Sunday, March 29, 2009

Where Have Readers Had Good Experiences with Language Study?

A question that always comes up for PhD students is where to go for summer programs to develop or improve their German reading, translation, and sometimes speaking skills. Years ago, I found the scholarly reading and translation classes at NYU's Deutsches Haus to be quite valuable, but this was nearly 20 years ago, and I've no idea whether they continue to offer suitable summer classes and whether they remain good. (I did have to pay for them, and obviously information about financial aid for such programs would also be welcome.) In any case, it seemed to me that it might be useful to collect in one place recommendations of good programs in the US or in Germany based on reader experiences.

Saturday, March 21, 2009

More Thoughts on the Argument from "Moral Disagreement," Part II

This is a belated follow-up to the earlier post addressing an excellent set of questions and challenges raised by Justin Clarke-Doane (NYU) (hereafter JCD) to my claim that Nietzsche argues for moral skepticism by appeal to the phenomenon of moral disagreement. JCD's first set of objections (discussed earlier, with replies by JCD in the comments) raised worries about the extent to which disagreement in ethics was different from disagreement in mathematics--which might warrant anti-realism about the latter or be thought a reductio of the former strategy of argument (assuming that realism about mathematics seems irresistible). In his second set of comments, JCD raises some more general reductio style challenges to the strategy of argument from disagreement. He raises, it seems to me, two very interesting issues:

1. First, JCD points out that philosophers have had significant disagreements about a range of issues, from common-sense claims about the reality of midsize physical objects, to claims about the structure of spacetime, to meta-philosophical claims about philosophy itself. Should we infer skepticism about the subjects in question from these facts about disagreement? Of course, the argument I am concerned with holds that the best explanation of persistent and intractable disagreement is skepticism that there is any fact of the matter about the subject of disagreement. JCD's examples warrant different treatments depending on the facts of each case.

For example, there was not persistent and intractable disagreement about the non-Euclidean character of spacetime: Kant thought it obviously false, and now everyone realizes that Kant was wrong. Disagreement about (as JCD calls them) "first-order intuitively metaphysical claims" (e.g., the existence of properties or possible worlds) probably does warrant the skeptical inference, so there I am happy to "bite the bullett" (and to do so in Nietzschean terms, e.g., I assume philosophers' metaphysical sympathies track underlying moral commitments, which are themselves explicable psychologically). Disagreement about "intuitively common-sense claims" (e.g., about the existence of table and chairs) does not strike me as either persistent or intractable: skepticism about tables and chairs is now a decidely minority viewpoint (I think I can count the philosophical skeptics on one hand!), and the minority's existence seems more easily explicable sociologically (e.g., there are professional rewards for staking out crackpot positions) than by genuine epistemic uncertainties.

Now JCD acknowledges that there are differing degrees of disagreements about his examples (I have not mentioned all of them, just what I hope is a representative sample). But he makes two points that deserve response. First, JCD notes that "the mere possibility that philosophers have held conflicting views with respect to a given claim in the absence of a cognitive shortcoming seems to me to be just as worrisome as the actuality of this." But this can't be right, since it is central to the argument for moral skepticism that disgareements be persistent and intractable, characteristics that are highly probative of as to what explains the disagreement (e.g., a cognitive shortcoming or the absence of any fact of the matter). Second, JCD notes, fairly enough, that "there has been less disagreement among philosophers with respect to some moral claims" than some of the issues noted above (e.g., the metaphysical and common-sense claims); he gives, though, as an example of a moral claim which has generated less disagreement the following: "the claim that one ought not cause needless harm." This, it seems to me, just obscures the fact that the disagreement here concerns the notion of which harms are "needless," a disagreement which is surely a moral one.

JCD raises a second general issue: namely, whether disagreement among philosophers is really relevant to an explanatory argument for skepticism. As he notes, one might think the "virtual unamity among *physicists* with respect to the claim that spacetime is non-Euclidean" is far more important than disagreement among philosophers about the same subject-matter. Of course, it was precisely developments in physics that put an end to the disagreement among philosophers. But putting that to one side, one might worry that philosophical disagreements about subject-matter X are particularly amenable to non-realist explanations, even when X itself is the object of considerable agreement among non-philosophers. (In any case, that is how I understand JCD's interesting challenge.) As JCD notes, even I concede that philosophical disagreements about morality "often fail to translate into disagreements over what is right or wrong in concrete cases" which might suggest that the philosophical disagreement is "at far remove from the day to day moral discussion." If the "folk" (or the scientific folk) can agree about X, why think philosophical disagreement counts against realism about X? That, I take it, is JCD's worry.

So framed, I think JCD's point is correct: it is part of the reason I do not think skepticism about the non-Euclidean structure of spacetime is warranted. Kant's intuitions about spacetime yielded before work in mathematical physics, as it should. (Mathematical physics has more cognitive content than philosophy, one might suppose.) But does the same general point tell against moral skepticism? Here, I think, the matter is more complex. First, it is not like the 'folk' have the kind of convergence in moral opinion that the physicists have in opinion about the non-Euclidean structure of spacetime. Second, the existence of diagreement among the 'folk' about moral matters is precisely what pushes the issues back one level, to the philosophical realm: the philosophical disagreement tracks, at a more abstract level to be sure, the folk disagreement. And yet the philosophers, despite all their 'advantages' (of time, education, insulation from external pressure etc. etc.), still fail to resolve the foundational issues. To be sure, if there were a "moral physics" converging around certain propositions, then the skeptical argument would face a problem: but the only candidate for the "moral physics" is the work of the moral philosophers, and that is precisely the data on which the skeptical argument from disagreement relies!

Friday, March 20, 2009

Some Old Reviews: of Safranski, Kohler, Conway, among others

I was surprised to discover that the Times Literary Supplement makes available on-line old book reviews, including several of mine. Readers might be amused by the scathing assessment of a comically bad book by Daniel Conway, that seems, not surprisingly, to have had no impact on the subsequent scholarly discussion. This review of three 'biographical' books may be useful for those looking for biographical treatments of Nietzsche: Safranski's is worth reading, Kohler's is a disgrace. They also have on-line an old essay I did for TLS on Nietzsche's naturalism; some of this material was later incorporated into Nietzsche on Morality.

In any case, readers may be pleased to learn of this searchable archive. It has already allowed me to catch up on some reviews I missed since my TLS subscription lapsed several years ago.

Friday, March 13, 2009

Which Anglophone school would you recommend for PhD studies focusing on Nietzsche?

I'm curious to see what readers think about this one.

CORRECTION: The CUNY listing should also include N. Pappas, who works on Plato and on Nietzsche.

UPDATE: So with a mere 22 votes cast, here are the "top seven," which are pretty tightly clustered. No surprises here, I think, though perhaps with more votes things will spread out a bit.

1. University of Chicago (J. Conant, M. Forster, R. Gooding-Williams, B. Leiter, M. Nussbaum, R. Pippin) (Condorcet winner: wins contests with all other choices)

2. University of California, Riverside (M. Clark, P. Keller, M. Wrathall) loses to University of Chicago (J. Conant, M. Forster, R. Gooding-Williams, B. Leiter, M. Nussbaum, R. Pippin) by 11–6

3. University of Southampton (K. Gemes, C. Janaway, D. Owen, A. Ridley) loses to University of Chicago (J. Conant, M. Forster, R. Gooding-Williams, B. Leiter, M. Nussbaum, R. Pippin) by 12–3, loses to University of California, Riverside (M. Clark, P. Keller, M. Wrathall) by 9–8

4. University of Warwick (K. Ansell-Pearson, S. Houlgate, P. Poellner) loses to University of Chicago (J. Conant, M. Forster, R. Gooding-Williams, B. Leiter, M. Nussbaum, R. Pippin) by 10–6, loses to University of Southampton (K. Gemes, C. Janaway, D. Owen, A. Ridley) by 8–6

5. Stanford University (L. Anderson, N. Hussain) loses to University of Chicago (J. Conant, M. Forster, R. Gooding-Williams, B. Leiter, M. Nussbaum, R. Pippin) by 15–3, loses to University of Warwick (K. Ansell-Pearson, S. Houlgate, P. Poellner) by 8–7

6. Brown University (C. Larmore, B. Reginster) loses to University of Chicago (J. Conant, M. Forster, R. Gooding-Williams, B. Leiter, M. Nussbaum, R. Pippin) by 15–1, loses to Stanford University (L. Anderson, N. Hussain) by 7–5

7. New York University (M. Evans, B. Longuenesse, J. Richardson) loses to University of Chicago (J. Conant, M. Forster, R. Gooding-Williams, B. Leiter, M. Nussbaum, R. Pippin) by 14–3, loses to Brown University (C. Larmore, B. Reginster) by 7–5

Thursday, March 12, 2009

Best Journals for Nietzsche Scholarship?

Here is a new poll, which may be especially helpful to younger scholars trying to figure out where to submit their Nietzsche work:

Which journals, in your experience, publish the best quality philosophical scholarship on Nietzsche? (I list only journals that publish articles on Nietzsche with some regularity, so exclude those journals which, on occasion, publish something related to Nietzsche [e.g., Ethics, Philosophical Review, Philosophers' Imprint etc.].)

The poll is here. My own view is that European Journal of Philosophy is generally best, though even EJP publishes work below the standard of the best Nietzsche work that makes it into other mainstream journals like the ones that are not part of this poll. But I will be interested to see whether readers agree.

Sunday, March 8, 2009

What are your favorite books by Nietzsche?

By reader demand, here's a new poll with which to have some fun. This one I'm quite curious to see the results.

Wednesday, March 4, 2009

Now Your Votes Are Needed More than Ever... our man goes for the big prize! Seriously, I fear my many good friends in the Anglophone philosophical community are going to embarrass themselves by voting in ridiculously large numbers for Lewis and Rawls. Help save them the embarrassment!

Tuesday, March 3, 2009