Mark Vernon is author of the book The Philosophy of Friendship - in this episode of Philosophy Bites he explains what friendship is and what he thinks philosophy can contribute to our understanding of it.
I will be speaking at the launch of the London base for the Center for Inquiry at Conway Hall on Friday 18th January 2008. More information about the event is here. My topic will be "No Platform Arguments About Free Speech".
Kwame Anthony Appiah has written an interesting piece about a new trend in Philosophy: the survey to find out what people say or think, see 'The New New Philosophy'. Experimental Philosophy is the novelty du jour. So does that mean that philosophers should abandon their armchairs? Probably not, thinks Appiah.
Personally I always find it easier to think when I'm walking or running or am in the bath...Armchairs send me to sleep.
I didn't realise until today how highly UNESCO values Philosophy - far higher than many other academic disciplines. A report of the recent World Philosophy Day (that apparently lasted 3 days) in The Chronicle of Higher Education'When Thinking Is a Dissident Act' (thanks to AL Daily for the link) quotes from two UNESCO-sponsored reports:
"by training free, reflective minds capable of resisting various forms of propaganda, fanaticism, exclusion and intolerance, philosophical education contributes to peace," (1995)
and a 2007 report emphasises
"the role of philosophy as a rampart against the double danger represented by obscurantism and extremism."
It is hard to believe that all philosophy teaching and research achieves this. In fact philosophy 'research' (and the teaching it leads to) in most UK universities has hardly been a rampart against obscurantism since much of it has been written in a scarcely intelligible professional jargon simply to meet the requirements of the Research Assessment Exercise (read Simon Blackburn's views on the RAE).
Yet the best Philosophy teaching changes people's lives. We philosophy teachers should never lose sight of the ideals expressed in the statements above.
Can I trust my senses? Can I tell that I'm not now dreaming? Some
philosophical sceptics have maintained that we can't know anything for
certain. Barry Stroud discusses the challenge posed by such sceptics in this episode of Philosophy Bites.
Google's announcement that they are setting up an online encylopedia to rival Wikipedia could be good news for writers (or at least for some writers who are prepared to compromise a bit). No doubt the word 'knol' (meaning a unit of knowledge) will find it's way into the OED very soon. Unlike Wikipedia, Knol will have a single author for each entry - so won't be a wiki. And that author will be identified and allowed to earn income from the entry via advertising (they can 'montetize' it in the ugly jargon). This is essentially a way of facilitating self-publishing by authors. Authors will also retain copyright. If there is sufficient income stream from advertising (which there could be from very popular entries) Knol could be a way forward for those authors who don't mind earning from this source. It's not clear, however, what control the authors of the articles will have over the kinds of advertising that appear on their pages. But at least someone is thinking that content providers should be recompensed. Could this be the start of something? If I were a conventional publisher I'd be worried by this development.
If I've understood it correctly, it may be a bit like a massively expanded version of the Stanford Encylopedia of Philosophy in structure, with the addition of a possible income stream from advertising. What will be interesting is to see how Google treats entries by different authors on the same and related topics. Presumably there will have to be a ranking system that recognises the authority of different contributors in some way.
As well as the worry about lack of control about products writers' words are used to advertise, some people are already getting worried that Google will unfairly privilege Knol entries over other Web content when people are doing a Google search (see this article in The Guardian).
Bernard Suits's The Grasshopper is a brilliant investigation of the nature of games and play that deserves to be much better known than it is. I've already posted a brief review of it here that has generated some discussion. Although it was first published in 1978, it is only recently that philosophers in Britain have started to become aware of it.
Tom Hurka, who wrote the introduction to the Broadview edition of the book, and who knew Suits (Suits sadly, died earlier this year) very kindly agreed to be interviewed for Virtual Philosopher about The Grasshopper. Hurka's recent article 'Games and the Good' (Arist. Soc. 2006) builds on Suits's ideas.
Nigel: Bernard Suits' book The Grasshopper is on the verge of becoming a cult book in the UK as eminent philosophers such as Simon Blackburn and G.A. Cohen are praising it highly. I was delighted to discover it and wish I'd come across it ten years ago. What do you think are the chief virtues of the book?
Tom: The Grasshopper's chief virtues? I'd say the incisiveness and depth of its philosophical content, the contrast between that and its light, whimsical style, and then actually the harmony between the book's content and style. It's both philosophically profound and a literary masterpiece.
Shall I elaborate a bit? The bulk of The Grasshopper defends an analysis of the concept of playing a game - the very concept that was Wittgenstein's prime example of one that can't be analyzed. Yet Suits's definition is both persuasive and tremendously illuminating. It's the best piece of conceptual analysis I know. The book then argues for the central place of game-playing in a good human life, arguing that in a utopia where all instrumental goods are supplied, people's prime activity would be playing games. This is philosophically very deep. As I've argued in my 'Games and the Good' paper, it gives the clearest expression of what I call modern as against classical values. It's when you have Suits's definition of a game in hand that you understand most clearly what, say, Marx and Nietzsche had in mind when they proposed their visions of the good life, and how those differ from a classical view like Aristotle's.
So that's the book's content. But its style is playful and even hilarious: on many pages you laugh out loud. It's written as a dialogue between the Grasshopper of Aesop's fable, who's about to die because he spent the summer playing games rather than gathering food, and his disciples, who try to refute his views but are always persuaded they're wrong. So it's a multi-level loving parody of a Socratic dialogue. And it's full of whimsy. To make his philosophical points the Grasshopper invents different fantasies - about two retired generals in a Black Sea port trying to play a game without rules, about a bowler-hatted Englishman atop Mt. Everest, about the greatest spy in history.
That's the contrast: between the profundity of the content and the dancing lightness of the style. (Nietzsche would so approve!) But then there isn't really a contrast. What else should a book about games be except a game, or itself an instance of play? There are bits in Shakespeare - my favourite is the debate about flowers in The Winter's Tale - where a great many different things are going on at once without getting in each other's way. The Grasshopper's like that. There aren't many philosophy books you'd like to read on a beach or give as a Christmas present. This is one.
Wendy Cope has written a passionate article about poetry and what happens to successful poets. As with visual artists, when their work is copied illegally, poets often find that it is the entire work that is purloined, not just a part.
Some defenders of open access talk about this sort of infringement as a victimless crime that shouldn't be thought of as anything akin to stealing (since the thing taken remains after it has been taken). This neglects the fact that for some people writing is a livelihood, and if their work is freely available from a quick Google search, this surely affects their sales, and thus their royalties.Whether we call it 'stealing' or not is probably beside the point: what is clear is that in many cases it harms creators. The irony is that many of the sites that present in-copyright poems in this way are run by people who purport to love poetry. They must have quite limited imaginations if they can't see the consequences of their actions.
If you love poetry, buy the books (ditto if you love philosophy)!
Hubert Dreyfus is in the strange position of being a critic of distance learning and one of its best exponents. I've already posted several pieces about his book On the Internet (e.g. this one), where he argues that face-to-face tuition is essential, particularly for Philosophy. I've also linked to his excellent (though unedited) lectures podcast on iTunesU (see this post).
There is an interesting article about his impact in The Los Angeles Times 'The iPod Lecture Circuit'. There is also a weblog linking together his virtual community of distant fans here. In his Heidegger lectures he talks about how his views about Heidegger have changed since he wrote his commentary on Being and Time; I wonder whether he will be changing his views about distance learning too...