Several of you have recently brought my attention to the fact that on some occasions, your comments seem to have disappeared into the aether. This has happened to me several times before, and indeed, happened to me today. I have no idea why it happens, and there seems to be no rhyme or reason to when it happens. All I know is that, when it does, if I try later, or on a different device (my computer rather than an iPhone), the problem disappears.
Anyway, I don't know what to do about it besides (A) reporting the problem to Typepad, which I'm going to momentarily, and (B) advising everyone to "copy" their comments before they submit them. Otherwise, you might waste a lot of time typing up a comment that disappears into the netherworld...
I've begun to receive some submissions to our first annual Philosophers Cocoon Philosophy Conference and it's very quickly become clear to me that I could really use some referrees. Is anyone willing to volunteer? I don't need a written referee report, just a "definitely accept", "accept, but only if you need to fill out the program", or "reject." If you're interested and willing to help out, please just comment below or send me an email at email@example.com indicating your willingness to review and your AOS.
Thanks in advance to anyone and everyone who volunteers!
So I've written drafts of the introduction and first four-and-a-half chapters of the book I started about a month ago. The manuscript is already about 50,000 words, and given that I intend for it to be 6 chapters, I shouldn't have any problem -- after revisions -- getting it to the 75K+ word minumum that academic publishers apparently prefer books to hit.
Now, the chapters I have so far are pretty rough -- they're first drafts after all -- but I've already begun to edit them in earnest, and for the most part I feel like the chapters I have "say what I want to say" and say it pretty well. Chapter 1 is by far the roughest, as I'm trying to situate my view amongst a vast variety of other theories in the literature. It's been tough knowing precisely how much "scene-setting" to engage in, particularly when I lack expertise on a lot of the other views out there (which doesn't really matter for the sake of the book, since its purpose isn't to refute every other view but offer what I take to be a new, better alternative). Does anyone who has written a book have any advice on this? I have a feeling (just a feeling) that this part of a book is in general the most difficult to write, and gets taken care of better once one gets others to read the manuscript (as people who read the manuscript can help correct one's literature review). Is this right?
Anyway, the big question I have -- and would really appreciate anyone's thoughts on -- is this: what now? Here's the situation I find mysef in. I think to myself, "Look, I have no idea whether this thing is going to fly. Either the first four chapters show that I have are a good book project, or they don't. I think they do, but then again, I could be wrong. So what am I do?" It doesn't strike me as a good use of my time to spend the rest of the summer writing and revising all six chapters when, for all I know, the book could be a dud, dead on arrival. So, what then? Should I revise the first four chapters a bit more and ask some trusted sources to read them? If so, who should I ask: friends? Mentors? (I worry a bit about the latter because if the book is a dud, I don't want my mentors to see what a turd it is!)
Anyway, because this is my very first time venturing into these waters, I feel quite uncertain about how to proceed. Anyone have any helpful thoughts? Thanks in advance to anyone who does!
Many of our readers may be interested in applying for a spot in next year's Young Philosophers Lecture Series at SUNY Fredonia. A "young philosopher," in this context, is anyone who has received a PhD in philosophy in the last six years or expects to complete his or her PhD this coming academic year. If you're selected, you'll get to give two talks—a research talk and a general audience talk—and you'll receive a travel stipend and small honorarium. Sounds like fun.
The deadline for applying is July 1. See their Call for Papers for details.
I received the following reader question by email today:
I am a regular reader of your blog and was hoping to receive some feedback on a rather simple, yet opaque question. What do philosophers mean when they talk about 'work?' Here is the context. I am a graduate student. It is common to hear my professors and fellow students talk about 'work,' but what do we really mean? Does work in philosophy involve something like you have described on your website: getting up early, making sure I have my 3-5 pages typed before I head out to teach or hold office hours or do my afternoon reading? I know this is quite vague, but I do find 'work' to be a curious place name for what I find myself doing as a graduate student. None of this is to say that I do not treat philosophy like work. This was a piece of advice I was given as an undergraduate by many professors. Treat graduate study like a job. Work an 8 hr day, give yourself the nights off and weekends if you can, but remain committed to 'getting stuff done' during the day. I guess my question revolves more around what 'getting stuff done' looks like. My concern is that sometimes I do not begin the day in the correct head space. Lets say I'm sitting in the library or at my desk in my apartment, reading a little bit of this and that, taking notes, brainstorming ideas for chapters, etc. I often find myself wondering during these days, is this work? And what are the others doing? Are they more committed than I am? Are they exercising different strategies that lead to greater feelings of productivity? What are the 'workers' doing? This question takes on a much clearer meaning if one talks about it in the context of teaching and other academic obligations that have a family resemblance to what work has been historically defined as. But when you are in my position, with full years ahead in which your only obligation is to get the damn dissertation down on paper and to do the research, that sort of openness can seem awfully hard to fill with very productive hours that can leave you at the end of the day feeling like: I worked today. I think I'll end there for fear of drifting even further into vagueness. Hopefully you understand what I'm asking and what I am grappling with. Perhaps you could post the question on your blog in clearer fashion than what I have given you here.
I wonder what you all think. Here are my thoughts. I'd like to thank this reader, first of all, for raising the issue. As you'll see momentarily, I think it is very important issue, and one we haven't discussed before. That being said, I'm going to state my thoughts about the issue very bluntly, because frankly, I feel very strongly about it. I've seen people go off the rails, and I've gone off the rails myself...and it almost always begins the same way: by defining "work" loosely.
My experience is that defining "work" loosely is one of the most damaging traps that some grad students fall into, and one of (if not the) biggest single reason for not finishing the PhD. Here's why. A familiar story:
Grad student finishes comps. Grad student decides "reading" is work. Grad student decides a little bit of writing here and there is work. 2 years go by. No dissertation prospectus. No publishable papers. No serious philosophy written or produced during all of that time. Hopelessness. Despair. Loss of confidence. More hopelessness. More despair.
I've not only seen this happen to many people -- I've lived it. I am not making a conceptual claim about what is work and what isn't. What I'm saying is this: having a loose definition of "getting work done" is psychologically destructive. It is a vice. Don't fall into it. If you consider "reading" work, you'll probably end up like I did in graduate school: "reading" for two years and getting nothing done. Alternatively, you might end up even worse off, like some other people I know: never finishing grad school.
Don't define "work" loosely. You need to write -- and write seriously -- every single weekday (I give myself weekends off). The sooner you develop the habit of forcing yourself to do this, no matter whether you think you are in "the correct headspace", the better off you'll be. I woke up today feeling like crap. But I forced myself to start writing at nine in the morning and wrote for three hours straight. Did I do my best work today? No. But I did serious work. I know this might sound hard, unreasonable, whatever -- but I will tell you this: you don't want to go down the road I did, and others I know did, in grad school. Defining "work" loosely is a recipe for disaster and misery.
One final thought (since the reader's email immediately brought this to mind): if you tend not to find yourself "in the right headspace", it may be because you're working the wrong environment. The reader who emailed my their question alludes to working in their office or apartment. I've explained before how, in my experience, the right environment makes all the difference in the world. I can't get in the "right headspace" in my office or in my apartment. I can only write at the dog park. Strange, but true. If you're having trouble, try writing someplace else. Just a thought!
Anyway, I'm curious to see what other people think. Obviously, my reply to the reader's question contains some strong emotions. It's not because I want to castigate those who define work loosely. It's because I've seen how easy it is to fall into certain habits, and how those habits have negatively impacted not only me but other people I care about. I worded my reply strongly only because I'd like, if possible, to help people avoid unnecessary misery. I hope my reply is taken that way. :)
I'd like to thank Rob Gressis for drawing this paper to my attention. Here's the abstract:
A growing interest in and concern about the adequacy and fairness of modern peer-review practices in publication and funding are apparent across a wide range of scientific disciplines. Although questions about reliability, accountability, reviewer bias, and competence have been raised, there has been very little direct research on these variables.
The present investigation was an attempt to study the peer-review process directly, in the natural setting of actual journal referee evaluations of submitted manuscripts. As test materials we selected 12 already published research articles by investigators from prestigious and highly productive American psychology departments, one article from each of 12 highly regarded and widely read American psychology journals with high rejection rates (80%) and nonblind refereeing practices.
With fictitious names and institutions substituted for the original ones (e.g., Tri-Valley Center for Human Potential), the altered manuscripts were formally resubmitted to the journals that had originally refereed and published them 18 to 32 months earlier. Of the sample of 38 editors and reviewers, only three (8%) detected the resubmissions. This result allowed nine of the 12 articles to continue through the review process to receive an actual evaluation: eight of the nine were rejected. Sixteen of the 18 referees (89%) recommended against publication and the editors concurred. The grounds for rejection were in many cases described as “serious methodological flaws.” A number of possible interpretations of these data are reviewed and evaluated.
In short, when psychology papers already accepted by top journals in the field were resubmitted to the very same journals (prior to publication) for review with nothing more than a lesser-known or unknown institution, the papers were:
So much for "blind" review! I wonder if something similar happens in philosophy. Anyway, here's one thing I do know: I know people who've had papers rejected by more than one "bad" journal only to have the very same paper accepted by a top-5 generalist journal. The lesson? Probably this: peer-review is a crapshoot, and not always a very fair one.
Still on the topic of progress and methodology in philosophy, Dennett has a new book titled Intuition Pumps and Other Tools for Thinking. There is an interesting conversation about the book here, which begins with an excerpt on intuition pumps from Brockman’s The Third Culture: Beyond the Scientific Revolution (1995). Dennett says something about intuition pumps that I think is worth discussing. Dennett writes:
If you look at the history of philosophy, you see that all the great and influential stuff has been technically full of holes but utterly memorable and vivid. They are what I call "intuition pumps" — lovely thought experiments. Like Plato's cave, and Descartes's evil demon, and Hobbes' vision of the state of nature and the social contract, and even Kant's idea of the categorical imperative. I don't know of any philosopher who thinks any one of those is a logically sound argument for anything. But they're wonderful imagination grabbers, jungle gyms for the imagination. They structure the way you think about a problem. These are the real legacy of the history of philosophy. A lot of philosophers have forgotten that, but I like to make intuition pumps.
I coined the term "intuition pump," and its first use was derogatory. I applied it to John Searle's "Chinese room," which I said was not a proper argument but just an intuition pump. I went on to say that intuition pumps are fine if they're used correctly, but they can also be misused. They're not arguments, they're stories. Instead of having a conclusion, they pump an intuition. They get you to say "Aha! Oh, I get it!"
What philosophers have forgotten, I take it, is that intuition pumps are not arguments. Intuition pumps are useful for getting the imagination juices flowing. But they do not provide support for claims. Perhaps another way to make the same point is this: intuition pumps can be a useful tool in the context of discovery, where creativity and imagination are important, but not in the context of justification. Do you agree?
Brian Leiter has begun a discussion over at his blog about David Chalmers' discussion of why there isn't more progress in philosophy (for those who don't want to listen to Chalmers' audio discussion, he has posted a related paper here).
Anyway, because I've long found this question interesting (and distressing), but also because I expect some members of our community might not want to make their opinions publicly known over at Leiter's site (as BL's site is much more well-trafficked than ours), I'd like to open up the issue for discussion here. In particular, I'd be interested to discuss the seven possible diagnoses Chalmers briefly investigates -- namely:
I suspect myself that there is probably some truth to all seven diagnoses.
What do you all think? Can anything be done to promote greater progress in philosophy, or is perhaps "progress", understood as convergence on particular philosophical views, not the real (or at least only) reason to do philosophy? Is understanding arguments all that philosophy is good for? If so, what's the purpose of understanding questions for which there are no answers? One wouldn't waste time understanding arguments about chmess, so why waste time on irresolvable arguments in philosophy?
This is probably part of the motivation behind many philosophy departments’ attempts, such as this one, to emphasize the value of philosophy.
In an attempt to show students the value of philosophy, I have adopted a skills-based approach to my teaching. That is, I try to teach students how to think, not what to think. I not only tell but also show them why thinking critically and philosophically is one of the most important things they will ever learn in college. For an example of the kind of activities I do with my students in class, see this piece from the Fall 2011 issue of the APA Newsletter on Teaching Philosophy.
To gauge my success, I ask my students to fill out evaluation surveys throughout the semester and, at the end of the semester, I ask them the following question: Are you taking something of lasting value from this class? If so, what? If not, why not?
I have promised my students complete confidentiality, which is why I will not mention specific responses here. But the responses are overwhelmingly positive. Students frequently mention how their critical thinking skills have improved and that such skills are valuable and applicable in many domains other than philosophy.
All of this brings me to the questions I would like to ask you, my fellow pupae. First, do you take a similar approach to your teaching? If so, why? If not, why not?
Second, in these hard times, in which philosophy departments are threatened with cuts, why is it that philosophers (the APA, perhaps) are not actively making the case for philosophy as the major discipline that trains students to think? Or is it that they are making this case but nobody wants to listen?
I gather -- from what I think is pretty strong anecdotal experience -- that a lot of philosophers refrain from divulging their views from students in the classroom. I'm not entirely sure what the supposed rationale for this is, but I expect it has something to do with attempting to appear "unbiased."
For much of my career, both in grad school and during my first couple of years as an Assistant Professor, I (rather uncritically) adopted this practice just on account of what seemed to me to be the general belief that "it's what you're supposed to do." Unfortunately, I felt it was stultifying. First, attempting to "hide" my views in the classroom not only struck me as fundamentally dishonest (you wouldn't expect a particle physicist to hide their views in the classroom). Second, it seemed to me to sap the classroom of "realness." Philosophy became -- and looked to my students -- more and more like a rote process of summarizing arguments and raising objections. How boring. Not only that: how unlike what philosophy really is! When we do philosophy "for real" as philosophers -- in writing papers, giving talks, having discussions, etc. -- we don't approach it this way. We push as hard as we can for arguments we think are good and as hard as we can against arguments we think are bad.
Because it just felt wrong to me (and didn't seem to inspire my students), a couple of years ago I replaced my policy of "hiding" my views with quite a different one: I wrote in my syllabus that (A) I would not aim to be unbiased, (B) I would push as hard as I can in favor of arguments I think are good and as hard as I can against arguments I think are bad, and last but not least, (C) that I expect and encourage students to argue with me if they think I'm wrong. And the entire feeling of my classes -- and the energy of my students -- changed in the best kind of way. I feel inspired in the classroom. I get passionate. I really push things I feel strongly about. It feels real. My students get excited. They argue with me. They argue with each other. We are doing philosophy, not merely "studying" it.
I expect, as is usually the case with philosophers, that those of you out there who believe in "hiding" one's views in the classroom might be skeptical of my practice. For what it is worth, I expect there are some very bad ways of divulging one's views (i.e. coming across as dogmatic, etc.) -- but I don't think I make these mistakes. I'm not dogmatic in the classroom, in part because I don't think I'm a dogmatic philosopher (my philosophical views have changed dramatically over the years). I should probably also add that I always try to render all arguments and views in as charitable of a light as possible, and indeed, that I push a lot of arguments for a lot of very different views very hard (because, unlike some philosophers, who I've heard think "most arguments suck", I tend to believe that most arguments contain some important grain of truth to teach us!).
Anyway, I'm curious to hear what you all think of this. Am I right that most people "hide" their views? Do any of you have a similar policy to mine? Have you found that it "works" like I have? Looking forward to hear what you all have to say!
I've mentioned before how I think many people don't give undergraduate students enough credit. Undergrads are often dismissed as lazy, self-entitled, disengaged, stupid, and looking for nothing but classroom entertainment and a good grade for not much work.
For several years now, I have refused to give into this narrative as a matter of principle. I expect a ton out of my students: I make them work incredibly hard (two assignments per class meeting), have draconian grading standards (I regularly hand out C's and D's on homework assignments and term-papers), give them pages of comments on their term-papers, which they have an option to rewrite, and have them read a ton (my philosophy of law class made its way through an entire 900 page textbook this semester).
One would expect, given the dominant narrative about students, that these practices would result in terrible student evaluations -- and, truth be told, every semester I'm deathly afraid that they will! But this just doesn't happen. I received my student review results today. As expected, my students rated my classes as far more difficult than the university averages, and as having far more work to boot. But did any of them complain? Not a single student did. On the contrary, many of them actually stated that they were thankful for how difficult it was.
I'm not going to go on and on about this. My aim isn't to be self-congratulatory. I merely want to convey the message that, in my experience at least, the dominant narrative about undergrads is false. My experience is that if you treat them like self-entitled, lazy children, then they'll live up to it. BUT, if you show some faith in them -- if you really challenge them, tell them why you're challenging them, and show them that you are putting in every effort to help them improve themselves as human beings -- they will, far more often than not, return the favor with hard work and appreciation.
I am pleased to announce this call-for-papers for the first annual Philosophers' Cocoon Philosophy Conference (PCPC), which will be held at the University of Tampa from Friday October 18th-Sunday October 20th, 2013. This conference will be unique in several respects:
To submit a paper to present at the PCPC, please email the following to firstname.lastname@example.org by July 1, 2013: (1) a blinded (i.e. anonymized) paper, (2) a separate title page with the author's name, contract information, and brief paper abstract, and (3) a statement concerning whether you intend to attend the conference in person or only via Skype. Decision emails indicating whether your paper has been accepted will be sent out around August 1, 2013. Finally, please bear the following in mind:
I recently shared some research strategies of mine, which were also discussed over at the Smoker (where many people were, not surprisingly, quite skeptical of some of them). Anyway, one of of our readers, "Derek", recently posted in a comment here about his experience trying out some of the strategies I suggested. Here is what he wrote:
I actually did pick up the idea to write in the morning from here. Although, I have picked up quite a few things from this blog I found the posts titled "Research Strategies" and "More Research Strategies" *exorbitantly* helpful. Here are some of the more beneficial things that have happened since I have been writing every morning.
1.) Increased productivity -- Perhaps this one goes without saying, but the sheer increase has been mind-blowing. In the last couple of months I have pounded out five new papers, an outline for my book/dissertation (three of the papers will most likely be incorporated into the book, though I wrote them first) and a rather inordinate amount of outlines/notes of readings. The mind blowing part for me is that I struggled to even write one paper -- outside of class at least -- last year and I was not especially happy with the ones that I wrote for class.
2.) I can see my ideas build on each other each day in a way that they never did before. I have always struggled with the thought that I have nothing to write and so have ended up just reading and reading and reading in hopes that an idea will strike me, fully formed and that I will then be able to just spit it out on the page. Of course, that never happens. The habit of writing everday has quelled this tendency and I have learned that If I just start writing I have plenty to say. Further, I have all afternoon to read and so I am able to read just as much as I was before.
3.) I no longer "force" myself to write on one specific topic. Instead, I often work on several projects at once. Using this method I find that my ideas are able to breath a little, so to speak. For example, I often think of ideas for one project while working on another and, since I don't feel so much pressure to get a paper done as quickly as possible, the ideas in my paper seem to grow more organically and end up being better for it.
4.) I feel more productive and so I don't feel so much pressure to work nights and weekends. This allows me to spend more time with friends and family. Ironically, even though I work less now I feel that I get more done. I suspect that a large part of this is because I feel better emotionally and hence am always motivated to pick up where I left off the morning before. Research has also become enjoyable again and less like I'm running on a hamster wheel haha.
5.) Lastly, and this is a tip I picked up from Stephen Mumford -- check out the handout posted on his website "The Mumford Method" -- I write detailed outlines first and then, after I have done all of the creative/philosophical work, I write a draft. In my experience, this has a number of benefits. For one, I am not focused on trying to "follow the argument" while also trying to present the argument in a clear and focused manner -- which always seems to end up in a jumbled mess. Instead, once I commit to writing a draft I can focus solely on presenting my ideas in a clear and engaging manner. Another perk is that I am able to get feedback on my outlines quickly, as people are much more willing to comment on a three page outline than they are on a thirty page draft! I have just begun revising my papers using the "reverse outline" method, so I will let you know how that works out. This is where I picked it up --
I don't know if the strategies work for everyone, but the most striking thing about Derek's experience is how it matched my own almost exactly. And Kris McDaniel and Chris Stephens report similar experiences here (though they report having some of these strategies antecedently).
Anyway, although I wouldn't dare hold that the research strategies I've presented are "proven" by the experiences of a handful of people, I thought it might be relating these stories for a couple of reasons: first, to make the case for them a bit stronger to those who haven't given them a serious try, but also, second, to ask whether there have been any people who have seriously tried the strategies (not just halfway, but really tried them) for whom they didn't work.
Just to be clear: I'm not out to "prove my point" about the research strategies. I didn't relate them in the first place for my own edification. I've related them because I'd sincerely like to help people who are struggling as much as I once did, as I could have used the research strategies long before I stumbled across them as a result of dumb brute luck! So, with that said, I open up discussion: for all who have seriously tried some of the research strategies I've related,
Please do not chime in merely because you have your own research strategies that you think work for you. For all I know, there may be other research strategies that work for people. I would like for the discussion here to be one among people who have seriously changed their way of doing things to at least give some of the strategies I've mentioned a serious try (and not just for a couple of days, but at least several weeks, to give them a fair shot). I'd like to see whether people who have tried them have found that they worked (and, if not, then all well and good!).
I've written before a couple of times on research strategies, but my research the past couple of weeks since I began writing my book has made something crystal clear me: there is one research strategy I learned several years ago (in my final two years in graduate school) that "changed my life." Because it was such an unexpected but enormous change in strategy, one that has made the drafting of my new book go very well so far, I'd like to share it with all of, in the hope that perhaps it will make a similar difference in someone else's life.
One of the things I've mentioned before (which took some people aback) is just how fast I work. I tend to write up paper drafts in a matter of days, if not weeks. It wasn't always like this. For almost my entire philosophical career up until my last couple of years in grad school, I was very much the "slow burn" kind of worker. I would spend many, many months on end hammering out drafts, rewriting them, etc. It was hard, but I figured it was "the way" to do things.
I've made no secret that I endured some struggles as a grad student. It took me forever to come up with a good dissertation topic, but once I did, I finished the dissertation in about 8 months. How did it happen? Simple: I got a lucky break. I received an unsolicited book in my department mailbox on "how to write a dissertation." I'm usually not into self-help books, but I actually sat down and read this one. And what I read made so much sense that I had to try it. The first piece of advice, which I've recounted before, is to force oneself to write some small number of pages (say 3-5 pages) -- completely unedited -- every day you sit down to write. Although this might sound strange, every person I've passed the advice along to that has tried it has reported very positive results. I literally saw two other people I passed the book along to go from having nothing done on their dissertations to finishing in less than 9 months.
The key to this piece of advice -- as the book made clear -- is its psychological impact. One simply "feels good" when one has gotten 3-5 pages written on any given day. Once you've met that goal (if it, say, takes a couple of hours), you are then "free" to do whatever else you want that day: go back and edit, read journal articles, whatever. The point is that it gives you the feeling of moving forward every day. That feeling in turn increases your enthusiasm. You can't wait to wake up the next day to move forward more. This is exactly the opposite, in my experience, of what most grad students face (and why they often get stuck at ABD). Trying the "slow grind" style on big projects -- getting "everything right" -- leads to a negative mood feedback loop. You go home oftentimes frustrated that you didn't get much done, and it makes it that much harder to get up and do good work tomorrow. The 3-5 page a day thing creates a kind of snowball effect where you feel better and better every day, and work harder, edit better (after you finish), etc.
But I've said all of this before. What I haven't said much about is the general process it gives rise to in terms of writing: a process which (if I recall) the book I read called "Throw up, then clean up." I just can't begin to tell you how effective I think this process is. During the past week-and-a-half, I have been writing 2,000-3,000 words on my book per day. Is it all good stuff? No! But, amongst the crap, I've gotten so much good stuff out of my head and onto paper that I can tell it's going to be pretty easy to cut out the bad stuff. And that's the thing: once you get your thoughts out there and onto paper, going back and cutting out all of the crap is *so* much easier than trying to get it all correct the first time around. Furthermore, the quicker you get it out onto paper, I find, the easier it is to discern the good and bad. I've found this way that a lot ideas I thought were good were not -- and I probably would have spend weeks or more thinking about them, whereas now I see which ideas aren't any good in a day or two. It works wonders.
So, I propose, try it out if you're having trouble getting things done. Throw up, then clean up!
Now that summer is just about upon us (hurrah!), I'm absolutely chomping at the bit to do some research. I have a few paper projects laid out, as well a book I just started. But I'd also like to branch out a bit and try some new things. So, I was thinking I might ask you all to share your research process. How do you all go about coming up with paper ideas? Do you just read a ton of journal articles and books until you happen upon an idea? Do you discuss your ideas with a lot of other people before you pursue them in depth, or only after you've worked out an argument in depth?
I guess I'll begin by sharing my process. Strangely enough, I think getting a VAP in a tiny (3 person) department at the University of Tampa -- instead of, say, a tenure-track position in a large department -- is one of the luckiest things that ever happened to me. Here are a few reasons why.
A few of my published and unpublished papers -- mostly, older ones -- emerged from what I take to be the common process: reading, reading, and more reading. But most of those papers were things I had done research on prior to coming to Tampa. Since getting here, my research process has changed dramatically.
Most of my recent papers -- for example, my papers on free will, human rights, and Kantian ethics -- have emerged from undergraduate teaching. One of the things I like most about teaching undergraduate courses is that they always "take you back to the beginning." Instead of worrying about the secondary literature, teaching undergraduate courses takes you back to primary sources and the very foundations of philosophical problems (e.g. the problem of free will). Undergraduate courses also push you to try to get things as simple, clear and intuitive as you can because, well, if you don't make things simple and intuitive, undergrads will look at you like you're speaking in a foreign language and write terrible, awful, horrific term-papers papers like they're writing in a foreign language.
Teaching undergrad courses, in other words, has been something of a godsend. I try out ideas in class, and see if I can make them clear, intuitive and persuasive to ordinary undergraduates. If I can't make things clear, intuitive and persuasive to them, I go back to the drawing board.
There are a couple of other great things about working ideas through in a classroom full of undergrads: (A) they're not "in the grip of a theory" in the same way as professional philosophers or grad students, and (B) they don't "shut you down" when you mess around with zany ideas. Undergrads will argue with you, of course, but they won't pull the, "Kripke showed X" in Naming and Necessity or "Kant clearly meant Y" out of their hat. They're willing to listen to really alternative ways of looking at things -- ways that would most likely garner the proverbial "incredulous stare" if you tried them out on a grad student or fellow professional.
Anyway, that's sort of been my process as of late: making things as simple, clear, and intuitive as I can to undergraduates. I can't help but chuckle sometimes when I hear people complain about undergraduate teaching -- because in my case, at least, it's made philosophy fun again; it's made me work to get clearer on things, relying less on jargon and technical terms, taking me "back to the basics."
Anyone else have this experience? Alternatively, what research processes have you found helpful?
Before I officially put out a CFP for the Philosophers' Cocoon Philosophy Conference (PCPC) I recently proposed for discussion, I would like to offer up the following draft for feedback and comments (please note: this is only a workng draft; nothing is set in stone by any means):
I am happy to announce this call-for-papers for the first annual Philosophers' Cocoon Philosophy Conference, which will be held at the University of Tampa from Friday August 2nd-Sunday August 4th. This conference will be unique in several respects:
- Although attendance at the conference and participating as session chairs or commentators will be open to all members of the profession, paper presenters must be early-career philosophers -- basically, anyone who doesn't have tenure (e.g. graduate students, post-docs, VAP, TT Assistant Profs, independent scholars, etc.)
- Due to the kinds of travel-funding issues that early-career philosophers often face, several paper sessions (the exact number of which will be determined later) will be reserved for Skype presentations in which the author will be projected, and field audience questions, in real time over the internet.
- Although commentators and audience members are encouraged to present objections to papers, a guiding aim of the conference will be constructive criticism, i.e. helping authors to improve problems (e.g. by not only raising objections, but offering and discussing possible solutions).
- Because successfully navigating the publishing world is one of the most difficult capacities for early-career philosophers to develop, and typical conference-length papers are too short (3,000 words) to publish, we will welcome submissions the length of any typical journal article (20-30 pages double-spaced) -- the aim being to help early-career philosophers develop full-length papers into publishable quality. As a rule of thumb, the longer the paper, the higher the standards for acceptance to the conference. Extremely long papers are discouraged.
- In order to defray costs of attendance (once again out of concern for the needs of early-career scholars), there will be no registration fee, and consequently no official banquet, snacks, etc. Tampa is awesome, and there are many affordable places to meet, eat, and congregate around the university.
To submit a paper to present at the PCPC, please email (1) an anonymized paper, (2) a paper abstract, and (3) a statement concerning whether you intend to attend the conference in person or only via Skype, to email@example.com by June 1st, 2013. Finally, please bear the following in mind:
- In order to ensure that the conference is well-attended, there will be relatively few Skype sessions -- so the probability that your paper will be accepted is higher should you state that you can attend in person.
- Submission of a paper comprises a tacit agreement to serve as a commentator or session chair should your paper be accepted and you accept the invitation to present.
- Submission of a paper commits you to serve as a paper referee in your area of specialization (in determining which papers are accepted for the conference). Referees will be expected to simply give a "thumbs up/thumbs down" judgment with a very short statement justifying their decision.
**Note to everyone: I am very unsure about this last provision (papers submitters functioning as referrees) due to obvious conflict-of-interest issues, but I'm going to need someone to referee papers besides myself. Another option would be for me to solicit referees, but I suspect it will be very hard to find some. A third option would be for members of the Cocoon community to volunteer to referee. What does everyone think?
Hi all: I've been giving some thought to perhaps organizing a Philosophers' Cocoon Philosophy Conference later this summer or in the fall, and perhaps turning it into an annual affair if it goes well. Basically, I was thinking it could be a conference not just for official Cocoon contributors, but rather one open to all early-career philosophers (grad students, post-docs, VAPs, Asst. Profs) to present and discuss papers in a supportive environment -- where the distinct, guiding aim would be helping one another improve the papers presented, hopefully with an eye towards eventual publication (in much he same manner as our Working Paper Group).
I think a Cocoon conference could be really cool. What do you all think of the idea? Any ideas/thoughts/suggestions?
I wonder what you all make of the hubbub about Templeton funding over at Leiter's blog. As several commenters over there point out, the issue just isn't about Templeton, but about private money being funnelled into philosophy more generally (e.g. funding for programs actively promoting free markets, etc). What do you all think?
Here are some of my thoughts. For my part, I tend to be very wary of the corrupting influence of money. As Peter Woit (a mathematician at Columbia U) has pointed out for a long time now at his blog, Not Even Wrong, money appears to have deeply affected the entire discipline of theoretical physics. The vast majority of funding over the past several decades has gone to string theory, a theory which Woit and others have argued is not falsifiable, and so not even a properly scientific theory. I'm not going to comment on Woit's views on string theory, as I'm not qualified to evaluate them. His broader point, though, seems worth worrying about: the influx of money into physics has, until recently, made it almost impossible not to be a string theorist. Because of money, the vast plurality of jobs in theoretical physics over the past few decades have been in string theory, pushing other legitimate (and perhaps more promising) viewpoints far into the margins.
Setting aside worries about Templeton funding specifically, I can't help but worry that the same will happen to philosophy: that money will serve more and more as a driving force for philosophical inquiry. This, I worry, would probably be a very bad thing. Philosophy, ideally, should be a search for truth, not a search for what people-with-money-would-like-to-promote. But alas, things aren't this black-and-white. For there's a flip-side to all this. Without money, philosophy is increasingly being relegated to the sidelines. There have been, among other things, a disturbing number of philosophy departments either (a) closed down, (b) consolidated into other departments, etc., as a result of economic forces. These considerations seem to be to suggest that, if we want our discipline to flourish rather than decline -- and if we want more jobs (and I certainly do) -- we should want more money in the discipline, not less.
In short, I think it's a very complex and morally fraught situation, one I am not sure about in any regard. I have many questions, not many answers. What about you all?
As I mentioned a couple of days ago, I've started writing a book and hope to get a decent draft done this summer. I hammered out a draft of the introduction last Friday and have started a draft of the first chapter. Although I think things are going pretty well so far, in that I'm getting a lot to paper and feel like I have a lot of the book mapped out clearly in my head (though everything so far is very first-draft-y), as I write it I can't help but be struck about how difficult of a project this is going to be.
Although I've written a "book" before (namely, my dissertation), it not only wasn't of publishable quality (few dissertations are); it was also much more narrow than the book I'm currently embarking on. One of the difficulties I've had so far in writing the first chapter of the book I've just started is that I have to do a lot of summarizing to clear the ground for the book's main argument. Specifically, I have to survey how a ton of other people have approached the problem I'm addressing, not only recently but throughout philosophical history.
This is difficult because, frankly, I'm not an expert on a lot of the views I'm summarizing. I don't think I have to be in order to write the book because, frankly, (1) what I know of the views in question is enough to distinguish my view from them, and (2) my aim in the book isn't to disprove those views but instead offer an alternative that I think avoids or resolves many of the major problems commonly attributed to existing alternatives. Be that as it may, I have the sneaking suspicion that I'm going to need a lot of help for my summaries on these things (things, again, I'm not an expert on) not to look like the summaries of a dilettante.
I've had a couple of third-personal experiences which suggest to me that this problems are not usual when writing books, and that a book's author often ends up relying quite a bit on others to help them fill in gaps in their knowledge. First, I was at Arizona when John Tomasi came to discuss a draft of his book Free Market Fairness. I recall quite a few of my fellow graduate students being somewhat taken off-guard by how unfinished the book seemed. Quite a bit of stuff seemed not all that well thought-through. But, as I'm starting to write my book, I sort of "get it" now. It would take me an insane amount of time to become "expert enough" at a lot of the ideas I'm summarizing. Offhand, it would seem much more efficient to me to summarize the things as I understand them (I'm not a total dilettante on them!), and then appeal to others for help to fill in the gaps of my knowledge (for instance, through asking others to read chapter drafts). Is this the normal way to go about things? Judging from the acknowledgement sections of published books, it seems clear to me that a lot of people contribute substantially to the writing of good books -- that authors typically have a lot of people read chapter drafs for feedback, in part because it's so hard for any one individual to have expertise on everything relevant to the book.
Which brings me to the subject of this post. I'd like to ask those of you who have written books: do you have any general tips for how to go about it? For instance, at what point, exactly, you begin sharing chapter drafts with people? How far "done" must they be? And who do you seek out feedback from? And how? Any tips, on these questions or any others relating to book writing, would be much appreciated. Thanks in advance to anyone and everyone who chimes in!
Exactly one year ago today, The Philosophers' Cocoon came into being. Today, just 12 months later, we are a vibrant and awesome community. We have 40 official contributors, 158,745 total site visits, and for the past month have been averaging 1,200-1,500 visits per day.
Anyway, I'd just like to thank all of you -- our contributors, commenters, and readers -- for making The Philosophers' Cocoon what it has become: a positive, and personal, forum for early-career philosophers to congregate, get to know one another, discuss philosophy and the profession, and support one another. I know it's just a blog, but it's really been wonderful getting to know you all. So, thanks again, everyone, for all you've done to make the blog a successful -- and, above all, good -- place to be.
I took something of a break from research this semester. I'd written a ton of papers the past couple of years, and while I'd read some articles this term, nothing sparked any ideas. So, I decided to take a bit of a break and just focus on teaching. It was a good idea. A couple of weeks ago a big idea that had been percolating in the back of my mind crystallized very clearly, and I decided to write a book on it this summer.
I wrote a first, and not at all good, draft of the book's introduction and half of its first chapter last week, but got sidelined this week by my last week of classes. Which brings me to yesterday. Because Thursday was my last day of classes, I spent most of yesterday in my office during an extended batch of office-hours trying to start my book introduction over again. It was a disaster. I was there from 10 in the morning to 3pm, hardly got a lick done, and what I did get done was terrible. I began doubting whether writing this book is a good idea, and went home pretty deflated.
When I got home, I learned that my wife was heading out to happy hour with the members of her academic department, and decided to take my dog out to the dog park. As I've mentioned before, that's where I do most of my work. I spend almost all day there writing on days I'm not teaching, and it's where I've written almost every paper I've published. I wasn't going to take my laptop with me -- my wife said it's been a long semester, that I should be good to myself, and that I have all summer to write -- but I couldn't help myself. Off to the dog park with my laptop I was.
As soon as I got there, it was like a lightbulb switched on in my brain. I was focused -- in a way that I just hadn't been able to achieve at my office. I banged out a full draft of my book introduction in less than a couple of hours. And it was good. A first draft for sure, but one I'm satisfied with, at least for now.
It struck me on the way home that getting a dog is probably one of the best things that ever happened for my career. I'd never published anything as a grad student, and I frittered away my year as a VAP at UBC in the way I frittered away yesterday in my office: having trouble focusing, spending days, weeks, even months on end mucking around on paper drafts that never seemed to get done. Then, just before coming to Tampa, my wife and I got a dog. And I started doing work at the dog park. And everything changed. Complete paper drafts -- drafts that were better than drafts I used to spend months on -- would flow out of my brain in a mere matter of days.
I have to confess that I don't know exactly what it is. Maybe it's just being outside. All I know is that I've stumbled upon something very lucky. For me, at least, the environment in which do my work makes an incredible difference. I can't get stuff done in my office, or at a coffee shop, or at home. Somehow, just being out with my dog makes things "click." Strange.
I'm wondering what you all make of this forthcoming paper by Chalmers and Bourget reporting the results of their philpapers survey on what philosophers believe. Personally, I think C&B overstate the strength of their results a bit. While they report "strong" correlations between various philosophical views and gender, location, age, etc., their highest r-values in these areas are generally quite small (the largest is about .15, most are around .1 -- which, as I understand it, is generally considered a pretty small effect in the social sciences).
This issue aside, the results generally strike me as very interesting -- particularly differences between:
I could go on. Also interesting is that there appears to be very strong agreement (>70%) on the answers to at least a few philosophical issues:
Has our discipline, despite the common worry that "philosophy makes no progress", made some real progress after all? What do you all make of C&B's results? I'm curious!
I've discussed some of my research, teaching, and professional strategies in the past -- but these days I'm feeling quite unsure of myself all around (which, quite frankly, I think is a good thing: it's rarely good to be too sure of oneself; though doubting oneself isn't too fun, to be sure).
Anyway, I'm curious, and I expect many in our community might be curious as well: what, besides the obvious (being an awesome philosopher), are the secrets to success in our profession? I assume we have some readers out there who have been very successful. If you're one of these people -- or really, anyone who thinks they've stumbled upon a "very important secret" -- would you mind sharing your wisdom? I'm sure many of us would be very thankful for it. :)