Wednesday, March 12, 2008

Notes and Links

* One of my friends from grad school was mentioned in the Washington Post the other day. I co-taught a course with Julie one summer; we were both very big on improving the way philosophy was taught. We had different teaching styles (she's better at it than I am) but it worked out very well precisely because we were both so interested in that. I'm delighted to see that she's still fighting the good fight on that front.

* Speaking of education, I'm largely in agreement with Bora about the 'Facebook scandal'. On that particular scandal: rules that are unenforceable except in unusual cases are poor pedagogy. This precisely what that rule was. If it were essential that the assignment be done individually, each student in isolation, this should have been arranged by the instructor; as it was, the instructor was pretending to have authority and jurisdiction he did not, and students are suffering as result of such incompetence. On more general matters, some food for thought from Bora's post:

This all stems from the old German universities of a couple of centuries ago, where getting a degree was essentially a hazing process. Toughening the individual. For what? For replicating and preserving the hierarchy, both within the academia and in society as a whole. The educational systems around the world, at all levels, are still based on such outrageous ideas.

No individual can know everything needed knowing. No individual can make the necessary societal changes on one's own. So why teach them as if it is all up to an individual? Both learning and social change are communal processes. What we need to be teaching is how to be a member of a community, how to network, how to contribute, how to share, how to pull together in order to increase the global knowledge and, by using this knowledge, to increase the global welfare.

There are, of course, many ways to do something like this, and how one goes about it will vary a bit from discipline to discipline. But it's not a minor issue. As Randall Collins has noted in a few works, every system of credentials goes through boom and bust cycles; the pressure is always toward credential inflation, which reduces the value of the credentials. Institutions that keep to the same evaluative approaches, and that do only the same things as everyone else, suffer or fail, while those institutions weather the collapse best that have been innovative rather than stagnant in their approach.

* An interesting paper arguing for a different understanding of Judith Jarvis Thomson's famous paper, "A Defence of Abortion": Michael Watkins, Re-Reading Thomson (PDF) in vol. 20 of the Journal of Libertarian Studies

* The Washington Post editor who came up with this headline ought to be given a bonus. (ht)

* Tim McGrew has a nice annotated bibliography on major works of historical apologetics (1697-1893) that are easily accessible online. (ht)

* Per Caritatem recently had a series of posts on Hobbes's religious views: Part I, Part II, Part III, Part IV

* Currently reading: Baez and Stay, Physics, Topology, Logic, and Computation (PDF)
Robin Hanson, Economic Growth Given Machine Intelligence (PDF)

* The first 44 episodes of Philosophy Bites

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