'outsider artist.' I may have to see whether I can work a reference to this into my Aesthetics lectures; particularly this quote:
[Homer floods the town as an art project]
Bart Simpson: Are you sure this is art, not vandalism?
Homer: That's for the courts to decide, son.