Philosophers: philosophical, proper, and professional

Philosophy is a big tent kind of thing. There is a world of difference between being philosophicalbeing a proper philosopher, and being a professional philosopher.

As far as I can tell, the practice of doing philosophy is intimately related to the state of being philosophical.  To do philosophy is to be philosophical about some characteristically general subjects, for the purpose of increasing understanding and reducing confusion. In the ideal case, being philosophical involves manifesting certain virtues: you must have the right intentions (insightful belief, humble commitments), and you must proceed using a reflective skill-set (rationality in thought, cooperation in conversation). The bare requirement for being philosophical – even when you do it badly – is that you should be able to manifest at least some of right intentions and at least some of the right ways.

It is possible to be philosophical without being a proper philosopher or a professional philosopher. The requirements for doing actual philosophy are quite a bit lower than the requirements for doing actual engineering. To do philosophy you have to approach some of the general questions while behaving philosophically; to do engineering, you have to be a proper engineer. [It is seldom claimed that] Meno was a proper philosopher, but we won’t hesitate to say that Meno was seriously doing philosophy with Socrates; in contrast, professional engineers would probably not say that a child playing with Lego has really seriously done some engineering. (Not that there’s anything wrong with Lego. If it came to that, I’d be more inclined to say there’s something wrong with engineers.)

In philosophy, there are unusually high barriers to success. A person who does philosophy in a middling way is not a proper philosopher; if you can describe her philosophizing in a cheap metaphor, it is a sign that things have fallen short of the mark. Proper philosophers do productive work that is worthy of attention, however you would like to cash that out.

The merits of a work in professional philosophy are only obliquely defined in terms of their philosophical traits. Professional philosophers are judged according to various things, including their scholarly competence, their intelligence, their papers, peers, prudence, and pedigree. Professional philosophers are not directly tested on whether or not they have philosophical acumen; indeed, it is rarely stated outright what ‘being philosophical’ amounts to. At best, it is assumed (with some justification) that the professional desiderata will overlap substantially with the philosophical traits. At worst, professionals will float blissfully along from one encounter to the next operating on the assumption that whatever they are up to is all aces, and good riddance to the rest of the profession.

[Edit: In comments, Phillip points us to this video on the rise of professional philosophy. It helps to give you a sense of the difference between ‘being philosophical’ and ‘being a professional philosopher’.]

[Edit 2: I also recommend reading comments in this thread, which touch on similar themes but from a different view.]

112 Comments.

  1. Interesting concepts. As an engineer, by education and personality–model addicted and terminally analytical–I was surprised to learn several years ago that my engineering school surveyed graduates to determine how many were working engineers. The results: only 15% were working as engineers ten years out of school, yet nearly 90% were involved in problem solving. the point being, I don’t know what constitutes the variety of philosophers and as an engineer, am equally mystified as to what characterizes a professional engineer (it’s more than a license, it’s a way of life).

  2. …to do engineering, you have to be a proper engineer

    … is surely wrong. There are plenty of blokes with spanners who are solving engineering challenges everyday. I don’t think Dyson counts as ‘proper engineer’ but nonetheless he has solved a number of engineer problems.

    Isn’t this article one extended essay on the perils of ignoring the ‘No True Scotsman’ fallacy?

  3. Charles Sullivan

    So, what then of Sam Harris who claims to have shown that the is/ought problem has been resolved….by him.?

  4. I’ve often been struck at how often professional philosophers fail to take a “philosophical” perspective on things, particularly when it comes to intra-departmental feuding. But there’s really no reason why they should be more philosophical than other academics or anyone else, for that matter.

    Of course the professionalization of philosophy has its own issues, and is a relatively recent phenomenon and deliberate change to what had gone before.

  5. I had the measure of Harris, Charles, when I spotted a glaring false dichotomy in Letter to a Christian Nation. Is/ought is no dichotomy. Harris needs to do Logic 101, as they might say in Yankeeland.

    With respect to this thread, shall we stop calling a philosopher now, as clearly the label doesn’t fit.

  6. calling him a ~ obviously

  7. Thanks for that, Gordon.

    Pog,

    There are plenty of blokes with spanners who are solving engineering challenges everyday…

    The engineering example was meant as an illuminating contrast. If engineering is like philosophy in the relevant respects, then I concede the point happily. This post is about philosophy.

    isn’t this article one extended essay on the perils of ignoring the ‘No True Scotsman’ fallacy?

    In all honesty, I did come close to it by saying that Meno was not a proper philosopher. I’ve edited the post to make my intention clearer. But none of the rest comes close. e.g., the idea of a ‘proper philosopher’ is full of gaps. Hence, “Proper philosophers do productive work that is worthy of attention, however you would like to cash that out” (emphasis added).

    So, as far as I can tell, I fall short of defining who counts as what. Define things your own way, and it may turn out that the set of proper philosophers is identical to the set of the philosophical.

    Charles,

    I do think there’s a way of bridging is and ought. FWIW, I don’t think Harris did anything but beg the question. By most accounts, “The Moral Landscape” was pretty underwhelming.

    Is he a proper philosopher? I don’t know. Has he done productive philosophical work that is worthy of attention? If yes, then yes.

  8. BLS,

    Dividing things into being philosophical, being a proper philosopher, and being a professional philosopher is quite excellent.

    A few comments:

    (1) I think your insight that being philosophical requires a specific mindset and method is spot on.

    However, I think that what you’ve attributed to these is too restrictive. It seems to me that, as you’ve articulated them, they will rule some actual instances of being P as instances of being not-P.

    I’m thinking primarily of cooperative conversation. I think this is a good trait, but not a necessary one.

    Evaluating things along non-necessary dimensions results in distortion.

    I see that you leave yourself a way out by noting that being philosophical requires only that some of the virtues of right insight and right method be present.

    This is, I think, a characteristic of a working approximation rather than a fully-precised definition. If so, we’ve not yet hit on what being philosophical means.

    (2) I’m curious about the relation between the virtues of insightful belief, humble commitment, and rational thought.

    Would you agree that insightful beliefs and humble commitments are products of rationality in thought? Or would you characterize them some other way?

    (3) It seems to me that being a proper philosopher is the necessary and sufficient condition for being a philosopher.

    On that reading, a professional philosopher is a philosopher only insofar as they are a proper philosopher.

    Would you agree?

    (4) I’m having difficulty understanding your response to Pogsurf@1:25am.

    Pogsurf disputes your contention that to do engineering, one must be a proper engineer. Pogsurf does this by offering the example of people doing engineering (solving engineering problems) who Pogsurf claims are not proper engineers.

    You seem to take this as a good argument, but I think Pogsurf has only established that these people are not professional engineers–the question of whether they are proper engineers seems unresolved. Yet, his objection requires that they not be proper engineers.

    So, I wonder if I’ve misunderstood your distinction between being X properly and being X professionally.

    The idea of being something professionally seems clear: One either does it for a living, or at a minimum, one has been duly certified to do it for a living.

    The idea of being something properly strikes me like so: One has the requisite knowledge and skill to do something well.

    Here, solving engineering problems (even if one is just a bloke with a spanner) seems reasonable grounds for imputing requisite knowledge and skill to do engineering well. In other words, it seems reasonable grounds for acknowledging someone to be a proper engineer.

    So, I think Pogsurf simply misunderstood what being a proper engineer meant. But, if that’s the case, I’m mystified why you accepted the objection.

    Have I misunderstood what you intended by the proper/professional distinction?

  9. Phillip, thanks for the link, I’ve added it to the OP.

    Dregs,

    Thanks for your thoughtful critique.

    (1) It’s what you call an approximation. In the previous posts in this series, I’ve articulated a ‘four virtues’ model which sets out the necessary and sufficient conditions for being ideally philosophical. I don’t set out boundary conditions for who counts as a proper philosopher, I just say something about what puts people within spitting distance of the best. Even the best proper philosophers (in my opinion) lack one virtue or other: e.g., Nietzsche was not much of a strict reasoner, though he was a cooperative interlocutor (in the relevant sense of cooperation, as obeying the Gricean norms).

    That said, I do think that manifesting some of the right intentions and the right methods is both necessary and sufficient for being philosophical. It’s an unusually clean categorization, and hence probably one that will be controversial.

    But I do not set any general sufficient conditions for who counts as a proper philosopher. I actually can’t do that, given my stance on warranted deference and self-imposed outsider status [see the discussion with Ron here].

    (2) Great question. The virtues can only be made manifest so long as they are intertwined and inter-supported. e.g., you might be a perfectly rational person even though you have no insight, humility, or sense of cooperation, but as a result it will be nigh-impossible for anyone else to even tell that you’re perfectly rational.

    To the extent that these virtues cannot be observed in perfect isolation from one another, they are completely unscientific constructs. (I mention this point in discussion with Margaret here.)

    (3) I won’t legislate who counts as a proper philosopher in relation to professional philosophy. People can use the terms as they like, depending on who they think is worthy of attention qua philosophers. I will say that there are plenty of professional philosophers who do not do work that I can identify as being worthy of attention as philosophers, and there are some non-professional philosophers who do work that is worthy of attention as philosophers. Others can judge for themselves.

    (4) My initial intention was to suggest that, insofar as I understand the terms, “being a proper engineer” is just the same as “being a professional engineer”. It seems like the professional norms of the social group also constitute it as a group. That said, Pogsurf may have given some reasons to think I am not entitled to that view. And ultimately, since I am no engineer, I defer to the opinions of the engineers on the matter. I only included it because I thought it would be a useful contrast.

  10. BLS,

    Thanks for your detailed response.

    I am inclined to disagree with you on several points. I will stick to the one that seems most pressing:

    I think your proper/professional distinction is good, i.e. worthy of attention.

    However, I think you are not being bold enough in how you use it. I understand now that you meant it only to apply to philosophy, but what makes it interesting is that it seems to apply to all professions.

    Moreover, it seems to apply in a way that is not a matter of opinion, period.

    I’ll leave off simply by noting that if distinction A generates P and Q, but you then acknowledge identity between P and Q, you effectively make the case that distinction A is rubbish.

    You granted this identity between P and Q in relation to engineers on the idea that your target was only philosophers, but I think it undermines your target use as well.

  11. The distinction’s not in trouble, though. In keeping with Pog’s point, I said the opposite about engineers. Pog argued that there is in fact a distinction between engineer-doers and engineers. If that’s so, then the distinction is reinforced, not diminished.

    I do acknowledge that the group ‘proper philosopher’ is definable according to taste, so if someone is in the right mood then they can say that the group of professional philosophers is coextensive with the group of proper philosophers. But coextensiveness is not identity of meaning, any more than “living things with a heart” is identical in meaning to the set of “living things with a kidney”. Surely the distinction between ‘living things with hearts’ and ‘living things with a kidney’ is not rubbish just because they both refer to the same group.

  12. BLS,

    “The distinction’s not in trouble, though.”

    I don’t understand what you’re arguing. You said that being a proper engineer is just the same as being a professional engineer. This means that qua engineering, the proper/professional distinction is pointless. A pointless distinction is rubbish.

    The distinction is very much in trouble unless you can successfully argue that engineering is not to engineers as philosophy is to philosophers. I think that’s impossible, but I’m open to argument.

    I should reiterate that I don’t think the proper/professional distinction is rubbish. Instead, I think you are taking it to be weaker than it is.

    “I do acknowledge that the group ‘proper philosopher’ is definable according to taste…”

    Another point of disagreement between us. Insofar as being philosophical picks out something real in the world, there is a fact of the matter about it. If there is a fact of the matter about being philosophical, then there is a fact of the matter about being a proper philosopher. What counts as being a proper philosopher cannot, therefore, be a matter of taste.

    “But coextensiveness is not identity of meaning…”

    Agreed. It would be silly to claim otherwise. I’m not sure what statement of mine you mean to target by this, however.

  13. @Charles Sullivan

    The is/ought problem has already been solved by Moral Naturalists like David Copp, which is fairly widely accepted in the professional philosophy community.

    As to Sam Harris being a philosopher, well it really does come down to a subjective judgement. He has a degree in philosophy and has written books on philosophy but his PhD is not in philosophy and I wouldn’t say he is a philosophy academic as his work in philosophy is more broad and dumbed-down for the general population, and in areas it is largely driven by science (and sometimes in the bad, unexamined way). There is nothing wrong with this and I think perhaps there should be more of it (if it is done well), but I think it is safe to say that he is not a professional philosopher. I would call him a scientist who has philosophical interests. Again, this just comes down to how you define the categories though.

    Harry Frankfurt on the other hand is a professional philosopher who also did a nice job of appealing to the general population (what some call pop philosophy). I would argue that anyone can do philosophy and that anyone who does it reasonably well can call themselves a philosopher, but that only academics with PhD’s in philosophy can really be considered professional philosophers. In some fields this isn’t the case, but in philosophy it is. I mean the designation of PhD means ‘philosophy degree’.

    In such an academic focused field, you really need to have a PhD to be considered a pro philosopher. I don’t have one but would consider myself a proper philosopher because I have graduate training and know how to do philosophy properly. But I am definitely not a pro philosopher.

  14. I should acknowledge the one exception:

    Necessary coextension implies identity.

    On the other hand, non-necessary coextension does not. I’m interpreting you as talking about the non-necessary variety.

  15. @Devin,

    ” I would argue that anyone can do philosophy and that anyone who does it reasonably well can call themselves a philosopher, but that only academics with PhD’s in philosophy can really be considered professional philosophers.”

    Saul Kripke does not have a PhD in Philosophy. Saul Kripke is a professional philosopher. Therefore, one does not need a PhD in Philosophy to be a professional philosopher.

  16. Hi Dregs,

    We were jumping around in the conversation in the post divided into (1-4), which has brought about some confusion just now. To be clear, my assertion in the OP was that proper engineering is the same as professional engineering. Then Gordon and Pogsurf both argued they were different. I allow that their rebuttals may have some merit, though my argument does not ride on it.

    Be that as it may, going back to the argument in the OP. Suppose I reasserted that there is a case where proper engineers, or the activities of engineers (“doing engineering”… “engineerizing?”), are coextensive with (the affairs of) professional engineers. Do we then infer that there is no difference in meaning between the three, or that the distinction has no point?

    I don’t know why you would do such a thing. My first guess is that you were illicitly inferring equivalence of intension from equivalence of extension. If that’s not so, then you recognize that there are some cases where extensions coincide and intensions diverge. My problem is that I have no reason to think this is not one of those cases.

    I also don’t know why it would make a difference if it were, since my point is about the distinction between proper/professional/izing philosophers, which you don’t challenge.

    Another point of disagreement between us. Insofar as being philosophical picks out something real in the world, there is a fact of the matter about it.

    It doesn’t pick out anything real in the world, if by ‘real’ we mean ‘mind-independent facts’. No matter how you slice it, each of the categories are totally mind-dependent. The existence of philosophers depends on, and presupposes the existence of, intentionality.

    Here is, I guess, the way I approach the categories. “Professional philosophers” picks out a group of people, which we can make entrenched true claims about. “Doing philosophy” or “being philosophical” is not a social group, but a trait or set of virtues that applies to individuals. I’m momentarily at a loss about how to describe the set of “philosophers”.

  17. Devin,

    The is/ought problem has already been solved by Moral Naturalists like David Copp, which is fairly widely accepted in the professional philosophy community.

    I am interested to note that you seem to have this correct. For myself, I tend to think moral realism is a bubble worth popping.

  18. BLS,

    “Suppose I reasserted that there is a case where proper engineers, or the activities of engineers (“doing engineering”… “engineerizing?”), are coextensive with (the affairs of) professional engineers. Do we then infer that there is no difference in meaning between the three, or that the distinction has no point? I don’t know why you would do such a thing.”

    If being a proper engineer is necessarily coextensive with being a professional engineer, then they are the same thing and dividing them is pointless.

    If they just happen to be coextensive, then they can be meaningfully separated.

    You need to distinguish which sense you mean. It matters.

    My contention from the beginning has been that the distinction is meaningful. Being a proper P picks out a different set of properties than being a professional P.

    Hence, it’s puzzling to me why you would say that being a proper engineer is just the same as being a professional engineer.

    I imputed that you thought them identical (as opposed to non-necessarily coextensive) because it’s the only way to make sense of why you would say that without imputing some flaw to your reasoning.

    “[Being philosophical] doesn’t pick out anything real in the world, if by ‘real’ we mean ‘mind-independent facts’. No matter how you slice it, each of the categories are totally mind-dependent. The existence of philosophers depends on, and presupposes the existence of, intentionality.”

    You seem to be conflating two senses of ‘mind-dependent’.

    (1) In one sense, some P is mind-dependent if it occurs only within minds and is instantiated by a process. In this sense, there is a single fact of the matter true of every P.

    (2) In another sense, some P is mind-dependent if it occurs only within minds and is instantiated by an idea. In this sense, there is no single fact of the matter true of every P.

    Here are examples:

    Anger is mind-dependent in sense (1). It occurs only within minds and is instantiated by a process. There is a matter of fact about: its physiologic description; its behavioral description; its qualitative description. These descriptions constitute definitions: a physiologic definition; a behavioral definition; a qualitative definition.

    There is a single fact of the matter about what anger is. This means that all details of its definition are fixed by fact. Anger picks out something real in the world.

    Martians are (so far as we know) mind-dependent in sense (2). They occur only within minds are instantiated by an idea. Because they are not real, there is no fact of the matter about what they are. Apart from their planet of origin, no detail of their definition is fixed by fact. It is all a matter of taste or opinion.

    Martians pick out nothing real in the world.

    I propose to you that being philosophical is mind-dependent in sense (1). If so, then it picks out something real in the world, and there is most definitely a fact of the matter about what it is.

  19. Dregs,

    You had it right the first time (at 4:47), they just happen to be coextensive. But also there is not — as far as I can tell — any flaw in the reasoning which got me here. (There may be a difference in starting points, though. e.g., I am not convinced that our bare talk about sameness between two relata semantically entails a state of metaphysically necessary equality between the relata. This is not because I disbelieve that our bare talk could be doing such a thing, but because I cannot leave a state of epoche when it comes to most semantic inquiry.)

    “Reality”, as far as I prefer to use the term, refers to mind-independence in the sense of the negation of (2) — so long as the notion of ‘idea’ in (2) is extended to include all the low-level implicit representations which help to produce intentional states. Since I have a wide definition of representations (2), your example of anger falls into the same category as Martians.

    For the moment, my preference (when speaking about things like pains, patterns, and representational processes) is to avoid the language of ‘reality’ and ‘appearance’. They’re too primitive and fragile to bear the weight of such thick ontological terms.

    Anyway. This is an interesting digression, it runs pretty far from the point of the OP.

  20. “This is all very fine, but it won’t do – Anatomy – botany – Nonsense! Sir, I know an old woman in Covent Garden, who understands botany better, and as for anatomy, my butcher can dissect a joint full as well; no, young man, all that is stuff; you must go to the bedside, it is there alone you can learn disease!” – Thomas Sydenham (d.1689)

    This is a great post, BLSN, and a stimulating thread. Your thoughts have attracted lots of good feedback and insightful commentary – as the best posts do. Thank you.

    I am not sure if this will add anything of value to the discussion, but it came to mind when I first read your OP.

    I no longer recall how, exactly, the class and I got around to the matter, but I suspect it had to do with a discussion about the importance of making good distinctions, and the fact that philosophers are very good at this sort of thing. This included a discussion of the difference between a difference and a distinction, and it drew attention to the facts

    (i) that experts (among other things) are good at observing differences that non-experts might not observe or apprehend, and

    (ii) that there is a relationship between the ability to apprehend differences others cannot, and the ability to make distinctions on the basis of/in view of those apprehended-differences.

    My hometown (and the campus I was then at) is very near to a very rough port city, so this was the example I used. Take a five-year-old kid to the harbor, and ask him to point out the boats. He’ll probably point to many different kinds of boats, but not to, say, beer cans and syringes bobbing up and down laconically by the pier. He may or may not point to jet-skis, and might confuse a barge pushed by a tug for a big boat; but the child will have a basic concept of what a ‘boat’ is. Now ask the kid to point to sailboats only. I guarantee you, most children will not be able to identify a sailboat with the mast down, or even with the rigging reefed. Kids tend to look for big white triangles, and cannot “see” that certain features of a hull and topside are different for sailboats than for other boats; and consequently, they cannot “see” sailboats that do not look like they think sailboats are supposed to look.

    Try, now, the same thing with a teenager, and see how well she can pick-out commercial fishing boats only. She might not do too badly, until you ask her to point-out long-liners, gill-netters, and draggers.

    Commercial fishermen, however, can “see” the differences; and on the basis of certain features that they see – see them because they are really there to be seen – they can make distinctions between vessels that many others cannot. (I did the same experiment in China with university students there, by showing them a sailboat on a trailer and covered with a tarp. The wheels of the trailer threw them so much that few could identify the object as a boat on a trailer, and none guessed it was a sailboat. The Chinese-language concept of sailboat is the same as the English-language concept, but the vivifying conception is different.)

    Knowing “stuff” – facts, let’s say – gives our powers of observation a great advantage. The more stuff one knows, the better one is at learning other stuff; and the better one is at making distinctions among the stuff one knows, the better one can become at suspecting the possibility of making other distinctions. Knowing that we do not know – the limits of our knowledge at time-T – is one of the first steps towards becoming genuinely knowledgeable. (The desire to know more is, of course, a factor!) But the habit of suspecting the possibility of and value in noting unacknowledged differences – and thus: the possibility of and value in making meaningful and non-trivial distinctions – is something that distinguishes the expert. The philosopher is an expert with respect to her base-knowledge of the “problems of philosophy” (the stuff) and attempts to solve them, and has heightened “expert” awareness with respect to making lines of enquiry regarding other stuff, too.

    The students and I then discussed also how one makes and sustains distinctions — viz., one might observe or note that two things are not quite the same, but when one “distinguishes” between things, one is “marking” things as distinct. Making a distinction is an intentional act – something many people take for granted. To make a distinction is (a) to make a claim about theretofore non-obvious or non-salient differences, and then (b) to support the making of just that distinction with argument and/or data which point-out the purpose, virtues, utility, etc., of the act of distinguishing between two or more things. (The etymology of ‘distinguish’ is instructive.)

    One example that came-up – I forget how – was the difference between a job and a profession. This led to the following tripartite distinction:

    profession: To have a profession is to be able to credibly claim (to profess) certain skills and knowledge. The possession of such skills and knowledge, specific competencies, etc., is vouched for by other professionals in the field — i.e., there’s some documentation that shows all and sundry the community of experts acknowledges one’s claim to profess such skills and knowledge.

    occupation: A four-syllable word for ‘job’ (‘job’ often best read as a four-letter word), some cognates of which sometimes preface words like ‘therapy’, ‘rehabilitation’, and ‘hazard’.

    vocation: The task, duty, role, etc., to which one believes one has been called, and requiring therefore either excellent hearing, “keen-scentedness”, or susceptibility to hallucinations and/or delusions.

    So: A professional dental hygienist could be working as a waiter, and composing chamber music. His occupation (at that time) is waiter, but composition is his vocation. A vetted PhD in philosophy could be working full-time as a roofer, but feels called to clean teeth, and for that reason is saving money to go to dental hygienist school.

    ‘Profession’, ‘occupation’, and ‘vocation’ stand for different things — or (and this, I think, was the point of the discussion with the students), these handy everyday-language words can be used to stand for three different descriptions of one’s relationship to one’s “work” and/or what one does, or to what one feels most compelled to do with one’s time.

    It is all very problematic, of course. A professional accountant who has spent six years writing ad copy is not wrong to say he is a professional copywriter (and also a professional licensed CPA). As for ‘vocation’, Jones might believe sincerely (at time-T) that he was “called to” teaching, but (at time-T) he has neither knowledge nor skills to impart, and in any case lacks the skills (etc.) to teach effectively. Who’s to say who is and is not “called to” what? And this says nothing of the problem of what to do with other pervasive common-language understandings of what the words ‘professional’ and ‘vocational’ (etc.) mean. Not every student currently in a vocational-technical high school, after all, has been called to cosmetology or plumbing. And who is doing the calling anyway?

    I have long believed that conversations like this one – I mean: the one about the (putative) difference(s) between being a [“real”] philosopher, on the one hand, and being [“merely”] philosophical, on the other – have to do both with turf (stuff) and tradecraft.

    I had two instructor/mentors who were every inch the philosopher, despite their being specialists in other disciplines (one in history, one in biology). Neither would self-describe as a Philosopher, not because they were modest, but because they were masters of different fields, installed in their “proper” departments. (They had non-Philosophy professions and occupations.) But they both loved philosophy (academic, and not armchair) and knew the landscape and the literature well. Both were very philosophical, and their students wouldn’t hesitate to describe them as ‘philosophers’ — lower-case ‘p’. Their turf-proper wasn’t philosophy, but many of their professional interests, concerns, and preoccupations were philosophical.

    When they taught, it wasn’t merely that they used the “Socratic method”; they were consistently and conscientiously aiming to lead students to think and to observe the world in a better way. I have subsequently come to believe that the best evidence that a knowledgeable and competent professor has no claim to being even a small-p “philosopher” is his or her unwillingness to have their orderly recitation of facts be sidelined by a penetrating question based on an insightful observation. (I have experienced this from time to time with my undergraduate psychology professors, and encountered it again a month back in a conversation with an experimental psychologist of some renown.)

    As for tradecraft: It is easy for undergraduates to confuse stage-presence, charisma, and entertainment-value with being a good philosopher (or at least: a good philosophy lecturer). Most institutions have had their share of likeable, charming, telegenic hacks – BLSN’s “gurus”, perhaps. But on the other hand, I have always wondered how a real philosopher (there, I’ve said it) can fail to be anything other than… well, a convincing and engaging evangelist for Sophia and the life-examined. At least when it comes to reaching-out to undergraduate underclassmen.

    Thus we’re back to questions raised and hypotheses offered in BLSN’s other (excellent) posts about what philosophy is, what professors of philosophy should be doing. I, for one, daydream about the time I may arm new freshman with a copy of the Oxford Dictionary of English Etymology, and try to turn them on to what we do and why we do it. It’s fine to be a specialist or hyper-specialist – and perhaps a little dry at the lectern – when one’s students are prepared for more details and super-fine distinctions. But “teaching philosophy”, I hold, means only one of four things:

    (1) awakening those who can be awakened, and then interesting them in cultivating their powers of observation, enquiry, and reflection – and pointing out the virtues of sometimes suspending assent;

    (2) giving students a guided introduction to and a basic understanding of the “standard” philosophical questions, and to the answers we’ve been offering to them;

    (3) giving students a guided tour through the work of specific philosophers and/or specific problems;

    (4) going much deeper into (2) or (3) with students – deeper that would be necessary or advisable for anyone who wasn’t looking to join the Guild.

    And that might be part of the point of this discussion: The vocational philosopher – whenever his occupation puts him in contact with students (for which having professional credentials is probably necessary) – will do much more than merely “teach philosophy” —- if by “teach philosophy” we mean lecture only on “the big problems” and “the great philosophers”. My former history professor and biology professor were, in this sense, far wiser and much more philosophical than a couple of my philosophy professors at the time.

    A line from Samuel Butler has long amused me: “The successful man will see just so much more than his neighbors as they will be able to see when it is shown to them, but not enough to puzzle them. It is far safer to know too little than too much. People will condemn the one, though they will resent being called upon to exert themselves to follow the other” (The Way of All Flesh [1884], p.19 my edition.)

    Alas, in pointing-out unseen or ignored differences, and in suggesting novel distinctions, we will sometimes puzzle our students; and for that reason, I suspect that the “real” philosopher will always be now an object of resentment, now, a benefactor worthy of gratitude. We philosophers are unique, I think, in being able to judge our worth in part by the measure of both thanks and scorn we receive for our efforts.

    RH

  21. BLS,

    “This is an interesting digression, it runs pretty far from the point of the OP.”

    The point of the OP relies on the proper/professional distinction. I’m querying the proper/professional distinction. This seems the opposite of pretty far from the point of the OP.

    “But also there is not — as far as I can tell — any flaw in the reasoning which got me here.”

    Fair enough, I’ll try to make clear what I meant.

    I claimed that for the proper/professional distinction to be meaningful, being a proper P must have a different set of conditions of satisfaction than being a professional P.

    This allows for the possibility that, for some P, the set of proper P is coincidentally coextensive with the set of professional P.

    You assert that by proper engineers being “just the same as” professional engineers, you mean that the set of proper engineers is coincidentally coextensive with the set of professional engineers.

    This is consistent with the proper/professional distinction, but commits what I take to be a flaw in reasoning:

    Namely, it commits you to a dubious inference.

    You are committed by it to the thesis that no currently living person has satisfied the conditions for being a proper engineer but not satisfied the necessarily different conditions for being a professional engineer.

    Possible, but extraordinary if true.

    This commitment is entailed by your assertion that the set of proper engineers is coincidentally coextensive with the set of professional engineers; if, on the other hand, they had the same conditions of satisfaction, then the set of proper engineers would be necessarily coextensive with the set of professional engineers, i.e. they would be identical in the strong sense.

    At any rate, you remarked earlier that even if you are wrong that the set of proper engineers is just the same as the set of professional engineers, it would only strengthen the case for the proper/professional distinction.

    I agree with this completely; it’s the reason I said you were treating the proper/professional distinction as weaker than it actually is.

  22. I might have missed this, but: What is at stake, here? What is gained by being able to mark-off the set or class “proper-X” from “professional-X” — or , what is lost or at peril if such a distinction cannot be sustained? (And: Sustained by who?)

    I recommend to readers of this thread the first chapter of John Lachs’ “Stoic Pragmatism” (2012). Those who know the work, and have thoughts on it, are very welcomed to correspond with me and share with me what they think: desertintel@gmail.com. Lachs brushes very closely up against this topic.

    Elsewhere on this forum, I found myself in (partial) disagreement with Professor LaBossiere regarding the definition of (or: the scope of the definition of) ‘weapon’. I believe Professor LaBossiere and I are in agreement that it is difficult to define/qualify what a weapon *is*. (Case law in all jurisdictions makes clear that any item, device, instrument, etc., – to include in some cases animals – can be carried, brandished, used, etc., to commit an unlawful/aggravated assault or wrongful trespass against the person.) Where we disagree, I think, is whether all firearms are *necessarily* weapons. (I hold: they are not.)

    Here’s my point. Nailing-down what is necessarily a weapon – distinguishing between things that are *in se*, *ab natural*, etc., ‘weapons’, and those that are expedient or adventitious weapons – might be difficult; but it matters — to legislative and judicial activities, to policy-making, etc. It is very clear what is at stake, here. My question, again, is: What is at stake with attempted acts of intentionally distinguishing between “real philosophers” (or: “real philosophy”), philosophers-proper, professional philosophers, etc.?

    At one level, it seems to me rather elementary: If one is payed by an employer for “doing philosophy” (teaching, engaging in research, etc.) as per the employers requirements, contractual expectations, deployment-parameters, etc., then one in that case is a “professional” philosopher. (If X is paid for doing P, then perhaps to that extent and in that context X is a professional-P’er. *Pace* the scheme I offer *in arguendo* above, maybe occupational-P’ers and also for that reason one kind of professional-P’ers.) Provided that there is trade-consensus regarding who should be collecting a salary for “doing philosophy”, and that a given employer in this case is coloring within the usual institutional/trade-lines, then, that could be the long and short of it.

    Allegations that some claims regarding the “proper” province of philosophy, or the “proper” offices of a philosopher (by one contending for status as a real/proper/professional philosopher? by one claiming that some specific someone is not?) do or may run afoul of the “no true Scotsman” fallacy are compelling only to the extent that the “no true Scotsman” fallacy is really a fallacy at all.

    Like many alleged fallacies, this one puzzles me a wee bit. Suppose I were to argue that “no true philosopher” would ever intentionally procreate, and that I could offer a cogent and compelling case for that claim. Some prima facie philosophers would chime in with assent, others (many more, I guess) would register their dissent, and at the end of the day what we would have achieved is another possible (plausible?) necessary condition for *one* kind of intentional-distinguishing between P’s and non-P’s.

    But what’s at stake? Quality-control in the classroom, or the academy? Social status? Is there a need to expose frauds and pretenders? Is there some quasi-judicial function that needs to be performed (by whom? why?), and performance is pending the outcome of a fact-finding tribunal?

    I’d like to hear what followers of this thread think about this question. At the moment I believe that it is best to adjudicate on the case — e.g.: Jones, PhD in philosophy, has been awarded a contract to teach philosophy at institution I; but despite his Guild-approved qualifications, Jones seems to Professors Smith and Wang not to be a “proper philosopher”; and in view of Smith’s and Wang’s concerns, Jones’ paid-position and his future at I is in question. In such a case, it is for Smith and Wang to make their case, and for Jones to make his; and what I suspect we will find is that disputants are not in fact arguing about whether Jones is a “philosopher-proper” (provided his documentation is not fraudulent), but whether (e.g.) Jones is doing his job *qua* instructor/member of the department, according to his employer’s expectations, which (let’s assume) are more or less in-line with what other institutions expect from their philosophy lecturers. Lack of basic knowledge on Jones’ part might be relevant (“No true philosopher wouldn’t know who Plato was”); lack of teaching skills might be relevant (“No true philosopher would be incapable of teaching philosophy”), but only in the context of this particular academic appointment, these particular pursuers, and this unfortunate defendant. It might not matter whether Jones is in fact a fine humanities scholar, or gifted text-craftsman; or whether Jones prefers spandex to tweed, does/does not smoke a pipe, covers his office walls with Cheap Trick/Seneca posters, and puts an NRA/NPR sticker on his office door….

    So, friends: What, really, is at stake?

    RH

  23. Dregs, I think I see the source of the crossed wires. From my perspective, your worries about necessary sameness were entirely unmotivated. I have nowhere, and never, said or suggested that “professional engineers are necessarily the same as proper engineers”, or that they have the same conditions of satisfaction.

    That said, in looking over what I wrote, I acknowledge that I did say that one group is “just the same as” the other. Perhaps the word ‘just’ raised some alarms, suggesting that I was doing away with the distinction. This implicature was not intentional. My point was to say they’re extensional equivalents, and that’s it.

    And I do not think that it strains credulity to read me in the way I intended. This is why I remain mystified by your claim that you think I “thought them identical (as opposed to non-necessarily coextensive) because it’s the only way to make sense” of what I say without imputing a flaw in reasoning. It may have required an ounce of charity to see my meaning… but only an ounce, not a pound!

    You are committed by it to the thesis that no currently living person has satisfied the conditions for being a proper engineer but not satisfied the necessarily different conditions for being a professional engineer.

    Yes, that’s more or less the point, though I would say “the different necessary conditions” in your final sentence. I don’t acknowledge that they are necessarily different conditions; they are not defined in contrast to each other. P and ~P are necessarily different from each other, and that’s as far as the story of necessity goes.

    There are doctrinal reasons why I try to keep close to this line. I try not to give general sufficiency conditions for concepts, because I don’t think concepts have general sufficiency conditions, only necessary ones.

  24. BLS Nelson

    Despite the scope of your blog, which takes recent discussions several stages deeper and has brought excellent responses, I have a problem with two of your definitions of a philosopher. The only one I can readily go along with is the professional philosopher. As I have argued on other blogs, the trained university teacher does an important job, setting standards for critical argument which are integral to formal philosophy but are also useful in most disciplines and life situations. Rational Hoplite helpfully spells out the 3 basic teaching techniques in his comment of 16 June. (RH, do you ever teach Occam’s Razor – only joking.)

    “Proper philosophers do productive work that is worthy of attention, however you would like to cash that out.”

    By this I take it you mean original ideas, creative, innovative, fruitful and sustained. This used to be the benchmark for a Ph D thesis; “advancing the frontiers of knowledge.” But we know that much of this creative work is not worthy of attention, and that the person who completes a thesis over several years has been mentally confined in an ever-narrowing alley consumed by a single aspect of a single form of philosophy. If the definition of a proper philosopher is that such productive work is worthy of attention, philosophy’s legacy will be meagre.

    This leaves us with those who enjoy ‘being philosophical’.

    “To do philosophy is to be philosophical about some characteristically general subjects, for the purpose of increasing understanding and reducing confusion …. you should be able to manifest at least some of right intentions and at least some of the right ways.”

    I cannot work out if this makes ‘being philosophical’ the role of an apprentice philosopher or a ‘hobby philosopher’ who can easily feel self-satisfied. Of course we all want the general population to practice the virtues, intentions and skill-sets you advocate, but what worries me is the idea that the dumbing-down of philosophy is OK.

    Devin says, “I wouldn’t say [Sam Harris] is a philosophy academic as his work in philosophy is more broad and dumbed-down for the general population.”

    What does that tell us about academic philosophy? If professional philosophers are considered dull wage-slaves (said by others on recent blogs, not you, Ben)and philosophy’s future lies with auto-didacts who, despite ‘being philosophical’, will never write a properly argued essay or exam paper, I am hard put to see who will maintain the reputation of philosophy as a learned study.

    Ben – As with the definition of ‘proper philosopher’ I would like to hear more from you on this.

  25. RH,

    I see the stakes thus:

    It frequently seems as if being some P properly and being P professionally are conflated in people’s minds.

    For example, they will have some attitude or belief about those who are P professionally and then carry it over to those who are only P properly by not realizing that the two are not necessarily the same group.

    Bias like this relies on the failure to appreciate the distinction BLS is making.

    This is one sort of thing that’s at stake.

    Another, stemming from the same conflation, is that people tend to deny that one can be P without being or having been professionally P. In their minds, one is not really P unless this condition has been met. One is, at best, an amateur in the pejorative sense of ‘only an amateur performance’.

    There seems to be something in the general American pysche that, qua P, insists that one is either professional or amateur, and if not professional, then somehow lesser.

    Again, this relies on insensitivity to the distinction BLS makes.

    Really, ability should be viewed in terms of the degree to which one is properly P. To see it thus, though, requires the proper/professional distinction.

    Perhaps my experiences in encountering these are anomalous, but I think they mark common errors.

    @BLS,

    I’m surprised that you feel I’ve been uncharitable to you. I can only refer you again to my previous post. It doesn’t seem that we can have a productive conversation beyond what we’ve already done.

  26. Thanks, D — thank you.

    Off the cuff, and absent any snark, how about this: A philosopher who knows s/he is doing real philosophy, and is doing all the things that a philosopher-proper should do (etc.), and knows it, doesn’t worry too much about whether anyone else knows it, and frets over impostors and poseurs only when the latter are by their imposture causing actually or threatening immanently wrongful harm to others.

    In suggesting this – again: wholly absent any sarcasm – I want you to know that I am one of those sorts who *hates* to see the artlessly-fudged “Philosophy/Religion/Spirituality” sections in the book stores. In days past I always burned a little, too, when I met happy, tall, good-looking, well-adjusted sorts with nice teeth and flawless complexions pursuing PhDs in philosophy. (Because: I then viewed philosophical inclinations and a hyper-skeptical disposition as curses, and resented the intrusion of normal people into “my” world.) And, just to make sure you know where I’m coming from, I was for a rather long time very quick to judge that some X or some Y was not “doing” real philosophy, or, were not “real philosophers”. I once spent a few hours writing a parody philosophy paper proforma, in an effort to mock bloodless pseudophilosophy (as I then thought of it); it went something like this:

    “For the last [ ] years, a number of philosophers have claimed [ ]. Most notable among these has been [ ], who has consistently argued [ ]. [ ], [ ], and [ ] have comfortably fallen in line with this, and as a result, we seem to have broad and growing consensus that [ ]. [ ] and [ ] have, of course, made their objections known; but neither seems to have noticed – or: if they have noticed, they seem not to care – that [ ]. In what follows, I will defend [] against [], and will suggests where [] and [] have missed important opportunities to advance the case of [] against []. It will fall to others, perhaps those who have not been contaminated by [] and [], to develop new approaches to the problem of [].”

    To know me and to know my tiny body of published work is to know why I reside, now, in self-imposed exile outside of the academy. My liver curled unhappily when, a year back, I wrote to a premiere-league don in Scotland I once knew (a true Scotsman), enquiring informally about a short-term vacancy at the university where he was a Reader. He concluded his prompt, unencouraging, and wonderfully forthright reply by noting how pleased he was that I still “took an interest in philosophy”.

    Ouch — for the implication (insinuation?) was that by my choice to leave the mainstream for more than a decade, I was no longer an academic philosopher-proper. Ah, and there perhaps is the adjective this conversation needs — I suspect MG-W might agree. ‘Academic’.

    I am now non-, para-, or quasi- academic, in virtue of pitching my tent in the woodlot outside the big marquee of (capital-P) Philosophy. Fair enough. (BLSN et al do me a great courtesy by allowing me to post, here.) Is it mere conceit, then, for me to insist (and: insist to whom? in what context? why?) that I am indeed a philosopher-proper still? (Who would verify that claim — or challenge it? And why?)

    I no longer care about the matter, and I am not sure that it is a matter that really matters — and I say this with no offense to you, and with gratitude to you (et al.) for letting me benefit from your analyses, supra and elsewhere. But as I see things at the moment, the the stakes are not quite the same as they are regarding, say, what to do about a man I once knew — an American EMT gone rogue in China and practicing as an MD and psychiatrist with falsified documents. (A good yarn for another thread.) No one is going to get killed, here — even if there is the risk of a few non-indicated prescriptions being written by philosophical quacks.

    I think I know what philosophers do, and I think I know why they (we) do it. I have learned from my betters, worked hard to improve myself, and I am pretty sure that I count as a real, bonafide, sheepskin-on-the-wall philosopher. (Whether I am a *good* real, bonafide philosopher is another question.) The occupational geography of my works and days since 1999 (and here and there thereafter) means that I am unlikely to be tenure-track anytime soon; but when I am at the helm in the lecture theater, I stand there nonetheless as a vetted-professional, and not as an impostor or quack. And for what little it may be worth, I have never doubted that “doing philosophy” – even beyond the anointed walls of the lyceum – is my vocation.

    I’d like you to try again, if you wish, to sell me on the “stakes” — sincerely. RH

  27. RH,

    As always, your thoughts are warmly received. I offer the following for your consideration:

    Undue discrimination in the evaluation of others is wrong everywhere, for everyone, at all times.

    Therefore, to the extent that we value what is right, we are obligated not to engage in this ourselves. Further, to the extent that our ability and position enables us, we are obligated to dissuade or prevent others from engaging in that same wrong.

  28. Thank you, D — let me allow this to seep-in. Thank you. RH

  29. Margaret, thanks for pushing on this.

    Over the past few weeks, I have found myself operating so far on the same wavelength as Rational Hoplite that I seldom disagree with his comments, and am tempted to defer back to them to help explain some of the things I admire most about the study of philosophy. For better or worse, our Venn diagrams are surely going to overlap significantly.

    On proper philosophers, I provided two necessary conditions: (a) worthy of attention, and (b) productive.

    I cannot give a stable criterion for what counts as ‘worthy of attention’ as a philosopher, because I prefer that competent judges exercise their own judgment based on their practical resources and tastes. e.g., to use a reasonably safe example, I expect I would find Adorno completely unworthy of attention as philosophy even if it turned out that Negative Dialectics counts as sound and productive philosophy. It would take a great deal of training to see my way past the words to their hidden meaning for me to know, and I don’t want to spend the time. But I would never mandate that judgment for others.

    I can say a bit more about productivity and philosophy, though. I will tell you what I tell my students:

    Philosophy is productive when in the discussion of philosophical questions we achieve greater understanding and diminished confusion. In any given case, what counts as productive philosophy will depend on what kind of informed view you take towards philosophical issues.

    But regardless of your views on any particular issue, you should be able to recognize four ways that philosophical arguments have been (can be) productive:
    1. Analytical methods. Disarming confusions that come from defects in our language.
    2. Theory experimentation. Filling up gaps in our intuitive grasp of the world by creating whole new systems of thought which have genuine explanatory or normative value.
    3. Institutional engagement. Empowering new generations of intellectuals, giving them the tools and resources to actively take care of their institutions of knowledge. (I take it that this is an echo of some of RH’s comments in the other thread.)
    4. Expectations management. Debunking questions that seem sacred by showing that they can be answered in an insightful way, and that we can ask even better questions.

    That, I guess, is the general setup of how I would also answer RH’s question about “what is at stake” in the definition of the proper philosopher.

    Apart from that, there is nothing for me to say. Proper philosophers might or might not even count as ‘doing philosophy’, according to my view of what that means. I am pursuing a doctorate in philosophy at the moment, and can easily be described as someone who philosophizes excessively. But even so, as a matter of personal prerogative I don’t self-describe as a philosopher. I take it that it is not my place to legislate the boundaries of the group.

    I cannot work out if this makes ‘being philosophical’ the role of an apprentice philosopher or a ‘hobby philosopher’ who can easily feel self-satisfied. Of course we all want the general population to practice the virtues, intentions and skill-sets you advocate, but what worries me is the idea that the dumbing-down of philosophy is OK.

    I do want to put accent on the relative importance of ‘being philosophical’ and productive, and the relative unimportance of being a proper philosopher. I also want to allow myself the freedom to be reasonably self-directed in how I characterize philosophizing so that I am at my clearest and most relevant. I feel as though making oracular pronouncements about the true nature of proper philosophers as a social group will just attract a lot of unproductive attention from people who are invested in the concept for cynical reasons, either due to sour grapes or to defensive careerism. (Doing so also runs the risk of being in disharmony with the opinions of those who self-identify as philosophers for perfectly good reasons, which I don’t want.)

    Will this approach only lead to dumbing down? Maybe in the 20th century it would have, but it’s important to consider one’s audience and our current communications environment. The more that we try to adopt the “old media” model of communication — writing for magazines and academic journals, Salon, the New Yorker, and so on — you are always forced to speak to the lowest common denominator of the audience. It is very hard to have a cooperative conversation with your audience when you’re writing in a magazine or journal. But we’re writing on a blog, operating on the “new media” model, which means I can respond as much or as little as every individual member of the audience demands. I think that ought to mitigate the worry of ‘dumbing down’.

  30. BLSN: This is both lovely and frank: “…I expect I would find Adorno completely unworthy of attention as philosophy even if it turned out that Negative Dialectics counts as sound and productive philosophy. It would take a great deal of training to see my way past the words to their hidden meaning for me to know, and I don’t want to spend the time. But I would never mandate that judgment for others”.

    In stating this, BLSN, I suspect you risk incurring the wrath of many. (What happens when we replace ‘Adorno’ with another name?) It is courageous in particular for you to declare “I don’t wan’t to spend the time” on domain/topic/subject X — on the grounds that the investment and the returns are not, to your taste (and more than just your “taste”) commensurate. Outstanding. I still find myself attempting to read or reread, now and then, some work by heavy-hitter philosophy all-stars, and pausing to ask: Do I really care so much about *this* problem that I shall willingly make myself miserable for the next week working through all of this? Life is too short to dance with ugly philosophers. (Bartender, make mine a double Santayana.)

    So then: Why does any one of us spend the time we do on any one problem (or set of problems), or on the Wissenschaft of one philosopher, or school? Why are some of us drawn to some authors, and repelled by others?

    The pet peeves in my menagerie are mine for a reason — those in the kennel of another philosopher, hers, and hers for a reason. The older I get, the more I see clearly that certain experiences in childhood nudged me along a certain path, and there’s no doubt, too, that I am biased in my choice both of problems and of problem-solving resources. (I read Laozi when I was 12. I have never been quite right since. Damn you, Sage, damn you.) I am grateful that so many others have busied themselves with translations and “histories of” (etc.). I could not be a Lecky, Windelband, or Highet; but I am surely a little less bad at what I do attempt because I can stand tip-toe – if not on the shoulders of giants – then on the broad backs of those with good hunches.

    Jonathan Haidt (The Righteous Mind, 2012), after discussing briefly a paper by Lucas and Sheeran (2006) entitled “Asperger’s Syndrome and the Eccentricity and Genius of Jeremy Bentham”, wonders, “Did Kant also have Asberger’s syndrome?”. I wonder if the hinted-at implication is that a good clinical psychologist could explain why any given philosopher is not a physicist, physician, or fitness instructor. Psychological biography may make fools of us all yet.

    Wow. So, where are we? And what about Dregs’ (16 June 7:25 pm) concern? And what about the problem of “dumbing-down”?

    I disagree with nothing in Dreg’s follow-up/reply (7:25pm). Dregs: I appreciate your candor, which seemed to me to communicate also a little frustration, perhaps even sadness. There is clearly, for you, something at stake here; and if I cannot see it, now, as clearly as I wish I could (I will keep trying!), I nonetheless agree that unjustified or unwarranted discrimination is and/or results in the commission wrongs, and that such unjustified discrimination should in virtue of the wrongs it hazards be intolerable to the conscience of those who value “what’s right”.

    The “dumbing-down” of philosophy (MG-W: “formal philosophy”, aye) is a problem. (I think again of Hesse: “Magic Theater — not for everybody”.) So what are we looking at, here?

    Let’s say, for argument’s sake, that we’ve got hard-core, heavy-duty, proper, “philosopher’s-philosophy”, on the one hand, and Philosophy-Lite on the other. The former might still fail to be “real philosophy”, if we stipulate that “real philosophy” always helps to settle *worthwhile* irritations of doubt. On this view, the onanistic untangling of self-manufactured conundrums might be *academic* philosophy par excellence, even as many of us look at the problem-space and conclude “Le jeu ne vaut pas la chandelle”. The question then becomes: What sorts of things *should* healthy-minded thinkers get really worked-up about? Maybe our question is slightly flawed: Maybe “real” philosophers come in a few flavors, but the *best* of philosophers in one only.

    Philo-Lite, meanwhile, might fail to be “real philosophy” if “anyone can do it”, if it is superficially-insightful only, and if it realizes only a short-term feel-good effect. (MG-W’s concerns are shared.) This has long seemed to me the sting in the tail of Aristotle’s quip about philosophy beginning with wonder. (Whose wonder? Wonder about what?) “Wonder” makes it seem so… easy. (Does anyone remember the book “Falling In Love With Wisdom”?) This well-known line would be improved, I think, by giving the Stagirian a healthy vowel-movement: Philosophy begins with ‘wander': Exploring, straying, getting lost, getting a compass, learning how to use it, finding a guide, and eventually outgrowing the guide — but never outgrowing or wearing of the long, slow yomp across less well-traveled terrain. Especially with friends.

    I have just celebrated the end of my birthday weekend by eating half a package of raw cookie dough, washing it down with ice cold 2% milk, and watching Animation Domination on Fox. (My daimon made me do it.) It was either do that, go to the gym and pretend I still care about creating a six-pack, or get back to reading any one of the seven things stacked-up on my desk — but Zeus willing there’s always tomorrow for that. (Life is short, and the art is long — too damned long, sometimes.) It wasn’t the healthy choice; but it just might have been the wise one.

    I sign-out dissatisfied with this note, and therefore apologetically, but very happy to have been part of the conversation. (Thank you.) Here, in parting, a bit of friendly and not-unrelated doggerel, which I wrote in the first year of my PhD program. RH

    * * *

    The Philosopher, you see, is a keeper of the bee,
    Who collects big bees to put in his bonnet;
    But a funny thing indeed is a honey-holding hat
    And a funny soul he who will willingly don it.
    “Make thy head a hive full o’ bees alive” —
    That, we are told, is how one becomes wise.
    But while brain bees are nice –
    When compared with head lice –
    Honey, remember, also attracts flies.

  31. @RH,

    “And what about the problem of “dumbing-down”?

    I take MG-W’s concern regarding the possible dumbing down of philosophy to be concern for the acceptance of bad philosophy as good, and good philosophy as bad.

    In that light, it seems to me that philosophy is dumbed down only insofar as it passes over omission and error without note.

    For example, one passes over error without note when, in doing philosophy, one ignores meaningful distinction or accepts meaningless distinction.

    Similarly, one passes over omission without note when one accepts assumption without due examination.

    It seems to me that philosophy is dumbed down in the general sense only insofar as it is prone to these mistakes.

    I cannot recall a philosophical error that was not an instance of at least one of these things; I invite correction if you can.

    @BLS,

    The four dimensions you give for what is at stake in the proper/professional distinction are interesting.

    They certainly seem to be desirable goals.

    Less clear to me, though, is how the definition of the proper philosopher relates to their achievement. Without ill-will, the actual relation seems opaque to me.

    Could you endeavor to lift the veil, as it were?

  32. I have declined to comment since BLS belittled my nym at June 15, 2013 at 11:39 am. Since I am now clear that belittling and ignoring are a type of bullying I shall rejoin the fray, notwithstanding that I have started the process of complaining about BLS’s ungentlemanly and unprofessional conduct with the Editor.

    Could you endeavor to lift the veil, as it were?

    BLS is probably unable to do this, until he comes to terms with why he felt belittling was a proper way to conduct a philosophical argument. In the meantime I shall attempt this.

    We are all, each and every one of us, ‘proper philosophers’. There is no distinction, because we all go out into the world, make assumptions about how the world works, and return home to our houses bruised and battered in the evening, because our assumptions did not quite fit how the world really works. We internalise this pain, and we go out the next day with a slightly better idea about how the world works.

    Proper and professional clearly intersect, but what is proper but unprofessional (or ~proper)? Not proper is the union between unprofessional and everything else ie ~(proper U professional). Similarly professional but not proper is the union of unprofessional and everything which is neither professional nor unprofessional.

    A couple of simple Venn diagrams could clear this up, hence my earlier references to the No True Scotsman fallacy, Is/ought not being a dichotomy and comments about the incorrect use of labelling.

  33. Pogsurf,

    Following your idea that everyone is a proper philosopher, I take you to mean by this that philosophy proper is the process of making and revising assumptions about the world. Everyone is engaged in this, therefore everyone is a proper philosopher.

    Is this correct?

    It seems that, on such an account, it would make sense to distinguish degrees of being a proper philosopher. For example, while everyone is a proper philosopher to some extent, that extent is a function of the extent to which one does philosophy proper well.

    Would you agree to this?

    Regarding your comments qua sets and diagramming, I take your point to be that the proper/professional distinction yields three sets:

    (1) Proper and ~Professional.
    (2) Proper and Professional.
    (3) ~Proper and Professional.

    Given that we’ve posited that all people are proper philosophers, set (3) must have no members as ~proper obtains of no one.

    Do I have the right of it?

    [On an unrelated note, what is the code for that spiffy quote box you employ? It separates things much better than my convention of merely italicizing quotes.]

  34. All, in a redacted message upthread, the user Pogsurf wrote:

    “Define things your own way, and it may turn out that the set of proper philosophers is identical to the set of the philosophical.”

    If you wanted to set yourself up as the Humpty Dumpty of the philosophical world, you couldn’t have done a better job than in the quote above.

    I’m taking this an indication of bad faith on the part of the author, and so I leave the thread…

    The message was redundant: if you want to leave a thread, you leave it. It was also abusive, and ignored a pretty core point of what I am on about (not providing general sufficiency conditions for social groups).

    Now in a more recent message, the same user returns, complaining that the use of the benign short-form of their name was “belittling”, etc.

  35. Dregs, it does seem opaque. I’m not sure I can do it. I’ve deliberately handicapped myself by refusing to provide general sufficiency conditions for the concept of ‘proper philosopher’. One of the circles on this Venn diagram has got ephemeral boundaries.

    The idea of ‘doing philosophy’, or ‘being a philosopher’, seems reasonably more tractable to me. I’ve assumed that there is a reliable, contingent connection between the ‘four virtues’ and productivity in philosophy. Someone who possesses the virtues of the philosopher when they go about the project of figuring out how things hang together generally, is someone who is better placed to change their intellectual space in the relevant ways. It’s possible that there is a systematic connection which links the forms of productivity with the virtues of the philosopher, but if so, I don’t know if I see it yet.

  36. BLS,

    Thanks for your candid reply, it is appreciated. There’s certainly much of interest to think about here.

  37. Firstly, Humpty Dumpty is a nursery rhyme character who was give a very clear philosophy on the nature of dictionaries by Lewis Carroll. It is not one which I agree with, but I have room to accept contrary views, should they reach it past moderation. I have never heard of someone being offended by being called Humpty Dumpty (I thought he is quite a popular character) before, but as my mother used to say “Wonders will never cease”.

    Dregs, I’ve only seen ‘proper’ used as an adjective in this way before, as in ‘right proper funny’, which is a jocular reference. Because I believe we all do philosophy, it necessarily follows that there is no ‘proper’ way to do it. Words lose their meaning when they mean everything to everyone.

    Sure you can have degrees of being a philosopher, I studied it whilst in school sixth form, so I was a student philosopher. I have a BSc in Maths & Philosophy so I am a qualified philosopher. Others make money from it so they are professional philosophers. I epect the list could go on.

    If ‘Proper’ and ‘Professional’ are binary in nature, then there must be a fourth category:

    (4)~Proper and ~Professional

    The HTML code for blockquoting is found here: http://www.w3schools.com/tags/tag_blockquote.asp

    On another matter I wrote a letter with my complaint about BLS and handed it to staff a the publishers of Talking Philosophy today in Tring. I hope BLS learns a lesson in manners from this.

  38. Pogsurf,

    Thanks for pointing out the fourth set. An oversight on my part.

    I had assumed from your 2:22am comment that everyone is a ‘proper philosopher’ that sets (3) and (4) would be empty since ~proper would pertain to no one.

    However, from what you say now, I think I’ve misread you earlier.

    You seem to be saying that the ‘proper’ distinction itself is meaningless because being a ‘proper philosopher’ picks out nothing different from simply being a ‘philosopher’ in the general sense.

    Do I have your meaning right?

    [thanks for the block quote pointer]

  39. I think you and I are seeing eye to eye now Dregs. I don’t really see how ‘proper’ can be analogous to ‘professional’, although it could be that ‘professional’ is subset of ‘proper’. On thinking about it a bit more I think this demonstrates the weakness of BLS’s entire article. We are all fallible, so there must be some ~proper professional philosophers.

    Examples would include those who induldged in redacting comments they didn’t like on a blog, and later reviving them when the battle is almost lost. Also post-editting articles to revise their arguments as though blogging about philosophy were just some gentle drafting exercise. No names come to mind though.

  40. Pogsurf writes at their blog:

    Look here where Pogsurf posts as Pogsurf, but BLS (Big Lazy Slob) Nelson replies in the following comment as ‘Pog’. For the record, Pogsurf, has many, many friends in real-life (i.e. offline) who refer to him as Pog. Why should it matter if the Slobster uses that particular nym in the short form?

    …The last time Pogsurf got abused by an idiot, he threatened to feast on the beating heart of the abuser, and to doxx all the abusers’ loose acquaintances to family and friends.

    The user that goes by the name of Pogsurf is no longer welcome to post anywhere on this site.

  41. I arrived late at this interesting discussion, but I want to point out that BLS Nelson has a habit of calling people by shorter versions of their name. He calls me “swally” and I’ve never felt that it was a slight. It’s done, as far as I can tell, without any intention to belittle or insult and is basically a friendly gesture on his part.

  42. I agree, and I think most people recognize such things as innocuous.

    An interesting topic for another discussion might be the relation between being insulting, receiver perception, and cultural norms.

    For example, is there something significantly different between something widely perceived as an insult or slur and something perceived as such by only a small group, or even just a single individual?

    I wonder. It seems likes an interesting question.

  43. Dregs:

    If someone feels insulted by me, then they are insulted, even if my intention is not to insult.

    I generally apologize in such a situation, making it clear that my intention is not to insult and I try to understand why the other person feels insulted.

    If the other person feels insulted by something completely innocuous that I said (something which still seems innocuous to me after I have put myself in the other’s place) and refuses to understand that my intention is not to insult, in the future I avoid that person insofar as that is possible.

  44. Dregs: In the 3rd paragraph, I left out the phrase “after I have apologized for the perceived insult”.

  45. swallerstein,

    I think that’s a very admirable perspective. I strive, and sometimes fail, to comport myself in much the same way. It is difficult, though, to reconcile the implication of blameworthiness from insulting when no insult was intended or perhaps even rationally discernible.

    When you say:

    “If someone feels insulted by me, then they are insulted, even if my intention is not to insult.”

    The implication seems to be that you did in fact genuinely insult them simply in virtue of their feeling insulted.

    This would seem to entail that you are blameworthy in virtue of someone perceiving offense rather than in virtue of what you have done per se.

    In that case, I worry that the variable and sometimes irrational nature of perception might then trivialize the notion of ‘insult’.

    What do you think?

  46. Swally,

    Quite right.

    While some folks are fine with having their names (or online handles) shortened, there are some who do take great offense a this. Given that most folks do not mind, I think it is reasonable to not regard a shortening as an attempt at insult, but merely a matter of either friendliness or convenience.

    That said, name shortening can be used as an insult and someone might take offense because they believe they are being mocked. But, a person should consider whether there is any evidence of malicious intent in such a shortening.

    For example, when people call me “Mikey” in mocking tone, I am warranted in taking offense. If someone refers to me a “Mikey” in writing, I generally take offense at that as well. This is because for adults, being called Mikey is generally an attempt at insult. But, I do know some people who use it “nicely.” I do usually note that I prefer not to be so designated, though.

  47. Dregs:

    I am a weird person: I tend to see things and to say things that most people apparently don’t see and say. When I say “see things”, I’m not talking about ghosts or visions, but to see aspects of human relations.

    So I always feel that it’s up to me to understand others, not to others to understand me. I long ago realized that no one, except my therapist many years ago and a few friends, are going to make the effort to understand me. Maybe most people can’t understand me; maybe they’re not interested in making the effort, but in any case, it’s not going to happen.

    So if I don’t make an effort to make contact with others, no contact is going to be made and since I try to cultivate good relations with everyone, if someone feels insulted by me, they’re insulted, as far as I’m concerned, even though that is almost never my intention.

    At times I do insult on purpose and I can be very cruel, but I generally fire a warning shot in the air first.

    It’s not a question of blame or of guilt. I think that it’s up to me not to insult others, but it’s not a guilt thing: rather, I pride myself on being able to understand what is going on with others and when I fail to, I feel stupid, not guilty.

  48. swallerstein,

    Those are good points. I suppose I was thinking more in terms of third-party attributions of blame than self-recrimination.

    I was worried that, for example, people can be fired or have legal action taken against them for making offensive remarks.

    If what makes a remark offensive is just the perception of the recipient that it is offensive, then any speech act whatsoever could be grounds for being fined or fired depending on the sensibilities of whom you spoke to.

  49. Dregs:

    That’s an entirely different situation that you’re talking about: firing people for offensive remarks.

    I’m in no position to fire anyone and I’m self-employed, so the problem is not one I face.

    I guess in the situation that you talk about there has to be some kind of code about what constitutes an insult and furthermore, what kind of insult constitutes grounds for firing someone.

    There might be insults which do not constitute grounds for firing someone and others, racial insults for example, which do.

    In my previous remarks, I’m more concerned about how I conduct my own life regarding insults rather than what code others should guide their conduct by.

    This may seem strange, but I have my own personal code of conduct which I don’t expect most others to follow or even to understand and then of course there are certain general rules that I follow and expect others to follow: for example, don’t steal, don’t kill, don’t torture, don’t pollute, etc.

  50. Jim P Houston

    Amos,

    I know you well enough, I think, to say you’re well worth making the effort to understand and that one thing you’re not is stupid.

    I tend to ‘lurk’ these days as I rarely feel I’ve anything useful to say but I do like reading your comments.

    Ben,

    I’ve always admired and appreciated the efforts you go to constructively interact with those who comment here.

    I imagine you’re a great tutor and, for what it’s worth, I think you’ve well-earned the title ‘philosopher’ though I have to say I like the fact that you’re not quick to claim it for yourself.

    Er, as you were..

    :razz:

  51. Jim:

    It’s great to hear from you and we miss your presence here.

    Thank you for the kind words.

    I didn’t say that I was not worth making the effort to understand, but that very few are interested in making that effort.

    As to me thinking that I’m stupid, well, I’m often stupid according to criteria which I set for myself. I’m not comparing myself to anyone.

    I’d wager that you, if I may presume to imagine that I understand you a bit, often consider yourself stupid according to your own very high standards.

    It’s good that some people set high standards for themselves. That may not make them happier or healthier and certainly not wealthier. It may not even make the world better, but it’s worth it.

  52. Jim P Houston

    Hi Amos,

    For those who won’t make the effort, well, that’s there loss.

    I know you set your own criteria and it strikes me that its right (for you anyway) that you do.

    I miss the chats we used to have with Ben, Don and others. Actually, I quite often start to write a comment but they never get finished. I can’t keep up with the pace or do the research anymore.

    Sometimes I even think briefly) about blogging – I’d a notion to write about holes recently. They are philosophically interesting things you know – if they are things, which they aren’t I suppose – both ontologically and epistemologically (honestly). By trying I would only dig myself a deep one though methinks. that said, a metaphorical hole would be better for my back than the ones I dig all the hours of daylight.

    I wouldn’t say I consider myself stupid. But I do say some very stupid things, sometimes ‘dim’, sometimes ill-tempered, sometimes overly apologetic, and sometimes just‘odd’.

    I’m not wealthy – my standards wouldn’t allow that kind of thing but I don’t know that they are high in all the right places.

    There’s good authority for the imperative ‘know thyself’ of course, hard work though…

  53. Jim:

    I hope I’m not being presumptuous (and I’ve been accused of that), but I was just criticizing myself earlier today in an entirely different context that while not having sold out to the system for money or power with age, I have lost my youthful audacity (possibly for very sane reasons), so here goes….

    I would wager that all those whom you mention (and others) miss your presence in this blog and it might be better for you to concentrate on a few blogs rather than dispersing your energies on commenting (???)

    To continue with the metaphor which you introduced above, just keep digging where you
    see it’s fit to dig and then let us know about the digging (???)

    I believe that you’ll find that we’re interested in what you dig, where you dig, how you dig, whether your digging unearths a treasure or not…..

  54. swallerstein,

    I was pointing out some of the stakes involved with insults.

    My interest isn’t in codes per se, whether personal or legal, but the basis for them.

    That is, the philosophy that justifies them.

  55. Jim P Houston

    Amos,

    No reason at all for you to worry about being presumptuous.

    Nice of you to say but I shouldn’t think I’ll be blogging again anytime soon really – I’m better at tending to Epicures and my garden than Epicurus and his (the former are the tatties my part of the world is known for). Anyway, hopefully we’ll chat again via the threads soon. I also still have your email address – as you should have mine –and perhaps we might correspond some time. Btw I recently realised I still have JSTOR access courtesy of the university I was affiliated to until the mid ‘90s – perhaps there might be some philosophy papers I can track down for you?

    Anyways, its sunny here I best go out and do some work…

    Best for now,

    James

  56. James:

    Thanks.

    You’re a very gifted philosopher and I think that you could blog about interesting stuff here.

    That’s all.

    Write me.

  57. I’ve just come back after a few days away and couldn’t believe my eyes at the turn this thread has taken. For a while I couldn’t stop laughing. And as the thread has turned into a confession session I’ll admit I was away watching beautiful horses racing at Royal Ascot. Philosophy took a holiday.

    But I’m back now, and within the framework of Talking Philosophy I find it frankly insulting to see BLS Nelson’s blog being used as a chat room and a target for ad hominem abuse. No-one deserves it less.

    In relation to this misuse, the recommended video on the rise of professional philosophy is fair and constructive. Although I have consistently argued and still maintain that learning at least some formal philosophy is the best start for anyone wanting to philosophise convincingly, cocooning it as a Mandarin discipline adds nothing to the sum of human wisdom. But the video in no way suggests that being philosophical outside an academic environment embraces neurotic outpourings and irrational opinions. Are these really either ‘being philosophical’ or being a ‘proper philosopher’? I don’t think the list of provisos BLS Nelson gives his students on this issue allows for this kind of discourse.

    Thank you Ben (if I’m allowed to call you that!) and Dregs and RT for pushing the discussion on. I would just like to add that most of us out here have little idea if the individuals who are commenting are paid academics, students, people with other seriously impressive qualifications – or whatever. But I’m beginning to see that philosophical enlightenment and offensive stupidity do not necessarily come from predictable sources. So my view on ‘being philosophical’ is definitely shifting.

    I still have a problem with identifying a ‘proper philosopher’, partly because no philosopher could – as Ben mentions – hope to be universally acclaimed as such.

  58. Philosophically vicious | Talking Philosophy - pingback on June 19, 2013 at 4:33 pm
  59. Thanks Margaret. I appreciate it. (And, yes, of course you’re all allowed to call me Ben!)

    In these situations it is sometimes quite hard to know what to say, so I think it is understandable and in some ways commendable that folks would try to find philosophical lessons.

    Anyway, the OP here was intended to be a prelude to a longer post, on philosophical vices. I’ve put that up now. I think the comments here, and the recent turn of the conversation, might make for a useful setup for the new thread.

    In the new post I finally start to tread on thin ice. By taking a closer look at how insults connect with virtues, I’m able to give a partial answer to the question of how and when the activities of the professional philosopher become unmoored from the practice of doing philosophy. As always, though, I remain quiet about the ‘proper philosopher’, so the account may still be incomplete and unsatisfying. It is necessary, since when on thin ice, one must not carry more weight than they can bear.

    But I am very happy to demarcate the philosophizer from the ones who clearly don’t even bother. This new post makes the point clearer by briefly alluding to six characters despised by philosophizers: the dogmatist, the worry-wart, the puzzler, the sycophant, the romantic, and the scholastic technician. In my fungible sort of way, I would like to point a bony finger at both the mush-brained and the dead-spirited, along with all their enablers.

  60. Ben –

    “As always, though, I remain quiet about the ‘proper philosopher’, so the account may still be incomplete and unsatisfying.”

    Don’t you feel you have to work on a definition of a ‘proper philosopher’, or else withdraw the term? Are you reasoning that a definition will eventually emerge from your current investigations on your several blogs?

    My reflections on this waver in and out of seeing any need for the term. In the first place a fixed definition of “proper” is required. I can understand ‘outstanding’ philosopher or even better ‘trail-blazing’ philosopher, as a high degree of innovative insight is implicit in this. But then there have been several sentences in your blog and in the comments thread which could qualify for that distinction (over and above just “being philosophical”) whereas the overall contribution of that individual might be considered far from outstanding or trail-blazing.

    So is something like ‘sustained insight’ a necessary condition? Or sustained insight and sustained flawless argument?

    Please don’t leave the issue up in the air.

    Hope my blockquote comes out OK. [Edit: fixed it for you.]

  61. Margaret, I don’t think so, for two reasons.

    1. Many of our concepts only possess necessary conditions and paradigm cases, not general sufficiency conditions. For example, the concept [BACHELOR] has the necessary condition of [+unmarried]. But the concept of [BACHELOR] cannot be given a stable definition with a determinate extension — you cannot define [BACHELOR] as [-married, +adult, +male]. For it is reasonable to assert that Tarzan or the Pope don’t count as bachelors, despite the fact that they have those characteristics. But it is unreasonable to claim that a married person is a bachelor unless you are willing to do away with the concept of [BACHELOR]. So, e.g., suppose a man has a wife who has faked her own death, and no death certificate has been issued, and suppose the man enjoys a fruitful nightlife (after a suitable mourning period). Even though it is intuitive to say that this man counts as a bachelor, it is not reasonable to do so, because the use of the term in this way costs too much (destroying the concept of [BACHELOR]), and provides not enough benefits to compensate.

    If the concept of [PHILOSOPHER] is like the concept of [BACHELOR], then it would be no surprise. But, just as I know some things about bachelors, I also know some things about philosophers. e.g., I know proper philosophers have the right kind of connection to Socrates.

    2. The fact that many of our concepts only have necessary conditions, not general sufficiency conditions, does not mean we are barred from imposing sufficient conditions upon a concept. If you like, you can say: “For present purposes, I stipulate that [BACHELOR] is [-married +adult +male].” These technical definitions are unstable, and prone to vary from one context to another, which is why it would be hard to include them in a psychology of concepts. But they can happen. So why don’t I do that?

    Well, I must treat the concept of [PHILOSOPHER] as fungible because it refers to a social group, and because I do not self-describe myself as part of it. When we are thinking and talking about social groups, we have to think and talk about whether or not we have a warranted sense of duty to defer to the group about who counts as a member. I think we do have such duties. So while a definition may be in the offing, it will not be mine. As far as I am concerned, the meaning of [PHILOSOPHER] is known analytic aposteriori.

  62. BLS@3:33pm
    “For it is reasonable to assert that Tarzan or the Pope don’t count as bachelors, despite the fact that they have those characteristics.”

    What are those reasons?

    Since this is your offered justification for the claim that general sufficiency conditions do not obtain of being a bachelor, you are so far simply begging the question against the opposing view.

    As I am not privy to your thoughts, I can only speculate why you might think this. One possibility is that your [+adult] criterion should actually be [+able to be married], which I propose is what you are actually trying to get at by ‘adult’.

    I suspect your reasons trade on that substitution, but in any event I am quite keen to hear them since the idea that there are not general sufficiency conditions for being a bachelor is rather surprising.

  63. What are those reasons?

    They share the quality of dispensable irrelevance to the conditions of [-married]. After all, the Pope can’t be married, and Tarzan has never learned the meaning of marriage, which makes them both technically unmarried, even while both are substantially not even candidates for marriage (hence, irrelevant). Add to this the fact that neither of these seem to be especially important to the preservation of the concept as such (hence, dispensable). That’s the long and the short of why I think we can reasonably include or exclude such members from a legitimate characterization of the concept [BACHELOR].

    The critique of necessary and sufficient conditions for concepts can be found pretty well expressed in George Lakoff’s Women, Fire, and Dangerous Things. In that you’ll find he draws on accounts in modern cognitive science, Eleanor Rosch in particular. Lakoff presents an alternative model based in part on the work of the later Wittgenstein.

    I find his arguments are too radical to work. If our concepts looked like that, then I don’t see how we would be able to communicate in the ways we do. Instead I adopt the view that concepts must have necessary conditions but need not have general sufficiency conditions. While I admit this view is strange, and requires a revision to what we think of as ‘concepts’, it is the best of the alternatives. (e.g., Jerry Fodor, for his part, recognizes these problems with definitions, but arrives at a completely implausible solution — radical externalism about meaning and radical nativism about concepts.)

  64. BLS,

    Once again, thanks for your considered and candid reply. I’m especially grateful for the trail to further reading relevant to your position that you’ve supplied.

    The account you give is actually precisely what I had in mind by trading on the substitution of [+adult] for the more apt [+able to be married].

    Since, as you rightfully note, both Tarzan and the Pope are substantially not even candidates for marriage, they fail to satisfy the conditions for [BACHELOR] to obtain. Specifically, they are both [-able to be married].

    However, this failure of [BACHELOR] to obtain qua Tarzan and the Pope threatens the general sufficiency conditions for [BACHELOR] only if Tarzan and the Pope otherwise meet those conditions. That is, it does so only if you’ve substituted [+adult] for [+able to be married].

    Without making that substitution, the counter example is disarmed.

    I take it to be obvious on reflection that [+able to be married] is the more apt rendering of what [+adult] tries to capture–why else would being adult be relevant to marriage if not to satisfy such an underlying condition?–but I’m willing to argue that explicitly if you’d like.

    In any event, I don’t mean to attack your example of [BACHELOR] for no reason; rather, I think the position qua general sufficiency conditions you employ it to support is false.

  65. BLS,

    I’ve been mulling over your idea that concepts must have necessary conditions but need not have sufficiency conditions.

    If possible, I’d like to understand what you have in mind by this, so I’ve a few questions:

    (1) Are all sufficiency conditions for concepts stipulated conditions?

    For example, can concept P have sufficiency conditions [+X,-Y] only if I’ve stipulated them as part of a technical definition?

    (2) It seems that if all distinct concepts had jointly unique necessary conditions, then this would be the same as them having general sufficiency conditions. So, I take it that some distinct concepts have identical necessary conditions?

    For example, if concept P and only P had necessary conditions [+X,-Y], then [+X,-Y] being true of some S would seem to be a general sufficiency condition for P obtaining.

    This would seem to imply that at least some distinct concepts must have identical necessary conditions in order to avoid everything having de facto general sufficiency conditions.

  66. Ben –
    Re your argument that the concept of ‘bachelor’ cannot be given a stable definition with a determinate extension –

    Bachelor does seem to me to have a definition and a determinate extension in a capacity that your concept of a ‘proper philosopher’ does not. Both the Pope and Tarzan only need to be told the definition of ‘unmarried man’ in order to agree that – by definition – they fall into that social group. The Pope will be glad to affirm that he is not one of those secretly married medieval popes, and Tarzan will be delighted to agree that he is not by tribal rules committed to any one female. Dregs has a point and should not yield just yet.

    You have presented your concept of a ‘proper philosopher’ more or less consistently in all your posts. (I say “more or less” because you say to Pogsurf on 15 June, “Is he a proper philosopher? I don’t know. Has he done productive philosophical work that is worthy of attention? If yes, then yes.” That sounds a bit like a definition.)

    You say your concept of a ‘proper philosopher’ is analytic a posteriori – a newly-respectable counter-Kantian mode of reflection which I must now work with. Am I off the mark if I say that that, like the concept of a gentleman, I can’t define it but I know one when I see one? I can get my mind round that. One reason there can be no definition of a gentleman is that – if its meaning is shown by its usage – then that usage has changed over time so its meaning is in flux. A gentleman used to be a man who owned property which provided his income. When I was a child it meant courteous and calmly-spoken. Now it is oddly used with extension to any adult male including a criminal one. Also, my perception of male x as a gentleman may not be agreed by others. The meaning of bachelor does not fluctuate in that way.

    Your concept of a proper philosopher is currently in flux and similarly subject to value judgements, and I accept that. But I am now seeing it as just a souped-up version of ‘being philosophical’, in the sense that it is recognised a posteriori as a major and sustained product rather than a temporary insight-event.

    Thank you for editing my blockquote. I would be grateful to know what I got wrong re both that and your concept of a proper philosopher.

  67. Dregs,

    I don’t think the language of ‘ability’ is fitting to the Tarzan/Pope exception. There’s a relevant sense in which Tarzan is able to be married: force him into a suit, get a priest, force him to say the words, and he’ll be married. It’s more appropriate to say that Tarzan, insofar as we know the guy, is in a non-relevant relationship to the concept of marriage (and hence irrelevant to the concept of bachelorhood). That relationship of non-relevance may be spelled out in terms of inability, but that’s not the only way to do it.

    I don’t follow your reasoning here:

    However, this failure of [BACHELOR] to obtain qua Tarzan and the Pope threatens the general sufficiency conditions for [BACHELOR] only if Tarzan and the Pope otherwise meet those conditions. That is, it does so only if you’ve substituted [+adult] for [+able to be married].

    Tarzan and the Pope threaten the conception of [BACHELOR] as [+adult, +male, -married], because they’re not relevant to the concept of marriage. You can revise the criterion [-married] by substituting [-married, -relevant to marriage], but then you’re introducing viciously fuzzy boundaries by introducing the concept of ‘relevance’. Once you make that move, it functions as a refutation of the idea of general sufficiency conditions.

    I think you’re thinking that I think [+adult] is one subspecies of [+able to be married], and hence can be eliminated as a redundancy. Your answer is to resist that supposed substitution move. While that is a viable suggestion to say that [+adult] is redundant in [+able to be married], that redundancy is not a reason to reject the cases of Tarzan or the Pope, since both are adults. You’re just as stuck with the problem as anyone.

    (1) Are all sufficiency conditions for concepts stipulated conditions?

    For example, can concept P have sufficiency conditions [+X,-Y] only if I’ve stipulated them as part of a technical definition?

    I’m of three minds.

    On the one hand, I dislike pluralism about conceptual structure. It is inelegant and ad hoc. That’s another one of the reasons why I dislike the Wittgenstein/Lakoff/Rosch approach to concepts.

    On the other hand, I am not confident in saying that the definite boundaries of all concepts involve truths by stipulation. e.g., Some folks want to say, “Oh, the truths of mathematics are nothing like that. They have general sufficiency conditions. Two and two are not optionally four — they are four, seriously.” And sure enough, I don’t think that mathematical statements are definitely true by stipulation. It seems to me that the statements of mathematics are more like synthetic apriori truths, true relative to a conceptual scheme. Math is more than just a language-game, it is also a productive practice that is necessary in the generation of a class of surprising truths.

    But these intuitions are severely underdeveloped. So I’ll only say that maybe some concepts really do have general sufficiency conditions by more than just fiat. I don’t mind. I just think [BACHELOR] and [PHILOSOPHER] are not among them.

    On the third hand (I’m an alien), I think concepts arise out of dynamic mental representations that are entirely fungible — what Chris Eliasmith calls “semantic pointers”. These representations can be ratcheted up or down in their level of detail, compressed or decompressed.

    (2) It seems that if all distinct concepts had jointly unique necessary conditions, then this would be the same as them having general sufficiency conditions. So, I take it that some distinct concepts have identical necessary conditions?

    The view I’m endorsing has weird implications, but I don’t know that you can say that that is one of them. Necessary and sufficient conditions are quite different.

    On the face of it, it certainly seems true that if you have enough necessary conditions then you will get general sufficiency conditions for free. Ostensibly, [+water] and [+dirt] are individually necessary and jointly sufficient conditions for [MUD]. If that characterization seems unsatisfying (e.g., we think mud has to be squishy to count as mud, so the water can’t be frozen), we can add new necessary conditions: [+water, +dirt, +normal temperature]. (For the sake of argument, let’s pretend that no intuitive counter-examples can be generated in this case — i.e., what if I spill Gatorade into dirt? Isn’t that waterless mud?) But the addition of any conditions with appeals to normality, ceteris paribus, etc., are just ways of copping out of the project of coming up with general sufficiency conditions. Our rational reach always exceeds our imaginative grasp.

    So it’s not true that distinct concepts with the same necessary conditions would be the same as having the same general sufficiency conditions. How could it? It’s not even true that a single concept with necessary conditions has any general, stable sufficiency conditions with itself! We only pretend concepts have this expressive power because rational people are able to get over the defects of language by drawing on other cognitive resources.

    The weird thing about this account, though, is that two admittedly distinct meanings (say, “melody” and “game”) can map onto two concepts ([MELODY], [GAME]), and these concepts are distinct in use, even though on a cognitive level they both have the very same necessary conditions [+playable]. If someone notices this, and says, “Whoa, I’m not on board here”, I’d understand. It is pretty strange.

  68. Margaret,

    Both the Pope and Tarzan only need to be told the definition of ‘unmarried man’ in order to agree that – by definition – they fall into that social group. The Pope will be glad to affirm that he is not one of those secretly married medieval popes, and Tarzan will be delighted to agree that he is not by tribal rules committed to any one female.

    That’s fine, but one might also reasonably contest the idea that Tarzan or the Pope fall under the category. The point is only to observe that it is plausible for members of the social group of bachelor to think that Tarzan and the Pope do not qualify as part of the extension.

    You have presented your concept of a ‘proper philosopher’ more or less consistently in all your posts. (I say “more or less” because you say to Pogsurf on 15 June, “Is he a proper philosopher? I don’t know. Has he done productive philosophical work that is worthy of attention? If yes, then yes.” That sounds a bit like a definition.)

    You’re quite right. That was a blunder. I should have said, “If yes, then perhaps.” Slip of the keyboard.

    Am I off the mark if I say that that, like the concept of a gentleman, I can’t define it but I know one when I see one?

    I think we use words casuistically. And it seems like there are paradigm cases of concepts that are individually sufficient to qualify as instances of the concept. e.g., robins are a particular sufficient instance of birds, and Socrates sure seems to count as a proper philosopher. But even when these central or prototype members are asserted rightly, they not useful articulations of the concept because they lack generality.

    That said, our casuistic use of language cannot tell us how we ought to use language — how we ought to try our very best to make sentence meaning tie reliably up with some of our concepts and parts of the world. If “gentlemen” can’t be given any necessary conditions at all, even necessary conditions for you and you alone, then you have the right to say that you find yourself in a confused relation to gentlemen — the word, the concept, and/or the reference.

    The key to analytic aposteriori knowledge is that the relevant propositions express necessary truths about the semantic facts about language (hence, analytic) but are subject to revision by showing failures of deference or reference (hence, aposteriori). I think the best examples of this involve Tyler Burge’s work on semantic anti-individualism. An old man who visits his doctor may sincerely believe he has arthritis in his thigh, but he is mistaken, because “arthritis” occurs only in the joints. He has contradicted the facts of the language. That said, he can learn the errors of his ways, as people can show him that he is tying the wrong concept to the word. On this interpretation of linguistic norms it would turn out that the only propositions in language that qualify as analytic apriori are propositions that rest on your warranted sense of ownership over the relevant concepts/words/referents.

    Your concept of a proper philosopher is currently in flux and similarly subject to value judgements, and I accept that. But I am now seeing it as just a souped-up version of ‘being philosophical’, in the sense that it is recognised a posteriori as a major and sustained product rather than a temporary insight-event.

    That seems fair.

  69. “So it’s not true that distinct concepts with the same necessary conditions would be the same as having the same general sufficiency conditions. How could it?”

    What I meant by the bit you quoted was slightly different.

    Suppose concept P and only concept P had the set of necessary conditions [+X,+Y,-Z]. X, Y, and Z can feature in the necessary conditions for any number of other concepts. Unique to P is that specific arrangement and value. My thought was that if a set of necessary conditions were unique to P in that way, they would be equivalent to general sufficiency conditions for P since they could not possibly pick out anything other than P.

    To break out of that, I posited the same bit of weirdness you talk about at the bottom. It is a bit unusual, and I’m not yet sure what kind of implications this view has.

    Any thoughts on the implications you see for having distinct concepts with the same conditions would be welcome.

    “I don’t follow your reasoning here: “

    It’s just a parse of the idea that to be a counterexample, one of two things has to be true of Tarzan/Pope: (1) they meet the criteria for being bachelors but are not bachelors, or (2) they are bachelors but don’t meet the criteria for being bachelors. (2) is weird and we were just talking about (1) before, so (1) was all I parsed there.

    I actually think both [+adult] and [-married] are redundant; you just need [+male, +able to be married] to pick out the concept–both being adult and being not married are just ways of cashing out being able to be married in Western culture. My idea is that a suitably robust understanding of [+able to be married] won’t care about causation.

    For example, Tarzan is [-able to be married] because why he’s not able to be married doesn’t matter, just that he is. In this case, it’s because the institution of marriage doesn’t exist in the jungle. If he moved to New York, that would change; his status would update to [+able to be married] and he’d immediately become a bachelor.

    The reason this bypasses the counterexample is because Jungle-Tarzan is [+male, -able to be married], so he fails the sufficiency conditions for [BACHELOR]. Hence, it’s no problem that he’s not a bachelor.

    I’m happy to acknowledge that relying on a robust understanding of [+able to be married] may not fit everyone’s sensibilities. If not, it’s probably due to deep commitments–it is for me, at least. I’d rather focus on more tractable questions while I still have your attention, like the bit about distinct concepts sharing the same necessary conditions.

    I’d be really keen on what keeps concepts like that distinct. Is it just linguistic habit?

  70. Any thoughts on the implications you see for having distinct concepts with the same conditions would be welcome.

    I don’t know how much I can say, though I’m sure there are a few things I haven’t said well enough.

    When I say that concepts only have necessary and not sufficient conditions, the idea is not to say that those necessary conditions are sufficient for the concept. If the necessary condition were sufficient for the concept, then it would effectively redefine each species by its genus, which would be an absurd result. The concept [BACHELOR] is not identical to the concept of [-MARRIED]. Instead, [BACHELOR] purports to refer to a subset of persons who are not married, and we may or may not be able to say what makes the subset distinctive.

    I assume that words are (ordinarily) employed with determinate extensions, and I think it is plausible in some cases to say that certain kinds of words rigidly designate things across all accessible worlds. So word meaning is relatively rich, while conceptual contents are relatively poor. Hence, anyone who adopts the commonsense assumption that word meaning is just identical to conceptual content might want to get off the boat at this point. And for everyone else, at the very least, I would need to give some story about how we bridge conceptual contents with word meaning.

    Clearly, some kind of reliable relationship has to be set and retained between the concept and the word in use. For all those statements that are analytic aposteriori — that is, involving words which, in some important sense, I don’t own — that relationship has to involve a strong or reliable sense of deference to some identifiable authorities. Other statements will require different kinds of reliable relationships to the things they purport to be about.

  71. I will admit to not having read the entire thread, but I’m troubled by the premise of the original post. Why should the function of Philosophy be snared up in the definition of forms of philosophers? Wasn’t Socrates executed in part for corrupting the youth of Athens? Isn’t his success at what the Athenians thought of as “corruption” exactly why we remember him?

    It seems to me the goal of any philosopher is to promote clearheaded consideration of how we think about things. That is something the world clearly is in need of and the field seems to have lost its focus on teaching. If “proper” philosophers are defined primarily by their capacity to find ever finer divisions of meaning in areas of thought so obscure that the vocabulary is opaque to all but a handful of specialists the field’s capacity to serve this important function is dead.

  72. I THINK THAT THIS IS THE CORRECT ANSWER:

    An analysis of history would argue that the criteria for membership in the category of philosophers, whether literary, analogical (continental), analytical (anglo), or symbolic (logical) is entirely a factor of whether one produces an idea that originates or contributes to a system of thought, and demonstrates its application through argument, where that argument rearranges or changes, perceptions, associated values, and actions.

    Whether one is a philosopher is determined by whether one produces books, not whether one holds academic positions. One can teach philosophy, but that does not make one a philosopher since the criteria for a philosopher is writing philosophy – not philosophical criticism, not philosophical history, but contributing an innovation to the history of ideas.

    Whether one is a professional philosopher is determined by whether it is one’s primary occupation. Spinoza for example ground lenses. He was not a professional philosopher, but a lens grinder. But he was still an influential philosopher.

    Many philosophers have not had academic positions. Hume, and Machiavelli are possibly two of the most influential men in history. In recent political philosophy, it’s interesting that because the academic discipline of philosophy has been distracted by an attempt to define itself at peerage with science, that, very little has been contributed by philosophy in the past century – and that which has (Postmodernism) turns out to have been almost entirely wrong.

    Rawls and Nozick for example were both philosophers, at odds with one another and both academics. And we live in a political world that has been largely influenced by Rawls – and his one concept; the veil of ignorance.

    But we also live under the ideas of Hume and Smith. It’s arguable that we live more under the philosophical influence of Edwards, Jefferson, Hamilton, Madison and Paine, than anyone other than Calvin, Locke, Hume and Smith. Marx was a madman living in the bowels of the british library and he managed to get 100M people killed trying to justify the erroneous labor theory of value, and is somehow loved and admired for it – which is why he’s taught in english and philosophy departments but not economics departments.

    Today, Nassim Taleb is having a profound effect on our political and economic lives, and he was a speculator in the investment community. Mandelbrot’s single idea has helped us not only understand nature’s complexity, but the fact that the stock market is almost entirely made of noise rather than signal.

    The criteria for being a philosopher is generating one or more ideas and writing essays or books on the application of that idea to a variety of examples, illustrating how that idea will change our perception and value about the world – so that we think or act differently than we do.

    In contemporary philosophy, the criteria, I think, is “produce a system of thought”. Which is, easy to misinterpret, as something very grand in scope. It doesn’t have to be grand in scope. It just has to be articulated and then the applications of it demonstrated and argued.

    You can be professional philosopher, which means, a good craftsman, in that you’re work is not flawed according to its own criteria (whether you’re a literary Nietzxche, or a questionably literary Heidegger.)

    You can be a good philosopher (Newton, David Hume, or Thomas Kuhn ) or a bad philosopher (Zoroaster, Johann Joachim Becher, Karl Marx or Noam Chomsky) in that you’re wrong (which is OK) or both wrong and produce negative consequences (which is a really bad thing.) But whether you’re a right philosopher or a wrong philosopher doesn’t change your status as a philosopher.

    Philosophers produce ideas that change the way in which we perceive and value the world around us, and therefore change our actions. To do this they write works that articulate and then apply that idea. The form of argument can vary from the novel, to the poetic, to the analogical, to the analytical to, arguably the symbolic, but the criteria is idea and application for the purpose of changing our perceptions, values and actions.

  73. Two edits I would make if the software let me:
    One paragraph is not clear because in my hurry I didn’t finish the statement about Smith being the only academic. The other is is to good/bad right/wrong paragraph where I only addressed good and bad, not right and wrong. Hopefully the point will still come across.

    Off to bed now.. :)
    -Cheers

  74. Hi Curt,

    I am amenable to the remarks that you have made about the aims of philosophizing, the dominant mood of professional philosophy (what I called “programmistic” here), and the kinds of ways in which philosophy can be productive (mentioned above).

    FWIW, I don’t agree at all with your choice of examples. e.g., I do not endorse any picture of the political universe where Chomsky and Marx wear philosophical black hats while Thomas Kuhn wears the white hat. sp.: Chomsky has been an effective steward of the intellectual ideal, and someone I find personally inspiring. Marx philosophized badly, but he managed to do it productively. Many believe that Kuhn’s doctrine of ‘incommensurability’ was both quixotic and not very well defended; e.g., Davidson’s “On the Very Idea of a Conceptual Scheme” succeeded as an effective enough take-down of the doctrine, and nothing else.

    I also don’t agree with the parenthetical caricatures in the first paragraph. “Analytical” is not “Anglo”, because of Frege. Nor is “continental” the same as the merely “analogical” — frankly, there is only marginal difference between the amount of rigor in WVO Quine’s “Two Dogmas of Empiricism” when compared with the essays that J.F. Lyotard wrote for children. (In this, I do not mean to offer any compliments to Lyotard.)

    I sympathize a bit with your claim that philosophers primarily write books, but I won’t bank on it. Socrates wrote nothing. And there are many have a credible claim to being philosophers (e.g., Donald Davidson) even though they wrote articles over books.

    In recent political philosophy, it’s interesting that because the academic discipline of philosophy has been distracted by an attempt to define itself at peerage with science, that, very little has been contributed by philosophy in the past century – and that which has (Postmodernism) turns out to have been almost entirely wrong.

    But that’s entirely wrong! In the very next paragraph you mention two massively influential voices, John Rawls and Robert Nozick. You might have also mentioned Jurgen Habermas, a major intellectual backer of the EU. Bertrand Russell was an influential figure who did his part in defining the post-war liberal internationalism. etc.

  75. It seems that blaming Karl Marx for the number of people killed in societies which called themselves Marxists is on the level of blaming Jesus for the deaths caused by the crusades, the inquisition, the witch trials, the genocide carried out by the Spanish in Latin American, the British in North America and the Belgians in the Congo in the name of Christianity.

    This has nothing to do with whether Marx makes a lot of errors or not, but with the question of moral responsibility.

  76. Swally, not to get too sidetracked on the subject of individual moral responsibility for collective harms, but I think there are relevant differences between those cases.

    Unlike Jesus, Marx was responsible for doing his part in propagating a revolutionary culture which included violent revolution as a live option. Mind you, he can’t be personally blamed for (e.g.) the starving of the Kulaks under Stalin, Marx being long and thoroughly dead at the time. But he could be blamed for doing his part in giving rise to the culture that made that event possible.

    By the same token, Sarah Palin can be blamed for doing her part in sustaining the culture of American vigilantism which, as a matter of fact, led to an assassination attempt on a sitting member of Congress (recall the discussion here). But (so far as I know) she can’t be blamed for that attempt.

  77. BLS, I’m having a little trouble recalling anyone, including Sarah Palin, referring to Sarah Palin as a philosopher.

  78. True. I take it we’d switched subjects temporarily to the issue of individual responsibility for collective harms (as I said at the outset).

  79. Ben:

    Maybe the case of Jesus is not analogous with that of Marx, but I still don’t see how Marx is responsible for armed revolutions which occurred 35 years after his death and which were carried out, not by the working class (as he thinks that they will be), but by a small so-called vanguard party and still less is he is responsible for human rights violations committed by that vanguard party.

    I believe that from Aquinas (and others) you can get the idea that armed revolution against intolerable injustice is a right and the regime of the Czar was not only oppressive and non-democratic, but also carrying on a senseless, losing war with perhaps millions of casualties and thus, an armed revolution was justified in my opinion.

    So at certain times and in Russia in 1917 armed revolutions are justified. In fact, there was one in the U.S.in 1776. So you can hardly condemn Marx for advocating armed revolution per se (you’d have to condemn Jefferson too).

    You’d have to show that Marx advocates an armed revolution which turns into the kind of oppressive dictatorship run by the bolscheviks, which I do not think is the case at all.

  80. Swally, I don’t raise my remarks above to condemn or praise Marx or violent revolution. I’m also not attributing to him responsibility for revolutions after his death. Rather, I’m saying he’s responsible for doing his part in fostering a revolutionary culture which included violent upheaval as a live option, and contrasting that with the case of Jesus.

  81. (spinozaauthor aka mg-w, @gwmarg)

    This thread is throwing up fascinating new reasons for believing that no sufficient condition for a ‘proper philosopher’ is likely to be found.

    Points in brief:
    Ben – Thank you for keeping the discussion on track. (It would have been so good to have similar feedback from Nigel Warburton,Virtual Philosopher.)

    Lee Jamieson –

    “If “proper” philosophers are defined primarily by their capacity to find ever finer divisions of meaning in areas of thought so obscure that the vocabulary is opaque to all but a handful of specialists the field’s capacity to serve this important function is dead.”

    I think ‘proper philosophers’ as currently recognised in this post and its comments may be less likely to use opaque vocabulary than professional philosophers. I apologise for getting into a discussion on analytic a posteriori reflection, but I believe it was unpacked into ordinary English and is remarkably interesting.

    Curt Dolittle –

    “I THINK THAT THIS IS THE CORRECT ANSWER:”

    “An analysis of history would argue that the criteria for membership in the category of philosophers, whether literary, analogical (continental), analytical (anglo), or symbolic (logical) is entirely a factor of whether one produces an idea that originates or contributes to a system of thought, and demonstrates its application through argument, where that argument rearranges or changes, perceptions, associated values, and actions.”

    Hi Hitler! Curt’s conditions not only let in writers whom most philosophers would not want to recognise as philosophical kin, but force us into moral considerations, making Ben’s concept of the virtuous philosopher more problematic than ever. ‘Virtuous’ and ‘proper’ have no essential meaning and remain riddled with value judgements.

    “Spinoza for example ground lenses. He was not a professional philosopher, but a lens grinder. But he was still an influential philosopher.”

    True, but a quibble here is not entirely trivial. Spinoza was a highly educated intellectual who effortlessly added Latin to his other three languages. Various legal documents show he would have made an astute lawyer. His lifelong interest in the science of optics led to complex practical experiments, and his trade in spectacle-lens grinding alleviated the poverty caused by his devotion to his famous philosophy. He was professional in his knowledge and application of the laws of logic and debate, challenging academics and such high-flyers as Descartes through these techniques.

  82. Swallerstein, a point of History- The first Marxist revolution happened in Paris in the aftermath of the Franco-Prussian War in, I think, 1871. The pseudo-proletarian government that arose in the chaos lasted three months and was called the “Commune”.

  83. Excellent response. Thank you. Rare. :) More than you want to bother with below but since you put out a pretty good response it’s worth replying.

    RE: “I am amenable to the remarks that you have made about the aims of philosophizing, the dominant mood of professional philosophy (what I called “programmistic” here), and the kinds of ways in which philosophy can be productive (mentioned above).”

    OK. Although, I”m not sure I understand yet what you mean by productive. :) One can be highly productive. The discipline is productive in the sense that it produces outputs. But, as we say in economic philosophy, you con’t know if you were productive, or whether you wasted the world’s resources until someone buys what you made. Otherwise you’re just having fun watching some resource transform – and that’s personal entertainment, not production :)

    RE:”FWIW, I don’t agree at all with your choice of examples. e.g., I do not endorse any picture of the political universe where Chomsky and Marx wear philosophical black hats while Thomas Kuhn wears the white hat. sp.: Chomsky has been an effective steward of the intellectual ideal, and someone I find personally inspiring. Marx philosophized badly, but he managed to do it productively.” Many believe that Kuhn’s doctrine of ‘incommensurability’ was both quixotic and not very well defended; e.g.,

    As I said in my followup post, I failed to finish the paragraph that distinguished from good/bad, right/wrong, and to incorporate craftsmanly or not (which you call ‘proper’ or not). :) It was too late at night here in Kiev. :)

    1) Good/Bad: the consequences of the ideas, including externalities.
    2) Right/Wrong: whether the reasoning used has survived scrutiny for the period of the utility of the idea in enacting change. (It is also true that a good idea can exist despite the author’s really bad reasoning. Searle’s Chinese characters and all…)
    3) Craftsmanly: the logical discipline used, the coverage of applications, the refutation of counter arguments, and the ability to communicate the ideas without imposing significant deductive burden on the reader.

    Kuhn can be wrong without terrible consequence. The paradigmatic nature of disciplines and methods was a valuable insight. Marx was so wrong with such a magnitude that he caused 100M people to die horrible deaths and left more than a billion others suffering in horrid poverty. All based on the error of the labor theory of value. I’m not sure how deeply to criticize Zoroaster or Postmodernists who use the same strategy of contradictory statements. I mean, I don’t really understand why we should desire any philosophical framework that’s made of false statements. Or one that’s made of highly contrived and loaded statements (the Germans et al.) I that’s the case we can just go back to mythology and mysticism for our guidance – at least that has stood the test of time, and it’s easily recognizable as mythology for use in general applications.

    Or perhaps your view of philosophy is that philosophers have no responsibility for their public statements – that shouting fire in the theater is not creating a hazard. :) There is some tendency to adopt this rather questionable ethic in academia under the rubric of the competition of ideas, but that ethic is logically limited to physical sciences not to political or even personal philosophy. WE don’t let physical scientists publish everything either and we hold them accountable for doing so. And history does hold philosophers accountable for their ideas. We phlogiston theory (which is analogous to the labor theory of value) is the whipping boy of philosophical discourse in the physical sciences.

    It is certainly possible to construct a series of arguments that are contradictory to direct observation and indirect evidence, but which deliver such psychic rewards that the audience desires to treat them as truths. In fact, ideology and mysticism pretty much require that technique. And, as most ideological historians will confirm, the bigger the lie the better.

    RE: :Davidson’s “On the Very Idea of a Conceptual Scheme” succeeded as an effective enough take-down of the doctrine, and nothing else.”

    Davidson’s attack on Kuhn is a straw man. Kuhn comes first and tries to describe a problem, and communicate it effectively, and Davidson takes the argument to the extreme as only a disciple of the metaphysical problem could. The error here is the difference between the metaphysical skepticism of the philosophy of science and the desire for the majority of the discipline of philosophy to remain lost in the absurdity of the metaphysical problem – the entire program of which has been a total failure as far as we can tell. Thus leaving the solution to be provided by neuro science at the organic scale, behavioral and experimental psychology and the personal and interpersonal scale, and behavioral economics at the grand scale. (Albeit most of this progress has occurred after 1980 when the cost of computing began to make such research more affordable.)

    RE: “I also don’t agree with the parenthetical caricatures in the first paragraph. “Analytical” is not “Anglo”, because of Frege. Nor is “continental” the same as the merely “analogical” — frankly, there is only marginal difference between the amount of rigor in WVO Quine’s “Two Dogmas of Empiricism” when compared with the essays that J.F. Lyotard wrote for children. (In this, I do not mean to offer any compliments to Lyotard.)”

    Well the terminology isn’t my invention. That’s just common usage when loosely describing the analytical and continental movements. (I”m pretty sure… yes, that it’s even on wikipedia as stated.) It isn’t a question of rigor it’s a question of a) clarity b) testability c) loading, d) objectives. Continental language is loaded from Kant onward in an attempt to find an alternative to prior moral sentiments in the absence of church and aristocracy, just as the Postmodernist movement is an attempt to load current language in an attempt to find an alternative to the failure of socialism in theory and practice. Any act of philosophizing has a network of goals, even if it’s not stated. And, just as you cite in Davidson, just because we can’t articulate them or we ignore them doesn’t mean they aren’t the causal properties of the relations that we identify and work with. They are. That’s what continental philosophy is for: a reformation in an attempt at restoration by other arguments – a new religion of europe. It’s just another of the same objection to the anglo model that europeans have been objecting to since the French took the English empirical innovation, and restated it in moral terms (thereby creating potential for teh bloody revolution, napoleon’s conquest, and marx’s devastation of life) in order to preserve their more Roman and hierarchical preferences.

    I mean, words have consequences. We aren’t cutting paper doilies here. Or maybe were’ just really entertaining ourselves? And not productive at all? :)

    RE: “I sympathize a bit with your claim that philosophers primarily write books, but I won’t bank on it. Socrates wrote nothing. And there are many have a credible claim to being philosophers (e.g., Donald Davidson) even though they wrote articles over books.”

    That’s a degree of precision that doesn’t alter the argument that history tells us that you must produce outputs, even if the constituent form of those outputs change over time. (Even though, it looks like, from the data, that we should question the article and journal process. Particularly in philosophy. If no one had written Socrates down (Plato or his students) there wouldn’t be any more of an Aristotle than there is a Zoroaster. It’s hard to argue that Kripke isn’t a philosopher. It’s genius, but I’m not sure it’s important. And most of what we have is lecture notes to work with. :) (For some reason I think that’s really neat. it just feels… honest somehow. like we ought to write our work on metal sheets and leave it under trees and shrubs for people to find. :) But categorically speaking, it’s hard to argue that you’re a philosopher if you dont produce works. Especially when the cannon requires that you read the author’s original works. (albiet, no one ever seems to read papers.) :)

    “CURT: In recent political philosophy, it’s interesting that because the academic discipline of philosophy has been distracted by an attempt to define itself at peerage with science, that, very little has been contributed by philosophy in the past century – and that which has (Postmodernism) turns out to have been almost entirely wrong. ——NELSON: But that’s entirely wrong! In the very next paragraph you mention two massively influential voices, John Rawls and Robert Nozick. You might have also mentioned Jurgen Habermas, a major intellectual backer of the EU. Bertrand Russell was an influential figure who did his part in defining the post-war liberal internationalism. etc.

    Well, I don’t know how I”m wrong. I said it was distracted and that philosophy had not produced much worth in the past century, and that’s not an uncommon evaluation. Compared to the physical, biological, anthropological, technical, and economic disciplines, most of the profession as in fact either remained distracted by the metaphysical program (a chimera) or distracted by the problem of consensus under heterogeneity in an effort to justify central controls. I mean, I”m not just pulling this out of thin air, Im simply looking at hw many people work in which disciplines, and what their relative impact has been. There are anthologies on this topic. It’s not my thimble-full-observation. :)

    As for Habermas, the EU is operating contrary to economic evidence, and contrary to the reason for the rist of western economic advantage. WHile open markets are a good thing, and free movement of people is a good thing, fundamentally societies can not function any longer without fiat money and credit, and different normative and moral codes are vastly different in their productive capacity. The germanic and scandinavian countries are not wealthy because of their location or resources, they’re wealthy because they’re high trust societies that over generations outbred, and because the church forbid cousin marriage, and because under manorialism it was hard to get land without demonstrating you were worthing of investment (credit risk) they became high trust societies. The inability to coalesce central power increased competition and innovation. As soon as the Italians imported accounting so that complex investments could be made, the fact that Europe was poorer and less populous didn’t hold it back from 500 years of rapid expansion. The south is still familial, corrupt, and by comparison, less hard working. Fundamentally, you cannot mix these cultures without conflict any more than we seem to be able to mix cultures without conflict in our country. Europe wants to create an america, and half of america wants to break into european states. (The europeans are always a generation behind us at everything.)

    I’d argue that Rawls was wrong and exacerbated the problem. Nozick wasn’t right – even if I wish he was. The reason is that both persons assume ether an optimum or compromise of interests on ends is possible under heterogeneity of norms. The data from voting patterns tells us that this isn’t true – particularly that trust declines and economics and redistribution suffer. The more individual we become as economic and family units the more diverse our moral perceptions become. It’s all well and good to write in the 70’s when the change is underway, but we have data today that they didn’t. The veil of ignorance, like all moral dilemmas is a nice parlor trick which attempts to identify an abstract morality as if we were still appealing to heaven. But moral foundations are biological and reproductive, and that is how people act, vote, and moralize.

    Anyway, at this moment philosophy requires multidisciplinary knowledge in order to make any judgment whatsoever. And that knowledge is sorely lacking from the discipline. We have had to work very hard at philosophy since the start of the industrial revolution started changing the world around us so quickly. The job of Hume and Smith after the 3o years war and increased trade made a new way of looking at the world necessary.

    I don’t like the distinction between the analytical, continental and post-analytical movements, because the analytical program incorporated the physical sciences, while retaining it’s attempt to solve the metaphysical problem. The continental program is an attempt to restore the past with a new form of narrative framing. The post-analytic program is an attempt to justify the failure of socialism in theory and in practice.

    Experimental Philosophy and Naturalism at least imply that we have dropped the metaphysical program as a failure, and instead concentrate on the interpretation of and judgement of, the knowledge provided us by the disparate physical sciences. Political Economy and Economics, at least in some parts, rely upon philosophical techniques.

    Thanks for playing with me. It’s fun. Nice Blog.

    Cheers

    Curt Doolittle
    The Propertarian Institute
    Kiev, Ukraine

  84. Spinozaauthor, “This thread is throwing up fascinating new reasons for believing that no sufficient condition for a ‘proper philosopher’ is likely to be found.”

    :smile: Exactly my point from my earlier post. “Proper” philosophers tend not to make significant contributions to the culture because they are unable to storm the ramparts of conceptual orthodoxy. As I said, we remember Socrates because he taught the youth of Athens ways of thinking about thinking that undermined the very foundations of what had stood as moral and civil authority. This propriety may present itself in the “ever finer divisions” and opacity of academic thought technicians, or it may be in plain-language error. In any event great Philosophy will produce revolutions and will inherently be unauthorized, even if its ideas are terribly wrong.

    There was a comment well up about Marx being a popular subject in Political Science and Philosophy departments, but not in Economics departments. That’s because his economics is hokum. Ultimately that renders both his politics and his philosophy a kind of kudzu of the mind- seemingly inevitable to those who think it necessary to cooperate with the inevitable, but deadly to the societal ecology it invades.

    Locke, filtered through Hume and Smith, present a different kind of revolution of the mind. They give a remarkably good account of how order can arise from unintentional cooperation, and how it can give the appearance of being well directed in so doing. If one understands them well one can also understand how Marx can be at once so alluring and so wrong. Marx sustains the elitist fantasy that order is provided from above, thus relieving the masses of anxiety over having to be responsible themselves, and he superimposes a second fantasy that particularly noble souls are among us who should properly provide that control, giving frustrated would-be elites a different pole from which to seek political power. In doing so he is re-visioning perhaps the oldest power struggle in the legacy of mankind, that between entrenched, supposedly practical, power and the shaman.

  85. Curt Doolittle:

    You haven’t shown how Marx’s theory of value (which is mistaken, I agree) “caused” 100 million people (I will not dispute your figures, although they seem exaggerated to me) to die horrible deaths.

    If a group of power-hungry, authoritarian, fanatical revolutionaries, the Bolcheviks, had not taken power in Russia, contrary to Marx’s predictions that the revolution would occur in a country with a strong working class, such as Germany, Marx’s theories would be seen as another interesting, but outmoded 19th century German philosophical system such as that of Hegel or Schopenhauer.

    What caused millions of death in the Soviet Union was not Marx’s theory of value or his false belief that history moves in dialectical form, but the dictatorship of the bolcheviks, especially during the period of Stalin.

    Anyone who is familiar with the life of Stalin (I suggest Simon Sebag Montefiore’s excellent biography, The Court of the Red Tsar) is aware that Stalin’s interest in and knowledge of Marxist philosophy was minimal and that he was motivated by a quest for power and domination, having little to do with the noble, but rather unrealistic ideals of Marx.

  86. Interesting error of particularism, and the black or white fallacy.
    Interesting focus on ine csnisate rather than the premise of the argument.
    Interesting reference to an apologist.
    Interesting …. Logic that ones knowledge of particulars is necessary for the application and use of generalizations for the purpose of ideological persuasion. Ideology does not require comprehension. Thats the whole idea. It need only motivat action.

    The number is an approximation ( of which there are literally dozens in the similar range) comprised largely of soviet, chinese and cambodian deaths. But this not material. The question is whether withiut marx the economic program of communism, and its consequences would have ocurred, since that was the ideological framework that all three movements relied upon.

    But this is silly conversation for liberal art majors. They teach marx in literature. Not in evonomics.:)

    Bck to badics: Can I show that Jesus of Nazareth’s teachings had consequences? What about any other prophet? Or socrates? Aristotle? The world holds Aristotle and newton accountable for the discipline of science Zoroaster for monotheism as a political device. Paul for the christianization of europe. Yet marx is absolved for the worst man made disaster in history? Or is the selective judgement reminiscent of religious devotion? ;)
    But back to the material argument, which is the criteria for membership in the category of philosophers. Good or bad. Right or wrong. Craftsmanly or crude. Professional, lay, or amatur. Mystical, normative, or scientific.

  87. Lots if iphone specific spelling. Apologies. Im in an outdoor restaurant with a distracting woman and its more than i can manage. :)

  88. Curt:

    Distracting women are far more worthy subjects of attention than the labor theory of value.

    Enjoy her company!!!

  89. Resubscribing.

  90. More TPM Updates | Benjamin Lee Samuel Nelson - pingback on July 6, 2013 at 8:45 pm
  91. A child playing with lego IS doing engineering just as much as a philosopher talking about the ‘ethics of climate change’ is doing philosophy.

    In neither case however should one consider them to be skilled in their practice or in anyway relevant to society and its current issues.

  92. THinking philosophically, no matter what amount of one’s time is devoted to it, no matter whether one is paid to do it or not, doesn’t say anything about what ‘thinking philosophically’ means.

    If the question under consideration describes manners, ethics, morals and politics, then as long as the question is stated in operational language it’s possibly meaningful to use the term ‘philosophize’, as long as one is using all available scientific information from economics, law, politics, voting records, behavioral economics, behavioral and experimental psychology.

    But say, if your question is a word game, like “what is x?” They you’re just a silly fool outwitted by your own word games.

    And if say, you’re in the business of logic, and relying upon the existence of infinite sets of anything, you’re not doing much better than counting the angels on the head of a pin, because angels and infinite sets are constructed of the same material – error.

    And if you say, your teaching the young and ignorant about marxist philosophy or postmodernism, then you’re a dangerous silly person who doesn’t know the damage he’s doing, and if he does, he’s better locked away behind bars.

    Science and engineering won. The purpose of philosophy is to help us understand what to do with our scientific, commercial, technical, and political innovations.

    otherwise you might as well start a new religion.

  93. I tend to think that Leo’s opinion about the supposed irrelevance of philosophy is disproved by Mike LaBoissiere’s weekly topical posts. Still, I suppose reasonable people can disagree.

  94. BLS Nelson:
    I just wonder if its all just a hammer looking for a nail. I write philosophy. (Ethics/Political Economy.) But I have a hard time taking metaphysics and certain arias of logic, very seriously. Always have. Only after learning physics, history and economics did I find philosophy meaningful. And only then, for the context of improving arguments. And certainly not because introspection is a particularly useful form of instrumentation. It’s not.

    So one ends up needing philosophy to criticize bad philosophy, and to make sure our mistakes are limited. But it’s not a source of discovery.

  95. The virtue of philosophy is that one can question anything, even the value of philosophy.

    No one would write to a sociology blog questioning the value of sociology, not because sociology, as a science, is beyond questioning, but simply because questioning the value of sociology is not allowed in the game of doing sociology.

    Thus, in philosophy one does not inculcate the Marxism and post-modernism in the young and ignorant, but rather one lets the young and ignorant study them and criticize them, because without studying and criticizing what one does not believe, one never really becomes aware of the value of one’s beliefs.

    It’s great that every thinking young person walks around as a Marxist for a few days or more, as an anarchist for a few days or more, as a elitist believer in Plato’s Republic for a few days or more, as a Nietzschean for a few days or more.

    It is very important that in a society where everything is evaluated according to its economic efficiency, an area where one questions for the sake of questioning survives, not because the unexamined life is not worth living, as Socrates claimed, but because the examined life is certainly worth living.

  96. Curt Doolittle, I would criticize your analogy. You imply that philosophy can be likened to a tool that has a narrow set of uses and it looks to seek an overbroad application. That completely misses the point of Philosophy.

    Philosophy examines interactions. In the hammer/nail equation the arguments would not be about the tool per se, but about the interface of hammer and nail. Then we might examine the flow of energy from person to nail via hammer. Then we might examine the nature of the intentionality of applying a hammer to a nail, how a chain of reasoning reaches from the desire for the function of a structure to the abstraction of a design to fixing pieces of wood together. Subject by subject, interaction by interaction, Philosophy invites us to eschew shallow acceptance of what is to see the dynamism of all things.

    Ultimately, Philosophy also invites us to examine the very conceptual interactions by which a mass of flesh could perceive a “reality” and imagine the algorithms by with something other than masses of flesh could also perceive it.

  97. Lee
    Thanks for the reply.
    I guess, that I’d ask you what was the difference between the promise of philosophy and the practice of it? I agree with you on its promise. I disagree that the promise is fulfilled in practice. In practice, science has consistently displaced philosophy and continues to. And both science and economics will tell you more than philosophy will.
    THe test is to try to determine what problems philosophy solves better than any other discipline does, what problems it solves equally well, and which worse. If we play this game it turns out that philosophy helps make us fit for solving problems in other domains, but it doesn’t seem to help us outside of those domains.
    In other words, if we have something empirical to work with philosophy helps a lot. If we don’t, then philosophy ‘degenerates into a discussion of norms’. Meaning nothing. It’s just circular.
    And I write philosophy every day. :)

  98. Curt,
    I noticed yesterday on this site a post concerning a new book promising to dispel fifty myths about atheism, and I had to smile. Among the things we were promised in a review embedded in the post was an answer to the derision and judgementalism of religious folk. I can’t speak for all religions, but the Christianity in which I was raised was founded by a man who was not judgemental and told his followers not to be so either.

    The fact of the matter is I can’t think of a single discipline in which the practice of the common follower rises to the level accessible by simply seeking the highest aspirations of the field. Why would Philosophy be any different? First of all, Philosophy runs starkly counter to the commonplace of culture. A half-decent Philosopher values ideas more than stuff. That alone renders him or her meaningless to nine out of every ten people on Earth. A really good one is profoundly more unsettling than that.

    So, think about it, the practice of Philosophy happens in organizations supported by people who are not philosophers. It’s not hard to believe there are groups of people who will understand the value of doing that well, but it is hard to believe there are HUNDREDS of such groups who support departments all over the world in such a way that they will all do it uniformly well.

  99. Lee,
    Thank you. Well, of course I agree with you.
    But, some scribblers cause change with their scribbles.
    Some of what they scribble is also sophisticated deception.
    Some of it is viral and they aren’t even aware of it.
    And some of it is damaging.
    And some of it is very dangerous.
    Of course, I”m happy to celebrate the honest labor of moral minds.
    But, In practice, average people are prey to those forms of deception.
    And some of them are very popular.
    And then people do things with those ideas.
    And sometimes, people die because of them.
    So, there are negative consequences to bad philosophy.
    New ideas are like new technologies.
    Some of them are toxic.
    And some of us have to clean up toxic mess. :)

    Thank you for playing. :)
    -Curt

  100. @swallerstein

    RE: “Distracting women are far more worthy subjects of attention than the labor theory of value. Enjoy her company!!!”

    Now, that is philosophy right there. And good philosophy at that. :)

  101. Curt Doolittle:

    Thank you for the praise. In fact, distracting women are more worthy subjects (note that I say “subjects”, not “objects”) of attention than any theory, philosophical or
    otherwise.

    Marx’s theory of value (and Marxism in general) are attempts to disguise as scientific the perception of many people (read Dickens or Zola for example) that 19th century industrial capitalism was tremendously unjust and exploited the working class.

    Marx, for reasons that I do not completely understand, found it hard to simply condemn capitalism as unjust and invented a complicated system of so-called laws of history, based on Hegel’s dialectic, a system which does not fit the facts.

    The experience of the Soviet Union (and other communist countries) shows that if people try to impose a juster economic system by force and through a dictatorship, the result will likely be more unjust and less liveable than previous capitalist exploitation.

    That does not signify that capitalism cannot and should not be reformed and regulated by democratic means nor does the fact that communism was a nightmare imply that capitalism is a blessing.

    Marxism should be taught (and criticized) in schools, because first of all, it’s part of our intellectual heritage and second of all, because it stimulates thought and discussion about many political and social issues.

    Obviously, Marxism should not be taught as if it were the Gospel, but then again, almost nothing should be taught if it were the Gospel, not even the Gospel.

  102. Swallerstein

    Shared vision. :). To the word
    (Like Chomsky, Marx was a miserable human being.)

  103. Capitalism is necessary.
    That does not mean it is sufficient.
    And sufficient dies not mesn preferrable.

    My general argument is that human beings are generous to kin. And that states must be small enough to function as kin even if kinship is merely cultural.

    Redistribution without dicatorship requires multiple competing societies.

    But in-group diversity is a bad thing. Because it causes people to restrict their domain of kinship trust.

    I am against a redistributive society wherin we are forced into conflict oner norms rather than voluntarily join a society with the norms we prefer.

    Not complicated.

  104. Curt Doolittle:

    I rather like Chomsky, not that I always agree with him, but as a person, I feel good about him. I don’t know why you consider him to be a miserable human being.

    As to the kinship society, I agree with you that human beings are more generous within small groups (not necessarily biologically kin) and that if one seeks a way of life based on solidarity, one had best organize small groups of people with similar aims and values rather than expecting the government to decree it.

  105. Curt Doolittle,
    The most dangerous ideas are seldom new ideas. While new ideas may be toxic they usually are not sufficiently popular early on to do great harm unless they do as Marx did and ensconce prejudice in something with the patina of intellectual authority.

  106. Ideas are never dangerous. Ideas may be stupid, false, ridiculous, brilliant, true,
    etc.

    People fueled with certain ideas can be dangerous, of course. Stalin, fueled with Marxism-Leninism, was dangerous, but Stalin was a psychopath, who would have been dangerous fueled by John Stuart Mill.

    Generations of kindly university professors have been Marxists without hurting anyone. That is independent of the fact, discussed above, that Marxism, as a philosophical system, has some serious flaws.

    On the other hand, George W. Bush, fueled by a discourse about human rights (which I subscribe to in general), was a dangerous head of state, who caused a lot of harm, which once again, does not negate the value of human rights.

    Not even Nazism (I anticipate the reply) is dangerous. It’s stupid, very stupid and I’m sure that there are lots of closet Nazis among my neighbors, the only harm that they cause being boring their listeners.

  107. How would you prove that ideas aren’t dangerous? You may SAY it. And you may personalize it. But we know enough about humans now to understand that there are very dangerous ideas. Plenty of them. Ideas that people want to believe, but have external consequences.

  108. First of all, saying that some ideas are dangerous is dangerous, insofar as it is generally the prologue to some restrictions on the free debate of ideas.

    Second, I’m not sure why I’d have to prove that ideas aren’t dangerous. I could say that you’d have to prove that ideas are dangerous, that is, to return to my Stalin-example, you’d have to prove that Stalin (or someone like him) was motivated by his ideas, not by his psychopathic personality or his brain chemistry or his horrid childhood, etc.

    So given that you cannot prove that ideas are dangerous and I cannot prove that they are not dangerous, I say that for the moment we accept as a convention that they are not dangerous, so as to avoid any possible restriction of free speech by those eager to censor our conversations and conversations in generation.

  109. I don’t mind that the dialogue has stretched way far away from the OP — follow the conversation wherever it goes. I just wanted to let folks know I don’t intend on commenting on anything unless it tangentially relates to the OP, due to time constraints and things like that.

  110. Swallerstein,
    By your qualification uncompressed near-critical spheres of plutonium are also not dangerous. I have to take up with Curt here. Human beings are also “not dangerous”, until one mixes them with certain ideas.

  111. My, you people ARE idle!

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