2008 02 12
How working at a game store combines with grad school angst

Posted by in: Academia, Games, Philosophy

Last night, I had a dream about Bertrand Russell.

I was still at my Canadian university. He was visiting, trying to get an offer there so he could go negotiate with his home university (not intending to come to Canada, just making everyone spend a bunch of money and time so he could get a raise). He was stalking magisterially about the common room, and someone introduced him to me and it became my job to entertain him for a little while. He sat down and asked, “So, do you have any puzzles?” – meaning logic puzzles or philosophical puzzles that he could work on.

Guilt and horror. Oh crap, I haven’t been thinking about this stuff well enough to have anything good to say to him… yet more evidence that I shouldn’t be in philosophy. Is he giving me a look of withering disapproval? I can’t bear to look. Scanning the bookshelf in hopes of finding inspiration.

Then it came to me: we could play a strategically interesting boardgame. He would be entertained and I would be off the hook. What board game best suits the situation? It should be short, a perfect information game, and a game where I have a chance.

I took down Hey That’s My Fish (in which penguins compete to eat the most fish – it is actually a very short strategic game, very fun) and started to set it up. Then the dream ended, so we’ll never know whether I beat Bertrand Russell in Hey that’s my Fish.

Howls of outrage (4)

2008 01 26
Kit Fine tribute video

Kit Fine is a philosopher who writes on logic, metaphysics, language, and other issues in a fairly technical way. With that background, I present Kit Fine: Doin it well.

Is Kit Fine hard to read, so we are macho if we read him? Does Kit Fine inspire us to do difficult things by his salubrious example? What is this video trying to tell us? I hope I’m not missing a philosophy joke out of ignorance; I’ll be really embarrassed if I am.

Whatever it is, I’m strangely fascinated.

Howls of outrage (5)

2008 01 07
Life destroyed

Posted by in: Academia, Google

As of this writing, this site is the top hit on Google for “life destroyed by academia.”

Howls of outrage (2)

2007 08 24
Paging Dr. Paul? Dr. Paul to the winner’s lounge?

Posted by in: Academia

All of we-sa be-sa waitin’ to hear how you spek!
image source

Howls of outrage (10)

2007 01 11

Posted by in: Academia, Philosophy

1. Maybe because
1.1 His first book, which you adduce in his favor
1.12 Was written like this.

(Of couse this is too facile. But there’s something to it, and I couldn’t resist.)

Howls of outrage (2)

2006 10 28
Pot smoking prof gone mad accomplishes nothing since 1997

(This is Part IV of my Pot Smoking Prof Gone Mad series.  Previous installments:
Part I: Letter of Reference
Part II: Guardian Blog on Hutchinson
Part III: Another young life destroyed by pot smoking prof gone mad)

This article by John Intini in Macleans magazine on Doug Hutchinson isn’t bad at all.  It gets most of the facts of Doug’s case out in a sympathetic, or at least, neutral, way.  One serious defect in the piece is worth mentioning, however.  The piece describes his research in this way:

He still has a full teaching load, but since working on Plato: Complete Works — published in 1997 — his research slate has been “basically blank.” Unfinished work — including the editing of Aristotle’s ethics — has been set aside for now. “I’m very open to carry on my university research on marijuana,” he says. “I’d rather do this than find a new lost work of Aristotle. Why? Because it’s important to Canadians, right now.”

There’s an error of fact and an error of emphasis in that paragraph.  First the error of fact: Doug recently published (2005), with co-author Monte Johnson, an extremely important paper on Aristotle’s Protrepticus.  The paper appeared in Oxford Studies in Ancient Philosophy, perhaps the most prestigous publication in our subdiscipline.  Running just over a hundred pages the paper is a painstaking investigation into aspects of a literary and philosophical mystery regarding a lost work of Aristotle’s.  To say that the paper runs just over a hundred pages gives an incomplete sense of the amount of work involved in its production.  In fact, it is only a summary of a large project involving the collation of manuscripts, translation of texts, and philosophical analysis and argument.   (Full disclosure: I’m thanked in the paper for feedback.)  And, to put it as delicately as I can, unlike so much crap that gets published in even the most august and celebrated of our journals, this work actually extends our understanding of an issue.  I am confident that it will be read by scholars in two or three hundred years because it makes that kind of advance in our understanding.  There are very few papers about which you can say that without looking like an ass. 

So, I would call that an error of fact.  It matters because it’s likely to influence the way a reader judges Doug’s performance as a scholar.  The other error, the error of emphasis, involves conflating scholarly performance with the quantity of published material.  Now of course publishing is very important.  But scholars also deliver papers, and when they do that, they enhance the reputation of the institutions associated with them, along, one hopes, with the state of knowledge in their discipline.  So, for example, the conference in Venice and Padua in the summer of 1998 ought to count here: It’s an honour to have an entire conference organized around your research.  (Full disclosure: I had a role in the conference.)  And we should also count a number of other papers currently in preparation which Doug has given in various places over the past few years.

Finally, the paragraph I quoted mentions the editing of Aristotle’s ethics as one of the projects on hold, but there is no way for a reader to get a sense of what is involved in even the preliminary aspects of a work of this nature.  This is simply a massive project, one into which Doug has poured many hundreds of hours (I did too, back when I was actively involved in it).  It’s daunting enough that no one, to my knowledge, has made a serious attempt at it in well over a century.  It’s not the kind of project that we would expect to see results from immediately in any case, so it’s precisely the kind of project that we might reasonably expect to result in several years of “official” silence during which no publications resulted from the  research.

A single voice crying in the wilderness (1)

2006 10 24
Another young life destroyed by pot smoking prof gone mad

Actually, not so much.

(This is Part III of my Pot Smoking Prof Gone Mad series. Other installments:
Part I: Letter of Reference
Part II: Guardian Blog on Hutchinson
Part IV: Pot smoking prof gone mad accomplishes nothing since 1997)

Howls of outrage (2)

2006 10 02
Guardian Blog on Hutchinson

(This is Part II of my Pot Smoking Prof Gone Mad series. Other installments:
Part I: Letter of Reference
Part III: Another young life destroyed by pot smoking prof gone mad
Part IV: Pot smoking prof gone mad accomplishes nothing since 1997)

This Guardian blog post by David Cohen on Doug Hutchinson is even worse than it looks now. The post is a quick, sloppy round up of some things that people have said about Doug Hutchinson, whom I just wrote about here. Originally, the post quoted “Alanna” in a way that had her blogging at Explananda. Cohen was also apparently so lazy that he linked to Explananda but not the post on Explananda so that readers could make up their mind about anything I’d said. After I pointed out that Cohen couldn’t possibly have read my post, since “Alanna,” whoever she is, has nothing to do with Explananda, and was being quoted for the purposes of refutation, he updated his own post to say that Alanna was posting on Boing Boing. This is still inaccurate, since she was being quoted by the author of the post on Boing Boing, but whatever. What is annoying is that Cohen’s post now contains no indication whatsoever that it has been altered, and the link to Explananda in the main text is now gone. It’s one thing to be glib and sloppy, but it’s almost as if Cohen is going out of his way to avoid acknowledging that people also want to say good things about Hutchinson. I conclude that David Cohen is a chump.

A single voice crying in the wilderness (1)

2006 09 29
Letter of Reference

(This is Part I of my Pot Smoking Prof Gone Mad series. Other installments:
Part II: Guardian Blog on Hutchinson
Part III: Another young life destroyed by pot smoking prof gone mad
Part IV: Pot smoking prof gone mad accomplishes nothing since 1997)

It had to happen some time. I’ve finally found a subject about which I’m actually qualified to write.

Anne tipped me off to this Boing Boing post about a pot smoking professor at the University of Florida. It sounds as if the guy was funny, but basically wasting everyone’s time. The post is updated with a reader reaction from a certain Alanna relating her experience with a pot smoking professor at the University of Toronto:

I had another baked professor for first-year philosophy: Link. From the Toronto Star’s article, I now understand why he was so hard to follow in lectures; he smokes pot with a medical clearance from the government. I’m not sure how it can be that he’s just allowed to lecture whilst high. One of the questions on our term test involved correlating Plato with an excerpt of lyrics from one of the prof’s favourite reggae songs.

I expect better from Boing Boing. No prof is going to satisfy everyone, and it sounds as if Alanna didn’t benefit from her class with Doug Hutchinson, but she has no good reason to think that pot has anything to do with it. Since when is baseless speculation about the effect of someone’s medication on his teaching worth mentioning? The answer is: only when the medication in question is pot, in which case we apparently have a license to be grossly insensitive and careless. At the very least Boing Boing might also publish Hutchinson’s own words on the subject, which I quote in their entirety at the end of this post in case the link rots.

I want to say something about Doug Hutchinson, so that at least inquiring googlers will have some point of comparison with Alanna’s. I am a former student of Doug’s. I took his first year philosophy class too, a long time ago. I loved it. It confirmed for me that I wanted to go on to study philosophy, and helped move me toward Ancient philosophy specifically. Later on, I took a fourth year seminar on Socrates, which I still remember fondly. I also undertook a semester long study with Doug the next year (which turned into an informal paper we wrote, and I delivered, later on at a conference in Padua and Venice dedicated to our project). He gave me careful, considered, and thoughtful advice about graduate school, and a lot of valuable assistance getting in. We have kept in touch, off and on, in the years since then.

Doug Hutchinson is without question the most gifted teacher I have ever encountered in my life. Rather than stretch out an account with anecdotes, let me just say that I have met other professors who care very much about teaching, but never someone as thoughtful about pedagogy. Doug has an uncommonly clear idea not just of the philosophical material he’s teaching, but also of the more general intellectual skills he is teaching his students to bring to bear on the material. I learned more from him than anyone else about how to attack an intellectual problem in general, how to think though it clearly and from the ground up. When I’m stuck with something, I really do still sometimes step back and try to imagine how he would approach it.

As for his research, it’s also solid. In addition to a book, a number of papers, and an important role in putting together the complete edition of Plato’s works (as well as translating some of the works in it), he has recently published, with Monte Ransome Johnson, an extremely important paper on Aristotle’s Protrepticus which is the most important thing to appear on the work in the last 50 years, and which I expect to be a real spur to further research on this area of Aristotle’s thought. (I’ve mentioned this before.) In the past year, I have also seen two papers in draft which Doug asked me to comment on. They’re both serious and important contributions to scholarship.

All of this – the excellence in teaching and the solid record of scholarship – are in spite of a serious medical condition, and, if we are willing to listen to him, partly thanks to marijuana. Doug does what a professor should do, and he does it very well.

Anyway, here’s what Doug has to say for himself:

Greetings, philosophers. I thought I should let you know that as of this week our university has a professor who smokes marijuana openly on campus, legally, and with workplace accommodation for his need to use this remedy.

I am that professor.

I feel it falls to me to let you know this state of affairs in the proper terms so that the inevitable rumours and possible slanders that arise can be ignored or challenged by you, my peers and fellow philosophers.

I have used marijuana for a serious and chronic health condition for over 10 years, in varying amounts for the varying condition.

Currently, the use is heavy and the condition is stable or improving. As for what this condition is, I would ask you please not to speculate or spread rumours or half-truths. Canada has laws that are meant to protect the privacy of personal health information.

If you know me well, you will feel free to ask.

How did I manage this transition from clandestine smoker to officially accommodated one? It was an ugly process that started when college and university authorities, acting on policies to repress the use of marijuana among students, decided that they needed to enforce those laws and policies against me as well.

Over the course of months of sometimes angry discussions, the other side learned better what the facts of my case and the laws on marijuana actually are.

The outcome is that I have been provided with a ventilated basement smoking room in Trinity College, and the provost of the college and the provost of the university have both written me letters in which they “acknowledge” and “respect” my choice of therapy.

I take this opportunity to thank the college and the university for this good solution and for these necessary affirmations of the legitimacy of my conduct.

Colleagues and other U of T employees who may need adapted working conditions due to a health condition should know that since 2003 our university has had an Office of Health and Well-being Programs and Services, whose function is to support the work of afflicted employees.

The staff in this office recommend the appropriate accommodation while holding health information confidential from all other university parties. I found this process worked fairly well, and I feel that others should know about it and trust in its integrity.

Colleagues and others who use marijuana wholly or partly for medical reasons should be using medical-grade marijuana, with a good selection of strains, of which there are currently two sources of supply in Toronto.

I know these compassion clubs well and will be glad to offer informed advice. Colleagues and others who wonder whether their use of marijuana is medical, or whether they should try some preparation of marijuana for their health condition, should feel free to apply to me for guidance and further information.

Professors who become known as heavy users of marijuana risk a great loss of credibility, and I wish I had been able to remain discreet; but I was “outed” by college authorities from where I was hiding in my “dope closet.”

Under these circumstances, I decided to come out fully into the open, on my own terms. This is the reason I am writing this letter to you; and this is the reason I explained the situation to my undergraduate class on Tuesday, before they could be shocked (or not) at the sight of me puffing during the break (outside the building, of course).

It would be realistic of me to expect a higher than usual degree of scrutiny of my performance at this time; but rather than resent this scrutiny, the better plan is to invite it. There are 10 spare seats in my third-year class on Seneca, which meets from 10 am to 1 pm on Tuesdays, and I invite visits to my class from graduate students, colleagues and higher university officials to see for themselves whether the pot-head professor is teaching well.

Please get in touch with me if you intend to visit; and if you wish I will send you the Seneca readings for the day.

It is not a satisfactory defence of my Charter rights to have my grudging authorization from Health Canada while students and others are hounded as criminals for doing what looks like the very same thing; this casts dark shadows of opprobrium on the blameless sick.

My experience in coming out into the open has rekindled my activism on the marijuana front, and I am now building, with other Canadian activists, fresh legal challenges to our Charter-defective and previously invalidated prohibition, which seems to have been miraculously resurrected in October 2003 .

I invite colleagues and others to join me in this liberal struggle.

Howls of outrage (6)

2006 08 17
"Bagpipe Music"

Posted by in: Academia, Philosophy

The latest edition of Topoi has a short piece by Jonathan Barnes called “Bagpipe Music.” It’s a bit of curmudgeonly grousing, as the abstract of the paper suggests:

Ancient philosophy is in a bad way. Like all other academic disciplines, it is crushed by the embrace of bureaucracy. Like other parts of philosophy, it is infected by faddishness. And in addition it suffers cruelly from the decline in classical philology. There is no cure for this disease.

As far as I can tell, there’s some truth in what Barnes says, though I would quibble, dispute, and reject here and there.  Unfortunately, he’s absolutely right about the decline in classical philology.  My own linguistic skills are part of that sad story.

Comments Off

2006 07 11
Diocles of Carystus and the cucumbers of Antioch

Posted by in: Academia, Books, History

This is from an Appendix to the English translation of Jaeger’s Aristotle: Fundamentals of the History of His Development:

Diocles’ work on diet was dedicated to a certain Plistarchus. Wellmann never asked who this man was. Beloch, in a short footnote of his Greek History, asks whether he was a Macedonian prince, brother of Cassander and one of the younger sons of Antipater. This is, indeed, highly probable. Antipater was Alexander’s man of confidence, whom he entrusted with the administration of Macedonia and Greece during the long years of his absence in Asia. Aristotle had met Antipater when he was the educator of Alexander at King Philip’s court, and from that time until his death Antipater remained his most intimate friend. Aristotle appointed him in his will as general executor. He and his son Cassander were the protectors of the Peripatetic school after Alexander’s and Aristotle’s deaths. Plistarchus became king of Lycia and Caria after the battle of Ipsus in 301. Almost all the Hellenistic kings were protectors of science and philosophy. The dedication of scientific works to princes and other powerful men is a custom which begins shortly before Alexander’s time and throws much light on the relations of philosophical schools and politics. Moreover, in one of Diocles’ books the cucumbers of of Antioch were recommended. Antioch was founded in the year 300 B.C. Thus Diocles wrote his book in the third, not in the beginning of the fourth century.

I love the relentless accumulation of detail, some of it not entirely relevant, building until it reaches the final, victorious piece of evidence: a reference to a cucumber! My emotional response to this is, of course, complex: The anti-climax in finding a cucumber at the end of all this mingles with the excitement of what appears to be a very nice use of evidence. I am then distracted by Jaeger’s use of italics, which are just so earnest here that the excitement is replaced by amusement.

Comments Off

2006 04 09
On-line philosophy conference

Posted by in: Academia, Philosophy

I was just grumbling to myself the other day about the futility (for me, at least) of most philosophy talks. This let me to wonder whether an on-line conference would be an improvement. And whadda ya know.

Comments Off

2006 01 26
Too cool for school

Well, well.

Students think their lecturers are stuck-up, disorganised, unpunctual, unfunny, badly dressed and too desperate to be “hip”, a poll suggests.

The responses from 648 students found many thought academics were “snooty” and had “objectionable facial hair”.

But an Association of University Teachers spokesman said lecturers and students had a “healthy relationship”.

The survey, which asked students to vent their grievances, was published in the Times Higher Education Supplement.

Students complained that academics failed to turn up to lectures – and assumed that undergraduates were lazy.

Academics’ “inadequate” essay feedback and poor information technology skills were also criticised.

The poll suggests that many students find their lecturers’ attempts at being trendy insufferable.

One said: “They pick up ‘street’ information from the media and decide they understand today’s youth. It is pathetic to talk about these things to us in the hope of seeming knowledgeable and cool.


But that’s in Britain, so perhaps we shouldn’t be surprised. I’m sure it’s a completely different story this side of the Atlantic.

Just joking. The bit about trying to be hip reminds me of my grandmother. My grandmother told me at least a dozen times while I was growing up about a prof of a friend of a friend of a friend’s child who (in the late sixties) was alleged to have said on the first day of class, “Hey, let’s just hang out and rap a little.” My grandmother never related this without a) mentioning that he was an American; and b) shuddering in horror, pursing her lips, asking if I could believe it, and so on. In addition to the fact that I’m not cool and know it, this edifying tale has also helped to mold me into the uncool lecturer that I am today.

On the other hand, a stuffy lack of humour sucks too. And I find it irritating when lecturers are deeply hostile to any attempt to liven up a lecture with a joke or two, as if that’s some sort of soul-destroying compromise with the rabble. Fucking twits. If you’re not funny, that’s fine, but don’t try to make a virtue out of it. My attitude on this was actually shaped by my grade 11 English teacher, who, though a jerk, gave damn good lecture. He would speak for 20 minutes or so, very well, and then just as my attention and energy was starting to flag would suddenly shift gears and relate an anecdote or say something funny before resuming. No attempt to be funny in a hip way, of course. The timing was everything. No matter how engaging the subject matter, it’s difficult to concentrate for long periods of time without a break. The little laugh or distraction provided was like a small course to cleanse the palate in between the main dishes of a feast. I’ve been trying to work that rhythm into my lectures ever since I started teaching.

Howls of outrage (5)

2005 01 28
O’Rourke on Summers


Comments Off

2005 01 22
Percentage of female physics faculty by country


Howls of outrage (2)