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Reflection on a First-Year Professorship: The Problem with Ethics Courses

Spending a year teaching philosophy has brought forth a number of experiences and realizations, many of which are negative, unfortunately.  A portion of these are negative because of the structure of the institution and ways in which things are set up; and another moiety is negative because of the relaxation of standards at institutions of higher learning –and I expect it is the case that I’ve seen the worst of the worst at a community college, but, in discussing with fellow grad students, I fear that isn’t necessarily true.  There certainly were positive takeaways, as well.  In this reflection, I’d like to express my concern for the subject matter of ethics, mostly in terms of instruction, but also, in passing, in terms of the disrepair of the branch of philosophy. Continue reading

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The Inexistence of “Raw” Data in Science and Everyday Experience

The subject of this blog post might as well be catalogued as being among those things that scientists say that makes my head explode.  In this case, sitting in the Bloomington Starbucks across from Sample Gates about a month ago, I heard a cognitive science (currently dissertating) PhD candidate say something to the effect: “It’s raw data, so there is no possibility of it being biased.”  He was talking to a colleague, defending against some onslaught presented by a journal article, the title of which I didn’t catch.  What I want to emphasize is the erroneous thinking of this student, who has since this time successfully defended his PhD thesis.  I shake my head at this kind of lack of understanding so many scientists have of their own field and the general nature of science.  Particularly egregious was his follow-up comments, which asserted that biasing cannot be added to unbiased data without it being extreme and obvious to all, as if the heavens would open and Zeus would callout, “biased!,” if such were to happen.  I’ll only deal with the first statement that I paraphrased above.

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The Subject-Object Divide, Corey Anton, and on the Priority Debate between Being and Knowing (Part 2)

With the conceptual baggage drawn out more fully and clearly marked, it is clear that the heart of the matter is overcoming correlationism, whose tenet of the subject-object split is paramount.  A great deal of work has been performed in the attempt to resolve the issue of the subject-object divide, which originally arose in Kant’s Critique of Pure Reason.  It’s important to understand the centrality of the critical project in this discussion, because Kant’s way of resolving the debate between the rationalists and empiricists synthesized the positions in such a way as to instantiate in remarkably lucid terms, and formulating in its present form, the subject-object divide.  Perhaps beginning with an exchange between Chad and Corey is the way to go, and then following it up with a very perceptive remark made in a video (“Ontological Creativity (response to professoranton)”) by Matthew Segall, a graduate student at the California Institute of Integral Studies. Continue reading

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Vitalism and Nutrition: Distinguishing Science and Philosophy of Science

I have often found it difficult to explain to someone the difference between theoretical science and the philosophy of a special science.  In general, by “someone,” I mean any fairly intelligent human being possessing some modicum of scientific literacy.  The problem is not limited to the communication with intellectuals and general academicians, but also non-specialists in more closely related to the field of history and philosophy of science.  For instance, a preeminent scholar in the philosophy of biology has often told me that she sees biologists and general philosophers having a difficult time delineating theoretical biology and philosophy of biology; for those trained in a traditional philosophy program, it seems what this scholar does is biology, not philosophy; for those trained in biology, especially in departments that are not very philosophical in their science, what she does is philosophy, not a matter for biologists so much.  If demarcation of what a science is has been a problem, then the plight of the historically- and scientifically-knowledgeable philosopher of science is sui generis.  I have found explaining the distinction between philosophy of physics and theoretical physics impossible.  After all, explaining how discretization of space could have implications for symmetry breaking in the special theory of relativity (STR) is just confusing to the technically-untrained intellectual, because, after all, if it could have an impact on physical explanation, why wouldn’t physicists be interested?  Explaining that symmetries in nature are tacitly taken as axiomatic, and that physicists have their own implicit metaphysical assertions when going about their science, is a tall task.  Between the scientific technicalities and thorough philosophical subtleties, it is impractical to explain why it is that physicists don’t want to deal with an issue and express why the issue is sufficiently philosophical for it to not be classified as science properly, at least not yet properly science.  However, an example of where philosophy of science could make a valuable contribution to pragmatic science, even if the philosophy of science does not make a direct contribution to scientific theory.  That is, an example of philosophy of science, in which there is a tangible product in methodology and knowledge, but that does not properly contribute to particulars within scientific, should serve as a satisfactory illustration of the distinction between philosophy of science and science.  Continue reading

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On Whether Meillassoux’s Philosophy Can Serve as Basis for a Speculative Turn in the Philosophy of Science

I am posting a prelude to a more exhaustive work, which will eventually put Latour and Meillassoux in conversation, so as to develop non-correlationist philosophy of science, effectively a speculative turn in the philosophy of science.  Comments on this draft are welcome, and, if you email me, I will even send you a word document version, if you are interested in providing criticism, thoughts, or whatever.  Click the following for the pdf version: On Whether Meillassoux’s Philosophy Can Serve as Basis for a Speculative Turn in the Philosophy of Science.

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The Mystery of the Varying Cosmological Constant (and What to Possibly Do about It)

I recently read an article by Jesus Mosterin, called “The Unity of Particle Physics and Cosmology?” (pg. 165-176 in The Problem of the Unity of Science edited by Agazzi and Faye). The article is very interesting, because it proposes something I hadn’t heard before, namely, that the Casimir effect might be the phenomenon that is the conceptual key to unifying quantum and cosmological scales.  The idea is that vacuum energies associated with a cosmological constant, Λ, might be the cause of the effect (there are numerous interpretations); but there is/are a problem(s), which has been noted by Steven Weinberg, Alan Guth, and others.  In particular, the one that immediately comes to the fore is the problematic nature of the consequences of a varying cosmological constant.  (Keep in mind that the early universe seemed to have an enormous vacuum energy present, while, now, all we have is this rinky-dink Casimir effect of quantum mechanical origin.)  Continue reading

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Kuhn as Empiricist

Thomas Kuhn’s career quite possibly occurred at precisely the wrong time for him.  By “for him,” I mean that he did his work at a time when ideology was thick, and when revolutionary thought pervaded America, and it resulted in his having to spend the rest of his career correcting everyone else on what he meant.  (The length restrictions placed on his monograph, and his ability to cause problems for himself by creating analogies that used words like “religious conversion,” only made things worse.)  Setting the mood and the stage of the period, and to do it accurate, is no easy task, so I leave it for another post.  Continue reading

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