Thursday, December 04, 2008

Links and Notes

* The December edition of The Reasoner has a number of thought-provoking articles; I recommend it. I especially liked Martin Cooke's reflection on Grim versions of the Liar, and the interview on category theory. (Ah, category theory; sometimes I feel I am beginning to understand you at least a little, and then SMACK! You throw my brain into a brick wall, and I find myself more confused than when I began. And yet somehow I never learn.)

* A recording of Tolkien talking about the mythology of Middle-earth. (ht) One thing that surprised me (but in retrospect is quite obvious) is that Tolkien thinks that much of the tragedy of Middle-Earth is the fault of the Valar -- i.e., they made a mistake in bringing the Elves over the Sea rather than leaving them be.

* YouTube find: Nina Simone, I Put a Spell on You
[UPDATE: There must be a Nina Simone spell going around; Echidne of the Snakes has three.]

* Brian Randell discusses the history of Analytical Engine designs after Babbage (PDF). Randell also has a paper discussing in more detail Ludgate's design (he includes in an Appendix Ludgate's own brief account), while David MacQuillan has a webpage discussing the feasibility of that version. Torres y Quevedo was a rather impressively versatile engineer; in addition to his computing machines and his chess automaton, he invented new kinds of dirigibles and cable cars and may well be the inventor of remote control (he designed a way to manipulate a robot using radio waves).

* From 1982 to 2007 the cost of tuition has massively outpaced rise in income. I don't think it's really surprising, but it's one more worry about our educational system.

* Google Book find: John Placid Conway, St. Thomas Aquinas of the Order of the Preachers

* Brian Leiter is commenting in in an old thread at "Feminist Philosophers"; I would ignore it except that he insists on not backing down from an apparently absurd claim about the quality of Hypatia, and does so without a shred of real evidence to back it up -- he talks vaguely about how he has 'familiarity with Hypatia' and how he has heard some of the same judgments from 'some feminist philosophers'. (And then tries repeatedly to intimidate anonymous colleagues into revealing themselves to him, on a blog that has been very explicit about the importance of anonymity for protecting women philosophers and others.) The comments thread is closed on that post (for good reason, because it was generating more heat than light). But since I originally commented on the post when it first came out, I do want to go on record saying that Leiter's argument in the thread doesn't address the problem I had had with his original post, namely, that his claim that "The best work in feminist philosophy, for example, has surely appeared in many of the other A* journals, not in Hypatia" is based on nothing but his "surely" (and now on his "familiarity" and having heard similar views from "some feminist philosophers"); and his claim that other journals on the A* list are "much broader" seems merely to be furthering a common stereotype about the sort of work published in a feminist philosophy journal like Hypatia. This is not merely a matter of Leiter, since I think Leiter, as usual, largely has his finger on the pulse of the profession; it's just that I think that this is precisely the problem, since in this case it looks like it involves propagation of stereotypes against feminist philosophy that allow people to marginalize it without good reason. (I recommend you look through Hypatia's tables of contents, or, better yet, some actual issues, in order to satisfy yourself that, whatever criticism may be made of it, that it is less broad than most of the A*-list journals is not one of them. Indeed, I think that if someone wanted to say that Hypatia is less than A*-list it is because it is far too broad: a single issue can sometimes represent half a dozen very different approaches to philosophy. Maintaining quality under such conditions can be genuinely tricky.) Even if Leiter's right that Hypatia is a "dubious inclusion" on the A*-list, he hasn't presented any good argument for this claim; and, barring some clear reasoning in support of it, something rather less vague, it still looks like it just propagates stereotypes about feminist philosophy that are false and detrimental to the whole profession.

* Kenny discusses the motive for Berkeley's anti-abstractionism.

* I'm looking for a good primer or textbook on graph theory; it's come up incidentally in something I'm doing and my grasp of graph theory, patchwork to begin with, needs to be bolstered by a good set of reminders. Does anyone know of any good sources (I'd almost say the more beginner-level the better, but I find that sometimes that just means a lot of vocabulary without any discussion of what you do when you do things with it).

* I've recently been re-reading Collins's The Sociology of Philosophies, so this is a reminder to myself to get a hold of this article by Peter Munz at some point, which sounds relevant to one of my own criticisms; and to read more closely this review by Hava Tirosh-Samuelson. And to remind myself that I decided half a year ago now to post something looking critically at Collins's "law of small numbers", so that perhaps I'll do that sometime in this next six months.

* I also recommend, more generally, this article by Collins on the acrimoniousness of intellectual disputes, as at least raising some things to ponder.

ADDED LATER: One has to admit that this is funny. I'm not one to laugh, really; I've very nearly forgotten to go to a class I was teaching at least three times in my short career, so it's almost bound actually to happen to me at some point, and it will be embarrassing having been shown up as merely human. But given that the topic was pleasure and duty, this was priceless:

Anna Lombardo, of Mount Ararat Road, Richmond, who was part of the crowd gathered for the event, said: "I was left in some doubt over Professor Grayling’s position on the matter, after he failed to show up."


Grayling's essay on becoming a philosopher, explaining how he himself got into philosophy, is well worth anyone's time.

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