Saturday, November 18, 2006

Philosophy v. Film?

If I proposed some kind of gathering to watch a film, how many of you would actually show up? The film I have in mind is Papillon. If you have not seen it, it is very good, I highly recommend it. (Dustin Hoffman and Steve McQueen!) But why this film? For two reasons:

(1) It is not in any way trying to be philosophical, but it is, and so it achieves that very nicely.
(2) The way in which it is philosophical is that it is existential--at least, I think so, very deeply so--and since it's not trying to be, it does it so well and doesn't come off as being cheesy and superficial.

But, a couple of things about this film:

(a) It is a bit long, 2.5 hours.
(b) It is not an easy film to watch, it's got some tough scenes, and being a film from the 70s, it's not designed to keep you easily entertained at every instant, so it can make it feel like it's even longer than it is. (I personally think such a feature of good films is something that adds to their depth; it forces you to spend time actually thinking about what you are watching, since your eyeballs aren't just be hosed down with visual candy.)

And lastly, a few things about the gathering, if there would be one:

(i) Someone else would have to house it, since I do not own a tv & dvd player, and I have a really tiny apartment.
(ii) Food and drinks are probably a good idea.
(iii) There wouldn't be any requirement for any philosophical discussion after the film or anything like that, not unless anyone desires it; sometimes, watching a film like this requires a lot of contemplation afterwards to really get the philosophical depth out of it.
(iv) Obviously, significant others and friends are welcome.
(v) Essentially, this could replace any bar gathering, and provide for something a bit different and stimulating in a different way.

So, who would actually come? (Please don't just say you would, and then not show up if we actually do it.) And since the department is actually much larger than this little group here, if you are really interested, please do spread the word to others in the department and see who else would come. (Tell them to respond here to say so, it would be nice to get some idea of how many people would actually be into it.) But of course, once a decision is made about it, an email will be sent out to all grad students about it.

Friday, November 17, 2006

On Foolishness

Undetached Rabbit Parts

Wow, now I see why you all have been begging me to come join the party of undetached proportions. You guys are way too serious. What this place is in need of a little less life and death and a little more sarcasm, paired with a healthy dose of cynicism.

I know what you're thinking; I, like you, have trouble tempering my obsessive compulsive tendency towards contemplating my opinions on the "real" issues of the day. I can hear you crying out to yourselves as you read the words on this page, wanting to free yourselves from this burden, yet wondering how and where to begin balancing your need to recede from your thoughts about politics, pontifs, and procreation.

The best place to start this process is, oddly enough, by rediscovering the place of mind where most philosophers are created. If it's been so long you've forgot where you began, have no fear, you can be brought back by uttering a simple phrase. Repeat after me: "In the beginning, there were people not so smart as me." Good. Now, the people we are concerned with are also known by the moniker "fools." I think the best thing we can do for the bunny at this juncture is to get back to our roots and start talking about foolishness.

As much as I'd love to continue talking about this part of the population, alas, as a result of thinking about my humble beginnings, I'm (gasp)...I'm all verklempt (sniff) talk amongst yourselves...

I'll give you some talking points.

Discuss:

A stupid man's report of what a clever man says can never be accurate, because he unconsciously translates what he hears into something he can understand.
Bertrand Russell

No man is so foolish, but he may sometimes give another good counsel, and no man so wise that he may not easily err if he takes no other counsel than his own. He that is taught only by himself has a fool for a master.
Hunter S. Thompson

Any fool can make a rule, and any fool will mind it.
Henry David Thoreau

He can compress the most words into the smallest ideas of any man I ever met.
Abraham Lincoln

Monday, November 13, 2006

Killing Vs. Letting Die

yeah yeah yeah- more ethics- I'm just trying to balance Trin's posts :-)

The Church of England recently decided that doctors should be allowed to "let sick newborn babies die". The headline says "calls for severely disabled babies to be killed at birth". Is there a difference? I'm inclined to say yes there is a difference since there seems to be a differing state of mind in walking away as opposed to actively ending someone's life. But what do you guys think?

Friday, November 10, 2006

The Morality of Procreation

I admit that I do not study much in the way of ethics. Although, I do think that studying enough metaphysics and epistemology would provide one with good enough tools for thinking about morality. But I have this question I would like to ask those who study much more ethics, to get an idea of what people think, because I'm so torn on this issue, as I am with many ethical issues.

The morality of procreation: is it ever immoral, unethical, to procreate? Is procreation is a right of some sort? Or a privilege? Are there circumstances in which it really is wrong to have a child? There are lots of circumstances to consider:

(1) If you know that the child you will have will be born with some disease, or handicap, or whatever, that makes his/her life difficult in a significant way. Would it not be better to not have that child?

(2) If you are in a financial situation that is not conducive to raising a child addressing all of his/her needs to a high enough degree? (Is there some degree that we can decide is high enough, or too low for raising a child and providing enough for his/her needs?)

(3) What about the bias of biology? That is, there are so many children that need to be adopted, so why bother procreating if you can just adopt? Is it not ethically preferable to adopt?

These are only a couple of the questions that can be asked, there are so many more. And I am not limiting this post to only addressing these ones here, I am only trying to provide some food for thought. But I would really like to know what some others' thoughts are about the issues of morality and procreation. I recognize that my views are colored by my own experiences and feelings and decisions about my life, but I would like to know what others think, since others have very different experiences. This is one of those really hard issues for me, because on one hand, I realize that it is very personal, and that most people might want to say that no one has the right to interfere in that. But on the other hand, I feel that procreation, and raising a child is perhaps the heaviest moral act that one can engage in, since it involves not merely interacting with another person, but literally creating, in every way, another person, and being wholly responsible for that person.

So, what do people think of this? Like I said, I'm no ethicist, so I would really like to gett the perspective of someone who is, who has studied ethics.

Monday, November 06, 2006

Where's the Boundary?

I recall two distinct conversations with fellow philosophy friends on the subject of philosophy and logic, where both have rather interesting implications for philosophers, and what we do:

(1) S mentioned to me that if logic is a part of philosophy, then arguments (as part of logic) fall under philosophy. That said, do we want to consider folks that argue their points (whether or not they do well according to the lights of logic) as doing philosophy? For example, should we call scientists/politicians/scholars, etc., who argue for their views philosophers?

(2) N mentioned to me, where I found a non-philosopher's argument lacking according to the lights of logic (though it isn't relevant here exactly how), that I shouldn't hold non-philosopher's arguments to the same logical standard as that of philosopher's arguments. That is, I should overlook the logical deficiencies, wherever they might be, and remember that the author of the argument wasn't a philosopher, so that this feature takes them off the radar of logical scrutiny, as far as the argument in question goes. But, if N is right, then doesn't this leave logic to the assessment of only philosopher's arguments?

Now for the interesting implications:

In (1) S's argument makes the category of philosopher too broad, for certainly we don't want to admit any person who happens to use the logical rigor of argumentation into the philosophical fold, for there is something more to being a philosopher than simply making (good or bad) arguments. But what might function as a plausible premise for this assertion?

In (2) N's point seems to limit logic to the point of almost trivializing it. Logic should be more than simply the assessment of philosopher's arguments, but all arguments, both good and bad, made by all folks everywhere, which includes the category non-philosopher, whatever that might be. But can an argument be made in support of this without (methodologically or otherwise) begging the question?

It seems to me that we might want to consider defining what philosophers are and what such folks do. I seem to recall calls for papers on such subjects a few years back. Naturally, if we define philosopher broad enough, we can deal with (1) and (2) in one fell swoop, for if we are all philosophers, then logic pertains to all our arguments. But we might want to avoid this conclusion, and opt for some other way, since it would be hard to consider all folks as philosophers. At the same time, though, we need to keep the application of logic on the broadest level possible, so as to pertain to all arguments, not just those belonging to philosophers. So, what should be done about all this?

Sunday, November 05, 2006

Structural Realism and the Problem of Interpretation

Worrall’s particular flavor of structural realism (SR henceforth) seems to point to two possibilities for structural continuity: continuity concerning strict mathematical formalism or continuity concerning structural elements (of reality) that goes significantly beyond mere formalistic conservatism. My problem is this: if the claim of SR is simply that the formalism of physical mathematics is conserved between previous theories and subsequent theories, then: (1) it seems very difficult to counter the critique that this continuity is based on merely pragmatic values, and; (2) there is nothing particularly ‘realist’ about the assertion that equations, formulas, etc, are historically conserved between theories apart from interpretation. So, at least it seem to me, that Worrall was after the more significant interpretation of SR; namely, that the mathematical formalism has ‘latched’ on to quantifiable relations between elements existing in reality and that it is these relations, instantiated by the formalism, that is conserved between theories as opposed to simply the formalist structure of mathematical physics.
But at this point another problem arises for me: mathematics uninterpreted is nothing more than syntactic manipulations of symbols expressing abstract concepts that cannot legitimately be said to be about anything. So it seems that mathematical physics, insofar as the field presupposes that these syntactic manipulations can even successfully capture/represent the relations physics quantifies, is burdening mathematics with an ontology that goes beyond that which is contained within mathematics as an independent enterprise. So, again, it would seem that any attempt to apply mathematics to any given field is going to require superfluous (from the perspective of math) ontological commitments that then stand in need of interpretation (interpretation that cannot be said to be strictly mathematical). And this is where I see Worrall’s problems begin to mount, especially in light of Psillos’ critiques concerning the interpretation of the application of a strictly formal system.
Essentially, so I read Psillos, either the formalism is conserved and SR says nothing interesting about realism, or, the formalism is burdened with extraneous ontological commitments that necessarily stand in need of interpretation, in which case it is not strictly the formalism that is being conserved but implicit theoretical assumptions, background theories, etc., that are snuck in under the radar, as it were, coasting in on the claim that it is just the formalism that is conserved.
I am positive that I am missing some possible interpretations/counterarguments here and I hope to begin discussing these as soon as they are presented…

RE: New Name? Plus More

H'OKAY: So I ended up touching on several bases here regarding general thoughts about this blog. Sorry that I jump from issue to issue, I just had lots of thoughts come to mind, and could not really hold back sharing them. All thoughts about my thoughts are definitely welcome. (I decided to just make this another entry since I ended up touch on so many different topics. Certainly, if you want to just suggest a new name, for whatever reason, comment on Sarah's post, to separate them off from this one.)

I definitely prefer the new look. :)

As for name, I can't say that I thought it suggested such Quinean love, I thought it was just rather cute. I would be fine with whether it stayed or changed. I'm trying to come up with something witty and clever to suggest.

But before I make any suggestions, I guess there is a question that can be asked about the general nature of this blog:

What sort of impression (or persona) do we wish to express to represent this blog? Perhaps we ought to consider that first, and decide how we'd like others to react to a first impression, based purely on name, and decide from there. One could also question whether that matters at all, but if we have any desire to invite outsiders, then perhaps it does. I mean, there are a few of us who possess some online personas where we can promote the hell out of this blog to at least get it noticed. We can also promote it to our own students--for those of us who teach--for any of them who are serious about getting into some philosophical discussions beyond the classes we teach. So the question that seems needing addressing first is about what sort of first impression presentation we desire to display to the public. Essentially, when it comes to designing to anything, the first thing to consider is the goal one has in mind.

For my own suggestion in that direction, I would push for a less humored and more serious sort of presentation, only because WMU has been gaining in noteworthiness amongst the professional philosophical community, and thus, perhaps we ought to take advantage of that and promote it further.

Here is an even further thought: if we can get this blog to have an overall feel and presentation of professionalness, then we can attempt to promote it amongst the more professional community, which could help get WMU's name get out there even more, and thus, help promote our program, which will of course help us all in the long run. I mean, imagine this scenario: someone is reading a particular book/article by someone, has some questions ideas about it, posts an entry, which doesn't necessarily require everyone to read it, just address some questions and issues, and perhaps the original poster eventually decides to send the author an email saying basically, "Hey, I was reading X by you, I had some questions about it, posted it in the unofficial blog of the graduate program I'm in, if you have some time to spare, I'd really love your input about the discussion that's going on there. Here's where you can find the post..." And so-and-so checks it out, sends an email back, and things start rolling for that grad student. How cool is that? And if s/he never hears back from him/her, meh, so what? You lose nothing except a bit of time writing an email.

And one last thing: I think everyone really needs to realize the amazing potential this blog can be as a resource for ideas and general feedback about papers you all need to write for any of your classes. And perhaps we all need to push this a little on the other students who have yet to jump on here. Seriously, from my experience--and remember, I am going on my 4th year year here at WMU, although I am not a student anymore, still--you can gain so much in the direction of writing papers by talking with other people about your ideas and such. Please take advantage of that! Philosophy is not a conversation with yourself, you don't have all the answers; philosophy makes progress because it is a continued conversation between several intelligent minds. Even if you think that other people don't have enough knowledge in whatever area you are writing about, we all have the basic philosophical tools to think about pretty much any philosophical issue. You might have to explain some things first, but once people have enough information, they can certainly offer up some worthwhile thoughts, questions, ideas, etc.

And hey, you have a great and interesting philosophical discussion with another student: share it! You certainly don't have to mention names, but it could be worthwhile to everyone for you to share it.

Something just confusing the hell out of you? Bothering you? Whatever? Post it, ask everyone, you might get some great worthwhile feedback.

Essentially, more people need to get onto this blog and contribute. We all spend a whole lot of time chatting with each other in the department, spending time with each other, etc., why not let such interactions carry over into here? What is the benefit? Having a typed out log of conversations that you can come back to as frequently as you like; with real life conversations, you have only your memory to rely on. Plus, if you are anything like myself, sometimes you find it much easier to express yourself clearly and thoroughly through the medium of writing, as opposed to speaking. Additionally, if you are posting an entry specifically about something you are thinking of writing a paper about, you can gain some practice here through having to already type out your ideas and such. Trust me, that really does help, the more you have to type it out, or say it, or whatever, the better prepared you will be to type it out in a final draft in the best possible way.

In the end, I'm trying to offer some of my advice to you all that is based on my experience of being here in this department for 3 years, so far--4 when I hopefully finally leave. It has been the best damn 3 years of my life thus far, I have learned way more than I ever expected, and if I can share that so that others can benefit, I'd like to. And I know from experience that having typed out conversations like this, in a blog format, can be extremely beneficial, so of course I'm pushing for that. So, anyway, I guess that's all for now. Cheers to you all.

Thursday, November 02, 2006

New Look...New name?

Hello kiddies! [Hopefully] you noticed the new look of the blog. After much deliberation, this was the most aesthetically pleasing to all involved in the (oddly) extensive process.

While I personally have nothing against Quine (and admittedly am rather sympathetic to him), it has been suggested that the title of our lovely blog shows a little more Quine-love than some would prefer. This is not to say that showing some Quine-love is bad, just that some people would prefer that the Quine-love was a bit more limited-- or at least not so public... So... how do we feel about changing the name of the blog? To make things easier, if you DO want to change the name of the blog, then you should suggest another name. I say we take submissions for the name change until next Friday (11/10), at which point we can attempt to figure out some way to vote on the issue. You can voice your support for the traditional "Undetached Rabbit Parts" if you feel so compelled.

You will also notice I have added more links. Some of the old links no longer worked. If you have a philosophy blog or philosophically interesting webpage that you think should be added, let me know. Or, if you are linked and don't want to be- let me know about that too.

Also, the "Napkin Story" I've been passing around? I was very very wrong- It was Tarski. Read it here