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07/29/2013

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Matt DeStefano

The examples that Aranyosi uses are some of the most influential figures in the history of philosophy. To say that one would rather hire Kripke than a "mediocre specialist in ethics" is hardly controversial. It is not at all clear to me that because some philosophers do not fit neatly into the distinctions made by AOS/AOC, and made valuable contributions outside of it, that these distinctions make no sense, or even that they are not valuable in hiring decisions or for research purposes.

After all, we have examples in the physical sciences of individuals that contributed meaningful content to disciplines outside of their specialty. To point to another extraordinary figure, Feynman contributed in many different areas of physical sciences, so did Benjamin Franklin, so did Aristotle. This doesn't mean that division of labor, or specialization, in science is nonsensical.

It's true that switching subfields in science is more time-consuming and difficult than switching subfields in philosophy. It also seems true that people can more easily provide valuable contributions in different areas in philosophy than in other disciplines. I don't agree, however, that this shows that the divisions make no sense, nor that we should substantially change the current system.

eyeyethink

If you're looking for someone to teach a graduate class in, say, phil mind--then you want someone who knows their way around the literature in ways that a newbie won't.

James

I knew I should I have been hired for all the following positions because my logic skills are airtight!!: AOS: Plato/Aristotle; AOS: Medieval Philosophy; AOS: Mathematical Logic/Contemporary M AOS: Kant! I hope graduate schools take this man's advice because I will be able to apply for all kinds of positions this fall. I did a dissertation on environmental ethics. Rock on!

Moti Mizrahi

Thanks for the comments everyone.

Matt: I think that Aranyosi's title "AOS makes no sense" is a bit misleading. His two points--(1) and (2)--are much weaker. As I understand them, he is saying that it makes more sense to talk about "areas of research interests," rather than "specialization," precisely because a philosopher needs the same set of skills to make contributions to any area of philosophy. His examples merely illustrate this point rather than support it.

Eyeeyethink: I agree. But I think Aranyosi is saying that "S is not familiar with the phil of mind literature" should not be a reason not to hire S. Presumably, if S is a good philosopher (i.e., skilled in logic and argumentation), then S can master the phil of mind literature to the point of being able to teach a grad seminar in phil of mind.

James: Let's try to be fair and charitable to Aranyosi (which I take to be part of the set of logic and argumentation skills he is talking about). I think you do make a good point about historical areas of research. These areas, such as early modern phil and medieval phil, require more than simply logic and argumentation skills. For instance, they also require mastery of the relevant languages, such as Latin, etc.

T. Parent

Moti: Excellent comment.
I suspect the AOS survives as a heuristic, since search committees don't have time to read all the letters, dossier papers, etc. The assumption is that, other things equal, it is better if the candidate is already established and poised to do more cutting edge research in the relevant area.

As everybody will admit, heuristics are imperfect. But they can be rational for search committees to use nonetheless.

Moti Mizrahi

Thanks, Ted! You make a good point. So perhaps a better way to state Aranyosi's thesis is this:

In philosophy, AOS doesn't mean what it means in the natural sciences; in philosophy, AOS is used a heuristic by search committees that are looking for a philosopher who can do cutting-edge research and/or teach advanced courses in X right away without having to take time to master the relevant literature.

Somewhat less sexy than "AOS doesn't make sense in philosophy," isn't it? But perhaps more accurate?

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