Congratulations, you've built a Matrioshka Brain! It consumes the entire power output of its star and produces many orders of magnitude more computation per microsecond than all of the current computers on Earth do per year.
Here's a picture:Nick Bostrom, Eric Steinhart, and Susan Schneider) that we can think about the psychology of vast supercomputers. Unlike earthworms, we know some general principles of mentality; and, unlike earthworms, we can speculate, at least tentatively, about how these principles might apply to entities with computational power that far exceeds our own.
Let's begin by considering a Matrioshka Brain planfully constructed by intelligent designers. The designers might have aimed at creating only a temporary entity -- a brief art installation, maybe, like a Buddhist sand mandala. These are, perhaps, almost entirely beyond psychological prediction. But if the designers wanted to make a durable Matrioshka Brain, then broad design principles begin to suggest themselves.
Perception and action. If the designers want their Brain to last, it probably needs to monitor its environment and adjust its behavior in response. It needs to be able to detect, say, an incoming comet that might threaten its structure, so that it can take precautionary measures (such as deflecting the comet, opening a temporary pore for it to pass harmlessly through, or grabbing and incorporating it). There will probably be engineering trade-offs between at least three design features here: (1) structural resilience, (2) ability to detect things in its immediate environment, and (3) ability to predict the future. If the structure is highly resilient, then it might be able to ignore threats. Maybe it could even lack outer perception entirely. But such structural resilience might come at a cost: either more expensive construction (at least fewer options for construction) or loss of desirable computational capacity after construction. So it might make sense to design a Brain less structurally resilient but more responsive to its environment -- avoiding or defeating threats, as it were, rather than just always taking hits to the chin. Here (2) and (3) might trade off: Better prediction of the future might reduce the need of here-and-now perception; better here-and-now perception (coupled with swift responsiveness) might reduce the need of future prediction.
Prediction and planning. Very near-term, practical "prediction" might be done by simple mechanisms (hairs that flex in a certain way, for example, to open a hole for the incoming comet) but long-term prediction and prediction that involves something like evaluating hypothetical responses for effectiveness starts to look like planful cognition (if I deflected the comet this way, then what would happen? if I flexed vital parts away from it in this way, then what would happen?). Presumably, the designers could easily dedicate at least a small portion of the Matrioshka Brain to planning of this sort -- that seems likely to be a high-payoff use of computational resources, compared to having the giant Brain just react by simple reflex (and thus possibly not in the most effective or efficient way).
Unity or disunity. If we assume the speed of light as a constraint, then the Brain's designers must choose between a very slow, temporally unified system or a system with fast, distributed processes that communicate their results across the sphere at a delay. The latter seems more natural if the aim is to maximize computation, but the former might also work as an architecture, if a lot is packed into every slow cycle. A Brain that dedicates too many resources to fighting itself might not survive well or effectively serve other design purposes (and might not even be well thought of as a single Brain), but some competition among the parts might prove desirable (or not), and I see no compelling reason to think that its actions and cognition need be as unified as a human being's.
Self-monitoring and memory. It seems reasonable to add, too, some sort of self-monitoring capacities -- both of its general structure (so that it can detect physical damage) and of its ongoing computational processes (so that it can error-check and manage malfunction) -- analogs of proprioception and introspection. And if we assume that the Brain does not start with all the knowledge it could possibly want, it must have some mechanism to record new discoveries and then later have its processing informed by those discoveries. If processing is both distributed and interactive among the parts, then parts might retain traces of their recent processing that influence reactions to input from other parts with which they communicate. Semi-stable feedback loops, for example, might be a natural way to implement error-checking and malfunction monitoring. This in turn suggests the possibility of a distinction between high-detail, quickly dumped, short-term memory, and more selective and/or less detailed long-term memory -- probably in more than just those two temporal grades, and quite possibly with different memories differently accessible to different parts of the system.
Preferences. Presumably, the Matrioshka Brain, to the extent it is unified, would have a somewhat stable ordering of priorities -- priorities that it didn't arbitrarily jettison and shuffle around (e.g., structural integrity of Part A more important than getting the short-term computational outputs from Part B) -- and it would have some record of whether things were "going well" (progress toward satisfaction of its top priorities) vs. "going badly". Priorities that have little to do with self-preservation and functional maintenance, though, might be difficult to predict and highly path-dependent (seeding the galaxy with descendants? calculating as many digits of pi as possible? designing and playing endless variations of Pac-Man?).
The thing's cognition is starting to look almost human! Maybe that's just my own humanocentric failure of imagination -- maybe! -- but I don't think so. These seem to be plausible architectural features of a large entity designed to endure in an imperfect world while doing lots of computation and calculation.
A Matrioshka Brain that is not intentionally constructed seems likely to have similar features, at least if it is to endure. For example, it might have merged from complex but smaller subsystems, retaining the subsystems' psychological features -- features that allowed them to compete in evolutionary selection against other complex subsystems. Or it might have been seeded from a similar Matrioshka Brain at a nearby star. Alternatively, though, maybe simple, unsophisticated entities in sufficient numbers could create a Matrioshka Brain that endures via dumb rebuilding of destroyed parts, in which case my current psychological conjectures wouldn't apply.
Wilder still: How might a Matrioshka Brain implement long-term memory, remote conjecture, etc.? If it is massively parallel because of light-speed constraints, then it might do so by segregating subprocesses to create simulated events. For example, to predict the effects of catapulting a stored asteroid into a comet cloud, it might dedicate a subpart to simulate the effects of different catapulting trajectories. If it wishes to retain memories of the psychology of its human or post-human creators -- either out of path-dependent intrinsic interest or because it's potentially useful in the long run to have knowledge about a variety of species' cognition -- it might do so by dedicating parts of itself to emulate exactly that psychology. To be realistic, such an emulation might have to engage in real cognition; and to be historically accurate as a memory, such an emulated human or post-human would have to be ignorant of its real nature. To capture social interactions, whole groups of people might be simultaneously emulated, in interaction with each other, via seemingly sensory input.
Maybe the Brain wouldn't do this sort of thing very often, and maybe when it did do it, it would only emulate people in large, stable environments. The Brain, or its creators, might have an "ethics" forbidding the frequent instantiation and de-instantiation of deluded, conscious sub-entities -- or maybe not. Maybe it makes trillions of these subentities, scrambles them up, runs them for a minute, then ends them or re-launches them. Maybe it has an ethics on which pleasure could be instantiated in such sub-entities but suffering would always only be false memory; or maybe the Brain finds it rewarding to experience pleasure via inducing pleasure in sub-entities and so creates lots of sub-entities with peak experiences (and maybe illusory memories) but no real past or future.
Maybe it's bored. If it evolved up from merging social sub-entities, then maybe it still craves sociality -- but the nearest alien contacts are lightyears away. If it was constructed with lots of extra capacity, it might want to "play" with its capacities rather than have them sit idle. This could further motivate the creation of conscious subentities that interact with each other or with which it interacts as a whole.
This is one possible picture of God.
For more background on this project, see Tuesday's post.
Peter Watts, Blindsight (novel, 2006). Cogsci savvy tale in which assorted transhumans and extraterrestrials get by just fine without phenomenal consciousness...or do they?
Ted Chiang, “Understand” (short story, 1991) Thorough and convincing first-person phenomenology of human super intelligence--you’ll feel like you know what it’s like to get your IQ quadrupled overnight.
Greg Egan, Diaspora (novel, 1997) Living indefinitely long as a godlike digital posthuman is all well and good, and when you run out of physical universe(s) to explore, there’s solace to be had in math.
Black Mirror, “Be Right Back” (TV show, 2013) Digital simulacra of the recently departed may be exactly what the grief-stricken don’t want but can’t help but seek.
Bruce Sterling, Schismatrix Plus (novel, 1995) Deeply weird political and economic turmoil in a solar system infested by post human factions (genetically engineered vs cyborgs) and, eventually, extraterrestrial investors.
David Gerrold, The Man Who Folded Himself (novel, 1973) Exhaustive exploration of time-travel enabled narcissistic self-indulgence: meet, greet and *expletive deleted* your temporal counterparts.
Charles Stross, Accelerando (novel, 2005) Nothing else that I’ve read comes as close to this in depicting what living through the technological singularity would be like; "mind-bending future shock” is an insufficiently hyperbolic superlative.
Warren Ellis, Transmetropolitan, “Another Cold Morning” (comic book, 1998) Harsh and grim fistful of future shock depicting waking up from cryo stasis into an overwhelming future that has zero use for you.
Tom Scott, “Welcome to Life: The Singularity, Ruined by Lawyers” (YouTube video, 2012) Everyone can have digital immortality, but not everyone can afford a version unsullied by direct brain advertising.
Roger Williams, The Metamorphosis of Prime Intellect (novel, 1994) A virtual god, subservient to Asimov’s laws of robotics, emerges from the technological singularity, and the ensuing cosmic paternalism puts every human into a heaven they desperately want out of, despite (or because of) all the sex and ultraviolence.
Olaf Stapledon, Star Maker (novel, 1937) -- What is the purpose of life and history?
Gene Wolfe, The Hero as Werewolf (novel, 1991) -- What is evil? What is the role of universalizability in ethics?
Futurama, “Why Must I be a Crustacean in Love?” (TV episode, 2000) -- What's the relationship between ethics and sociobiology?
Futurama, “Hell is Other Robots” (TV episode, 1999) -- Feuerbach thesis of the origin of religion -- is religion a human creation and if so what purpose does it serve?
Algis Budrys, Rogue Moon (novel, 1960) -- What is personal identity?
Isaac Asimov, The Gods Themselves (novel, 1972) -- What is personal identity?
Theodore Sturgeon, Maturity (short stories, 1947-1958) -- What is the purpose of life? What is a well-lived life?
Lewis Padgett, “Mimsy Were the Borogoves” (short story, 1943) -- Are other conceptual schemes possible?
Eric Rücker Eddison, The Worm Ouroboros (novel, 1922) -- Nietzsche and the myth of the eternal return -- the heaviest thought.
G. K. Chesterton, The Man Who Was Thursday (novel, 1908) -- Theodicy -- why would a good God allow evil?
Alice Bradley Sheldon / James Tiptree, Jr., “A Momentary Taste of Being” (short story, 1975) -- biology and the purpose of life.
List from Simon Evnine (Associate Professor of Philosophy, University of Miami):
Octavia Butler, Parable of the Sower (novel, 1993). Gender roles, and the significance of empathy in discharging our responsibilities for each other.
Michael Flynn, Eifelheim (novel, 2006). Aliens appear in a medieval German village; a deep reflection on love and sacrifice.
Russell Hoban, Riddley Walker (novel, 1980). Hermeneutics: In the far future, a story about people trying to make sense of their distant past (us), told in an invented dialect that makes it equally a problem for us to make sense of them.
Liz Jensen, The Uninvited (novel, 2012). The nature of the adult world, and its relation to children and the future.
Ann Leckie, Ancillary Justice (novel, 2013). Having a divided mind, and the existence of social divisions, take on a whole new meaning when agents are composed of multiple people.
Ursula Le Guin, The Left Hand of Darkness (novel, 1969). The meaning of gender is explored when a male protagonist comes to a planet inhabited by humans who change their gender naturally.
Doris Lessing, The Fifth Child (novel, 1988). How do we deal with the intolerable when we have an obligation to care for it?
Vernor Vinge, A Fire Upon the Deep (novel, 1992). A story involving a variety of kinds of minds, including transcendent minds, human minds infused by transcendent minds, and group minds.
Sarah Waters, The Little Stranger (novel, 2009). How well do we know ourselves?
Gene Wolfe, The Book of the New Sun (4 novels, 1983). A haunting work about the experience of finitude.
Ursula Le Guin, Left Hand of Darkness (novel, 1969). Explores a society where its inhabitants do not have a gender.
Daniel F Galouye, Dark Universe (novel, 1961). What's it like to be blind, not just to be blind but to live in a world where everyone is blind and relies on echolocation?
Daniel F. Galouye, Simulacron-3 (novel, 1964). There are several books and movies on the brains in a vat/deceiving demon theme (e.g., most famously, The Matrix), but if I had to pick a favorite, this would be it.
Roger Zelazny, Lord of Light (novel, 1967). Features naturalistic versions of Hindu gods and reincarnation. Can the status quo be challenged by introducing Buddhism?
Robert Heinlein, The Moon Is a Harsh Mistress (novel, 1966). Heinlein's lunar society exhibits his libertarian ideas, as well as the view that there's no such thing as a free lunch (expressed in the awkward acronym TANSTAAFL)
Robert Heinlein, “Jerry Was a Man” (short story, 1947). Ponders the issue of human rights for nonhuman animals and what it means for someone to be human, with the protagonist, a genetically-modified chimpanzee.
Richard Garfinkle, Celestial Matters (novel, 1996). Assumes that ancient science describes accurately how the world works - so we have things like Aristotelian physics, spontaneous generation, taoist Chinese alchemy, and geocentrism with real spheres in space.
Daniel Keyes, Flowers for Algernon (novel, 1966). On personal identity and mental disability.
P.D. James, Children of Men (novel, 1992). Social criticism and theological reflection focusing on the results of mass infertility.
Richard Matheson, I Am Legend (novel, 1954). If you're the last surviving human in a vampire-apocalypse, does it make sense to want to survive? And who is the monster, to be feared, in a new world populated by vampires?
Wow, now I want to read (and watch) all this stuff!Guess I'll start here.
As before, readers are encouraged to add further suggestions in the comments section.
October 6: The third batch of lists.
List from Johan De Smedt (post-doc in philosophy, Ghent University):
Battlestar Galactica: Home, part 2 (TV series, 2005-2006): What is the identity of beings (cylons) that always reincarnate upon death, and that have several clones living concurrently (some friendly to humans, others hostile to them)?
Jack Vance, The Languages of Pao (novel, 1957): sketches a universe in which a strong version of the Sapir-Whorf hypothesis is true.
Richard Cowper, The Twilight of Briareus (novel, 1974): universal infertility and the fate of humanity/human cultures if there is no next generation, a trope that has been taken on by several other books (also P.D. James's Children of Men, Brian Aldiss's Greybeard).
Robert A. Heinlein, Job: A comedy of justice (novel, 1984): C.S. Lewis meets David Lewis. A literalist interpretation of the Book of Job playing out across multiple actualized possible worlds.
Stephenie Meyer, Breaking Dawn (novel, 2008): sketches the perfect postmortem human body as outlined in the hereafter of e.g., Aquinas.
Richard Adams, Watership Down (novel, 1972): alien society at the bottom of the food chain (rabbits!), experiments in diverse political systems, and the role of religion (prophecy, adherence to culture hero) in political decision making.
Joss Whedon, Serenity (movie, 2005): How far can a government go to enforce its ideals upon its citizens (follow up of the space Western television series Firefly)?
Joe Haldeman The Forever War (novel, 1974): two species are sucked into an interstellar war against unknowable enemies with an incomprehensible psyche. Human veterans have to adapt to cultures with norms that are ever more remote from the society they originate from.
Daniel F. Galouye, Dark Universe (novel, 1961): about perception in a post-apocalyptic underground world without light (some cultures use echolocation, others have adapted to infrared seeing).
Daniel F. Galouye, Simulacron-3 (novel, 1964): the ultimate brains-in-a-vat/evil demon story, superior to and predating The Matrix.
Jonathan Glazer, Under the Skin (movie, 2013).Terrifying meditation on different kinds of meat, alien and human, inhabiting different kinds of skin.
Spike Jonze, Her (movie, 2013). The single most believable cinematic portrayal of the quotidian consequences of AGI.
George F. Slavin and Stanley Adams, “The Mark of Gideon,” Star Trek original series (TV episode, 1969). Wonderful example of the way manipulating frames of epistemological reference can drive human behaviour.
Frank Herbert, Dune (novel, 1965). Famed meditation on individual exceptionality, politics, and religion.
Frank Herbert and Bill Ransom, The Jesus Incident (novel, 1979). The real story of the real Pandora (as opposed to James Cameron’s imperialistic pastiche), pitting organic and technological intelligences at multiple levels.
Paul Verhoeven (and Edward Neumeier), Starship Troopers (movie, 1997). The fascistic tropes of American military narratives spoofed too well to be appreciated by American critics or audiences.
Larry Niven and Jerry Pournelle, The Mote In God’s Eye (movie, 1974). First contact, not so much between species, as between technical intelligences (corresponding to the angels and devils of our own scientific natures).
William Gibson, Neuromancer (novel, 1984). Watershed novel credited with euthanizing the Myth of Progess in science fiction.
Cormac McCarthy, The Road (novel, 2006). The culinary fate of intentionality après le Deluge.
Scott Bakker, Neuropath (novel, 2008). Because everybody’s gotta eat, Semantic Apocalypse or no!
List from Jonathan Kaplan (Associate Professor of Philosophy, Oregon State University):
Michael Coney, The Celestial Steam Locomotive and Gods of the Greataway (novels, 1983, 1984). An adventure story in which various kinds of (post-)humans work together to achieve various ends, only some of which they understand. What is it to be human? to be a person? How should we think about choice and alternative possibilities?
Philip K. Dick, A Scanner Darkly (novel, 1977). (The 2006 movie adaptation is quite faithful to the book.) An undercover drug enforcement agent loses touch with reality. Who are we, when we pretend to be who we are not? To whom do we owe loyalty?
Philip K. Dick, Flow My Tears, the Policeman Said (novel, 1974). In a police state, a TV star wakes up to find he is now a nobody. What is "reality," and whose reality matters?
Harlan Ellison, "Shatterday" (short story, 1980). A man discovers that he has split in two. What if there was another you? What if the other you was a better person? What is it to be decent human being, and why does it matter?
William Gibson, "The Winter Market" (short story, 1985). A producer works directly with artists' emotions. Does this imply anything about consciousness? About the nature of our experiences? What is art? Some reflection on the potential for immortality.
Ann Leckie, Ancillary Justice (novel, 2013). An embodied fragment of an AI seeks revenge. How should we think about personal identity and responsibility in the case of distributed entities? Does this have any implications for thinking about ourselves?
Ursula K. Le Guin, The Dispossessed (novel, 1974). Follows a physicist from an “anarchist” society. Reflections on political systems, morality, political organizing. Do all great dreams fail? Is it the nature of all political systems to decay into bureaucracies, or worse?
Ursula K. Le Guin, "The Word for World is Forrest" (novella, 1972, later expanded to a novel, 1976). A logging camp on another world uses the native species as slave labor. Reflections on colonialism and responsibility, as well as on social change. What is it to be a person? How do (and how should) societies change?
George R. R. Martin, "With Morning Comes Mistfall" (short story, 1973). A scientific expedition comes to debunk to a local myth. Is there a value in leaving things unexplored? Should we want science to answer even the all the questions it can answer? Is there any value in remaining willfully ignorant of what we could easily learn?
Dan Simmons, Phases of Gravity (novel, 1989). The story follows an Apollo astronaut who walked on the moon, as he moves through a world that no longer seems to be moving forward. Where do we find meaning in our lives? How do we reconcile ourselves to the world we find ourselves in?
List from Jonathan Weinberg (Associate Professor of Philosophy, University of Arizona):
Millennium-end movies about skepticism: The Matrix / 13th Floor / Dark City / Existenz (movies, 1998-1999). Existenz may be the best film of that list, but the middle two, though less well-known, each contain interesting sections dramatizing what it really would feel like to slowly come to think that a skeptical hypothesis may actually be true. Some exploration (though not particularly well worked out) of the relationship between memory and personal identity in Dark City as well.
Ridley Scott, Blade Runner (movie, 1982). AI , the problem of other minds... does anyone really need Blade Runner glossed at this point?
Ursula K. LeGuin, "The Ones Who Walk Away from Omelas" (short story, 1973). The problem of evil; one aspect of it I particularly like is that it puts the problem in more human-sized terms, where the readers must ask themselves whether they would be the sort of person described by the title, or not.
David Brin, Kiln People (novel, 2002). What if you could temporarily put your consciousness into a disposable copy of yourself, which could then run various errands for you, and whose consciousness would be re-absorbed by yours after 24 hours? The copies are self-destructing: if they don't re-absorb by 24 hours, then they disintegrate, so in general, the copies strongly identify as the person they are copies of, expecting to live on via the re-absorption. But then again... what if you were such a copy, and you realized that you are now in a circumstance where you won't ever get to rejoin the original? Really interesting exploration of fusion/fission and personal identity; it's written in what one might call the first-person-singular-plural.
The Leftovers (TV series, 2014-present). (I confess I haven't read the book of that title by Tom Perrotta, who is also one of the makers of the show.) The premise is that all of a sudden, at a point about three years before the story starts, about 2% of the world's population just… vanished. Poof. It's kind of like the rapture, except it's clear that the departed people weren't any better than everyone else, and indeed, there doesn't seem to be any pattern to who did or did not vanish. It's maybe a borderline case of the SF/Fantasy genre. What I find compellingly philosophical about it, inter alia, is that it is an exploration of what it would be like to like in a world in which you had evidence that Humean worries about induction really were true. What if the universe did just throw us a massive, inexplicable, unprojectable curve ball? How would we conduct our lives? (For a much, much darker, weirder, and horrifying exploration of the unknowable in sci-fi form, I can recommend Jeff Vandermeer's "Southern Reach" trilogy: Annihilation, Authority, and Acceptance. But I'm not sure I even know how to begin glossing it, frankly. So I'm cheating and helping myself to a parenthetical here.)
China Miéville, Embassytown (novel, 2011). A member of a very small set of sci-fi books where the relevant science is linguistics. It centrally concerns the challenge of communicating with an alien race whose language, among other challenging properties, seems to be one in which one cannot knowingly express a falsehood. (Having learned about lying from the humans, the aliens have a kind of Olympic competition to see who can come as close to lying as possible.)
Neil Gaiman, Murder Mysteries (short story, 1998; graphic novel, 2002). As Heaven enters into late stages of planning for the Creation, an angel is wakened to serve his purpose as Heaven's detective, to investigate the very first murder ever. It plays with both fantasy and noir genres, and is an examination of the problem of evil.
Neil Stephenson, Anathem (novel, 2008). A sci-fi adventure book starring a philosopher-monk-hero, where major plot twists involve the manyworlds interpretation of QM, and debates over Platonism in metaphysics. No, really.
L. Sprague DeCamp, "Aristotle & The Gun" (short story, 1958) - A man travels back to ancient Greece, to try to jump-start the scientific revolution by a millenium or so, with rather unintended consequences.
Susanna Clarke, Jonathan Strange & Mr Norrell (novel, 2004). Set in a version of early 19th century England and Europe in which the English have (re?)discovered magic. Both an interesting exploration of genre (fantasy? alt-history? pastiche of 19th century novels), and an exploration of the philosophical conflict between Englightenment and Romantic takes on modernity, made manifest in the different styles of sorcery of the two title characters.
As before, readers are encouraged to add further suggestions in the comments section.
He's awesome because UCR is the best!
Am I bragging about the successes of UCR students? Well, so be it. As it happens, "The Best Column Ever" about bragging was published today. That makes today Brag (about Your Students and Everything Else) Day. You wish you could write an announcement post with as clever a turn as that one. (Or that one.)
Okay, I admit, that was kind of weak. But still, check out Justin and the Sunstein column.
Suppose you agree. What might you want to read (or watch)?
A couple dozen professional philosophers who enjoy SF, and two SF writers with graduate training in philosophy, have agreed to offer me lists of ten "personal favorite" works of philosophically interesting SF, along with brief "pitches" pointing toward the works' philosophical interest. I'll be rolling out these lists four at a time on the blog. At the end, I will compile a mega-list of all the lists, as well as some observations about the aggregate results.
I emphasize that individuals' lists are not intended as thoroughly researched "top ten" lists -- just suggestions of some works that the contributors have enjoyed and found philosophically engaging.
If you are a professional philosopher (or an SF writer with graduate training in philosophy) and you would like to contribute a list, email me. (Corrections are also welcome.)
Any reader who wishes to add one or more suggested works to the comments section, please feel free!
So, the first four lists:
List from Josh Dever (Associate Professor of Philosophy, University of Texas at Austin):
Mark Danielewski, House of Leaves (novel, 2000). The opening of chapter 4 is a beautiful test case in whether a tiny datum can drive a massive theory change.
Samuel Delany, Dhalgren and Triton (novels, 1975 and 1976). Explorations of just about every imaginable alternative sociological and political structure and theory.
Philip K. Dick, Radio Free Albemuth (novel, 1976). Time stopped in the first century AD, and restarted in 1945. Come up with a theory of time to make that consistent!
Russell Hoban, Riddley Walker (novel, 1980). Like that Star Trek episode “Darmok”, except, you know, good. Also, best post-apocalyptic novel ever by a significant author of children’s literature.
Sigizmund Krzhizhanovsky, “Quadraturin” (short story, 192-something). There’s a superabundance of science fiction about weird physics and metaphysics of time, but a disappointing dearth of the same with space. This is an exception.
Ursula K. Le Guin, “The Author of the Acacia Seeds, and Other Extracts from the Journal of the Association of Therolinguistics” and “The Ones Who Walk Away From Omelas” (short stories, 1982 and 1973). The first: always nice when science fiction remembers that linguistics is a science. The second: a powerful counterexample, but note only to certain forms of consequentialism. Think of it as an argument for good social choice theory.
China Miéville, Embassytown and The City & The City (novels, 2011 and 2009). The first is a fun, if a bit clunky, bit of exploratory philosophy of language. The second is a particularly adventurous instance of exploratory metaphysics.
Thomas Pynchon, Mason & Dixon, Episode 19 (portion of a novel, 1997). The story of the missing eleven days resulting from the transition from the Julian to the Gregorian calendar. More fun metaphysics of time, plus a bit of philosophies of language and gender.
David Foster Wallace, Infinite Jest (novel, 1996). Philosophy by virtue of mentioning “Montague Grammar and the Semantics of Physical Modality”, science fiction by virtue of being set in the Year of the Depend Adult Undergarmet, fun by virtue of including basically everything in between.
H.G. Wells, “The Remarkable Case of Davidson’s Eyes” (short story, 1895). The definitive counterexample to immunity to error through misidentification.
List from Lewis Powell (Assistant Professor of Philosophy at University at Buffalo, SUNY)
Leonard Richardson, Constellation Games (novel, 2012): Aliens make first contact, and Ariel Blum’s first reaction is to hope that they’ll let us play their video games. They do. The novel is much better than this premise would lead you to expect. Examines issues in social/political philosophy concerning scarcity of resources (and post-scarcity societies), anarchism and social organization, the (dis)value of immortality, and the role of art and games in human life.
Ursula K. Le Guin, The Dispossessed (novel, 1974): A gripping story investigating a society that has embraced and internalized a full-blown communalism. Examines issues of privacy and property, and the individual’s relationship to society.
Ursula K. Le Guin, The Left Hand of Darkness (novel, 1969): first contact story about someone encountering a society with radically different manifestations of gender roles, sexuality, and social norms. Examines issues of gender and sexuality, as well as love and friendship.
Ted Chiang, “Hell is the Absence of God” (short story, 2001): Story set in a world where everyone has concrete evidence of the existence of God and an afterlife, but no better understanding of why there is suffering. Examines issues in philosophy of religion, epistemology, the problem of evil and divine hiddenness.
Ted Chiang, “Division By Zero” (short story, 1991): one of the few works I’ve seen of mathematical science fiction (rather than empirical science fiction), impressive treatment of the possibility that arithmetic is inconsistent.
Ted Chiang, “Story of Your Life” / “Evolution of Human Science” (short stories, 1998/2000): These stories are very different, but both raise fascinating questions about the nature of science, the role of humans in science, and the consequences of dealing with scientific progress that exceeds the understanding of individual humans.
PD James/Alfonso Cuaron, The Children of Men (novel, 1992/movie, 2006): While there are a number of plot differences between the film and the book, both do an excellent job of investigating reactions to an existential threat to humanity arising from total infertility.
Star Trek: The Next Generation, “Who Watches the Watchers” / “First Contact” / “Thine Own Self” (tv episodes, 1989/1991/1994): The prime directive (non-interference with less advanced civilizations) is one of the most fascinating elements from Star Trek. These episodes do an excellent job of exploring the ethics of non-interference and undisclosed observation, and raise questions about the withholding of beneficial advances required by it.
Mary Shelley, Frankenstein (novel, 1818): It seems almost unnecessary to list this work, which is such a widely read classic. Shelley’s tale of the “modern Prometheus” does an exceptional job of raising questions about the nature of humanity and the ethics of creating life.
China Miéville, Embassytown (novel, 2011): A novel about people trying to interact with an alien race who think and communicate in a fundamentally different manner than us. A more sophisticated take on this concept than the TNG episode Darmok, and with considerably more interest for philosophers of language.
List from Amy Kind (Professor of Philosophy, Claremont McKenna College) (short stories only):
Isaac Asimov, “Evidence” (1946). Probes the plausibility of the Turing Test.
Jorge Luis Borges, “The Immortal” (1947). An intriguing exploration of why immortality may not be quite what we’d bargained for; pairs well with Bernard Williams’ “The Makropulos Case: Reflections on the Tedium of Immortality.”
Octavia Butler, “Bloodchild” (1995). Explores the nature of gender roles via a story about an alien race who need humans for procreative purposes.
Arthur Clarke, “The Nine Billion Names of God” (1953). Could God’s having a purpose for us provide our lives with meaningfulness?
Greg Egan, “The Infinite Assassin” (1991). How are we related to our counterparts throughout the multiverse?
Lois Gould, “X: A Fabulous Child’s Story” (1972). What role does gender identity play in our lives? What would life be like without it?
Ursula K. Le Guin, “Nine Lives” (1968). What is it like to be a clone? And more specifically, what is it like to have one’s connection to other clones severed after having been raised together with them?
John Morressy, “Except My Life3” (1991). Another story probing questions of identity via consideration of what life might be like when you’re one of a set of closely connected clones.
Norman Spinrad, “The Weed of Time” (1970). What would it be like to experience time in a non-linear fashion?
Roger Zelazny, “For a Breath I Tarry” (1966). A beautiful depiction of a machine’s quest to understand what it is like to be human. (See also Isaac Asimov’s novella, Bicentennial Man and Kurt Vonnegut’s “EPICAC”)
List from Steven Horst (Chair of Philosophy, Wesleyan University)
C.S. Lewis, Space Trilogy (Out of the Silent Planet / Perelandra / That Hideous Strength (novels, 1938-1945). Notable for using the sci-fi genre to explore Christian ideas of the fall, intelligent aliens, angels, celestial intelligences, magic, and the dangers of totalitarianism wrapped in the mantle of science.
Neal Stephenson, The Baroque Cycle (Quicksilver / The Confusion / The System of the World (novels, 2003-2005). Set as historical novels and developed around the core of interactions between Newton and Leibniz, explores the origins of modern systems of science and finance in counterpoint with alchemical memes.
Neal Stephenson, Anathem (novel, 2008). At the risk of a major spoiler, this book explores ideas of the quantum multiverse, with the added bonus that some characters are stand-ins for the views of people like Husserl, Gödel, and Bohr.
Madeline L’Engle, A Wrinkle in Time / A Wind in the Door / A Swiftly Tilting Planet (novels, 1962-1978). This may have been my first introduction to science fiction as a child, and while it is not the most intellectually challenging series about time travel (and dimensional travel, in the case of the memorable Cherubim that is both singular and plural), it is perhaps still the most memorable and endearing.
Andy & Lana Wachowski, The Matrix (movie, 1999). Not only the most influential movie about virtual reality, but one that implicitly poses interesting questions about what counts as “real”, as the Matrix-world is both the world we assume to be reality and is thoroughly intersubjective.
Larry Niven, Ringworld and sequels (novels, starting 1970). An enormous engineered world encircling a distant star provides a context for exploration of the variability of the human phenotype and contrasts with two alien species and a third that turns out to not be as alien as we first imagine.
Star Trek: The Next Generation, “The Measure of a Man” (TV episode, 1989). The trial to determine whether the Android Data is a person or the property of Star Fleet provides the context for an engaging exploration of personhood and artificial life.
Battlestar Galactica (TV series, 2003-2009). Over six seasons, we are drawn into an increasingly complicated dialectic about the original metallic Cylons, the Cylon “skin jobs”, and by implication, the nature of humanity and personhood, as well as some teaser forays into shared virtual reality that were to be explored in the uncompleted prequel series Caprica.
Fred Hoyle, The Black Cloud (novel, 1957). The late British astronomer’s novel starts out looking like a novel about a disaster from deep space, but takes a turn to explore the prospects of communication with an alien intelligence very different from ourselves.
J.R.R. Tolkien, “Ainulindalë” (in The Silmarillion, published 1977). Tolkien’s Neo-Platonic creation myth puts the rest of the stories about Middle Earth in a distinctly different cosmic context, hints of which can be seen in the better-known works only after one has read the cosmic “backstory”.
Second list here.
If so, this might fit nicely with the psychology of genocide and war crimes: Yes, it was wrong, perpetrators often say in interviews after the fact. So (the audience wonders), if you knew it was wrong, why did you do it?! Answer: So many people were doing wrong and getting away with it; others would have done the same in the same situation. Interpretation: I was aiming at mediocrity and I hit the target!
How good do you want to be? Don't try to think about what you would have done in Auschwitz. I doubt most of us can know that. Some closer-to-home thought experiments:
Suppose you think that cheating on taxes is morally wrong, independent of compliance rates and whether one is caught. Suppose, now, that you learn that 20% of tax filers with capital gains income cheat on taxes by underreporting their gains, without being caught. You have capital gains you've been honestly reporting. Do you now feel like a sucker? Or do you proudly stand with the upright 80%? What if you learn that only 1% cheat? What if you learn that most people -- 70%, 95% -- cheat?
Or consider sacrificing luxuries so that you can give to charity, or spending two hours to give blood, or having a secret romantic affair, or cheating on a badly-proctored exam, or doing unpleasant duties at work. If the majority are reaping the benefits of immorality -- or if a non-trivial minority (say 20%) are -- do you join them? Do you want to be more charitable than average and more giving of your time than average and to carry more than the average load of group-supporting duties at work and to be more honest with your spouse and a better parent and a better citizen and and and...? Or is moral mediocrity, when you think about it, actually fine with you, the level to which you really aspire?
You might say: To be better than average in so many ways would be to be a moral saint of sorts -- maybe not even humanly possible. But I don't think that's true. I believe that I know some people who are, across a pretty wide range of dimensions, morally admirable (certainly not perfect). But I don't think many people aspire to be like them.
If this is correct, two further thoughts:
(1.) Maybe it's fine to aspire to moral mediocrity? I don't think most of us like to think ourselves as moral mediocrities. But when I think of all the demands the world puts on us, and all the opportunities to be better that we decline or don't even bother to try to see, I feel considerable sympathy for moral mediocrity. (To be clear: In some situations, such as the Holocaust, I think mediocrity is a moral catastrophe to be avoided even at high personal cost.)
(2.) Part of the idea of mediocrity is that the moral standards are relative to what one sees others doing. So if one wants to change one's calibration, or the calibration of others, one effective way might be to change what sorts of behavior receive attention. Some of the ancient wisdom traditions encourage us to think about positive exemplars -- Confucius, Jesus, Buddha, saints, heroes. Perhaps the more we think about those types of cases, keeping them salient, and because salient perhaps representative, the more we will be inclined to model ourselves after them. (Perhaps.) Conversely, perhaps the typical business ethics or research ethics class, which focuses on analyzing examples of corporate or scientific malfeasance, risks backfiring by creating the impression that the world is full of unpunished cheaters.
P.S.: I write this in the spirit of arguing with myself.
[See also: The Calibration View of Moral Reflection]
First, the established versions:
Transparency 1: Sensory experience. As G.E. Moore and Gilbert Harman have noticed, when you try to attend to your visual experience you (usually? inevitably?) end up attending to external objects instead (or at least in addition). Attend to your experience of the computer screen. In some sense it seems like your attention slips right through the experience itself, lodging upon the screen.
Transparency 2: Attitudes. As Gareth Evans notices, when someone asks you if you think there will be a third world war, you typically answer by thinking about the outside world -- about the likelihood of war -- rather than by turning your attention inward toward your own mental states. More contentiously, thinking about whether you want ice cream also seems to involve, mostly, thinking about the world -- about the advantages and disadvantages of eating ice cream.
In both types of case, you learn about yourself by attending to the outside world. One feature of this metaphor that I especially like is that you can learn about distortions in yourself by noticing features of the world that don't align with your general knowledge. Gazing through a window, if the trees are a weird color, you know the window is tinted; if the trees wiggle around as you shift head position, you know the window is warped. If the lamplights at night radiate spears, you've learned something about distortions in your vision. If your paper is The Best Thing Ever Published, you've learned something about your egocentric bias.
This brings me to:
Transparency 3: Personality. Since I think personality traits and attitudes are basically the same thing, I regard Transparency 3 as a natural extension of Transparency 2. (And since 2 and 1 are also related, maybe we have 1 3/4 kinds of transparency rather than three kinds.) To find out if you're the kind of person who loves children, think about children. To find out if you're an extravert, think about parties. Since your personality colors your view of the world, one way to learn about your personality is to look at a relevant part of the world and notice its color. (You can also consider your past behavior; or directly try a label on for size; or ask friends for their frank opinion of you. Transparency-style reflection on the world isn't the only, or even always a very good, route to self-knowledge.)
This approach might work especially well for the "Big Five" personality trait Agreeableness. "Agreeable" people are those who self-rate, or are rated by others, as being concerned for other people, interested in them, sympathetic, helpful. Several recent studies suggest that people who self-rate as agreeable tend also to be more likely to rate others as agreeable (sympathetic, helpful, etc.), and also to rate other people positively in other ways too, especially if the other person is not very well known. If you're a sweetheart, the world seems to be full mostly of sweethearts and interesting people; if you're a jerk, the world seems to be full of jerks and fools. What I'm proposing to call the transparency approach to self-knowledge of personality simply involves running this observation the other direction: From the fact that the world seems full of uninteresting and disagreeable people, infer that you are a disagreeable person; from the fact that the world seems full of warm, loving, interesting people, infer that you are a relatively sympathetic, concerned person.
Now it would be really interesting if it turned out that these sorts of perceiver effects were actually better predictors of underlying personality as constituted by patterns of real-world behavior than are the typical self-rating scales used in personality psychology -- but it's probably too much to hope that the world would align so neatly with my own theoretical biases. (Hm, what does that last judgment reveal about my personality?)
First, some pretty pictures, then some explanations. I can't embed the hi-res pictures properly in this narrow-column post, so please right-click to "open link in new tab" for the full view, then zoom in and out, scrolling around. If you want pictures hi-res enough to read even the smallest font entries, I've posted them here, here, and here.
First, SEP cited authors:
The closer two authors or articles are, the closer together they are in the social/intellectual network, as measured by overlap in citation. For authors, they are closer if they tend to be cited together in the same entries. For articles, they are closer if they tend to cite the same authors.
For the authors, the larger the font, the more they have been cited. The transition of label colors from black to blue to purple to red indicates increasing "centrality" to the network, where "centrality" is a combination of three factors: (a.) how much the author (or, for articles, the authors it cites) is cited in other SEP entries, (b.) how much the author is cited by more "central" articles specifically, and (c.) the extent to which an author or article constitutes a "short path" between more remote nodes (e.g., Popper and Putnam on the path between the philosophy-of-mind cluster and the philosophy-of-science cluster, being cited in both areas). Citation rate and centrality tend to correlate but sometimes diverge, as in the case of Sartre and Nagel (middle center of the authors graph), with Nagel more cited but Sartre more central.
In the articles graph, font size and color indicate how many references the article includes; in the other graphs, the articles' font has been minimized.
Finally, here's a picture of the network broken down into six groups of authors and articles, determined by network proximity, using a modularity measure that detects the most natural groupings of nodes (labeled manually based on Higgins's judgment about the general theme of each group). Line thickness and color represents the strength of the between-group connections. Numbers and node size indicate the number of authors and articles represented by each group. :
If you have questions about how the results were generated, please feel free to contact Andrew directly. I'm hoping, too, that he'll check the comments section of this post for the next week or two.
Update, September 24:
Check out this one too, from InPho DataBlog in 2012 (HT Colin Allen).
See here. The last MacArthur "genius" fellowship awarded to someone they classified as philosopher was in 1993.
On the whole, scholars outside of philosophy tend, I think, not to see much value in what most professional philosophers do. The MacArthur drought is one reflection and measure of that.
Not that prizes matter. Sheesh. We're too busy thinking about important stuff like whether the external world exists (82% of target faculty agree that it does). The MacArthur folks probably think that climate change is a more important topic. But if the external world doesn't exist then the climate can't change, can it now? So there!
One interesting thing about analyzing abstracts is that mentioning someone in an abstract implies a high degree of attention to that person -- much higher than is implied by a passing reference (the usual target of bibliometric analysis). Moreover, if the abstract contains a pronoun, that implies that the person is being mentioned at least twice in the course of summarizing the article's content (first with proper name, then later with pronoun).
Here are the ratios in a graph:
In the 1940s, there were 293 abstracts containing the word "he" and 5 containing the word "she", a ratio of 59:1. So far in the present decade it's 5465 to 883, about 6:1 -- a large and fairly steady decline. However, even corrected to a logarithmic scale, it looks like the decline might be slowing (it's hard to be sure).
What does a 6:1 current ratio of "he" to "she" indicate? To explore this a bit more, I looked at usage patterns in 2013, randomly selecting 100 articles containing "he" and 100 articles containing "she".
Among the 100 "she" usages in 2013, 37 employed "she" with apparent generic, gender-neutral intent (e.g., "whenever an agent acts, she tries or wills to act"); 47 referred to a specific individual (usually a contemporary author whose view was being discussed); 8 used the phrase "he or she" or "he/she"; 6 were third-person references to the author herself; and 2 referred to a non-specific woman (e.g., to the mother in an article on surrogate pregnacy).
Among the 100 "he" usages, 7 employed "he" with apparent gender-neutral intent (e.g., "a doxastic state comprises the doxastic commitments an agent would recognise were he fully aware"); 86 referred to a specific individual (contemporary or historical); 2 used "he or she" or "he/she"; 2 were third-person references to the author himself; and 3 referred to God.
If we take these two 100-samples from 2013 as representative of the current decade, then we can multiply back by total occurrences in 2010-2014 to estimate a couple of interesting frequencies. 54.65 x 86 = an estimated 4700 occasions, so far this decade, in which a man's work is discussed centrally enough in the abstract for the author to employ the pronoun, compared to 8.83 x 47 = an estimated 415 occurrences for women -- about an 11:1 ratio of discussions of men to discussions of women. Thus, we can see that that the 6:1 ratio was actually somewhat misleadingly egalitarian if taken as a measure of discussion targets, due to fact that about half of the occurrences of "she" in the abstracts were using the generic "she" or "he or she".
(I also examined the 5 "she" abstracts and a random 100 "he" abstracts from the 1940s. "She" referred to an individual once, was used in a general "he or she" once, and was a third-person reference to the author 3 times. "He" was used with apparent gender-neutral intent 4 times, in a "he or she" once, to refer to a specific individual 17 times, and to refer to the author himself 78 times. In the 1940s, abstracts were much more likely to be written in the third person, and they were generally shorter, offering less occasion for a pronoun reference to an individual who is a target of discussion.)
We can also compare rates of generic "he" and "she" usage in the 2010s. It looks like "he" and "she" as (supposedly) gender-neutral pronouns are about equally common in current philosophical usage, while "he or she" and "he/she" were about half as common: "he" 54.65 x 7 = est. 383; vs. "she" 8.83 x 37 = est. 323; vs. "he or she"/"he/she" 54.65 x 2 + 8.83 x 8 = est. 180. (My sample contained no instances of "she or he" or "she/he".)
"They", of course, is more clearly gender neutral, though the formal propriety of its use in the singular remains unfortunately controversial, and I could find no clear instances of the singular "they" used in a sample of 100 "they"-containing abstracts from 2013 (e.g., no usages like "a doxastic state comprises the doxastic commitments an agent would recognise were they fully aware").
On Friday Sept. 5, Chancellor Dirks of UC Berkeley circulated an open statement to his campus community that sought to define the limits of appropriate debate at Berkeley. Issued as the campus approaches the 50th anniversary of the Free Speech Movement, Chancellor Dirks' statement, with its evocation of civility, echoes language recently used by the Chancellor of the University of Illinois, Urbana and the Board of Trustees of the University of Illinois (especially its Chair Christopher Kennedy) concerning the refused appointment of Steven Salaita. It also mirrors language in the effort by the University of Kansas Board of Regents to regulate social media speech and the Penn State administration's new statement on civility. Although each of these administrative statements have responded to specific local events, the repetitive invocation of "civil" and "civility" to set limits to acceptable speech bespeaks a broader and deeper challenge to intellectual freedom on college and university campuses.
CUCFA Board has been gravely concerned about the rise of this discourse on civility in the past few months, but we never expected it to come from the Chancellor of UC Berkeley, the birthplace of the Free Speech Movement. To define “free speech and civility” as “two sides of the same coin,” and to distinguish between “free speech and political advocacy” as Chancellor Dirk does in his text, not only turns things upside down, but it does so in keeping with a relentless erosion of shared governance in the UC system, and the systemic downgrading of faculty’s rights and prerogatives. Chancellor Dirks errs when he conflates free speech and civility because, while civility and the exercise of free speech may coexist harmoniously, the right to free speech not only permits, but is designed to protect uncivil speech. Similarly, Chancellor Dirks is also wrong when he affirms that there exists a boundary between “free speech and political advocacy” because political advocacy is the apotheosis of free speech, and there is no “demagoguery” exception to the First Amendment.
Before the slippery slope of civility discourse we remark that the right to free speech is not limited to allowing the act of speaking or engaging in communicative actions to express ideas publicly, nor is it contingent on the notion that anyone else needs to listen, agree, speak back, or “feel safe.” The right to free speech is constituted through prohibitions on the infringement of speech by the state and other public institutions and officials. Moreover, while civility is an ideal—and a good one—free speech is a right. The right to free speech does not dissipate because it is exercised in un-ideal (un-civil) ways.
Second, we underline that the right to freely speak on public and institutional issues is one of the three pillars of academic freedom. Academic freedom is a specific—though not exclusive—right of professors. The three pillars of academic freedom that extend to individual members of the professorate are: (1) the freedom to conduct and disseminate scholarly research; (2) the freedom to design courses and teach students in the areas of their expertise; and (3) the right to free speech as laid out in the 1940 Statement of Principles of Tenure and Academic Freedom which in this context prohibits the professional penalization of professors for extramural speech. Ensuing from academic freedom is the right and duty of faculty to decide, collaboratively and individually, standards and thresholds for teaching and research, without interference from administrators, alumni, or donors. Those determinations are based on standards of scholarly excellence and achievement, which manifest through hiring, academic publishing, and peer review processes in which an individual’s academic record is judged by peers. Those who administer institutions of higher learning bear a responsibility for the protection of academic freedom, which includes free speech in the ways described here.
The University of California bears an especial burden to respect these rights. For the rights of academic freedom and the 1st Amendment right to free speech cohere in a way peculiar to a public university. As a public university the University of California is called upon to affirm not only the guild rights of Academic Freedom but the more expansive rights of the 1st Amendment—which after all, are possessed by students and staff as well as faculty.
On the basis of all of the above, CUCFA Board deems necessary to release the following declaration and to ask its members, and all UC faculty to press their Senates to pass it as a resolution:
Taking note of the concurrent rapid growth in non-academic administrative positions in most colleges and universities and the significant reductions in state/government funding for public universities during the last decade,
Concerned by numerous accounts across the United States of senior administrators, management, boards of trustees, regents and other non-academic bodies attempting to influence, supervise and in some cases over-rule academic hiring, tenure and promotion decisions, as well as policy and evaluatory decisions traditionally under the purview of Academic Senate and other faculty bodies,
Concerned further by the attempts of senior administrators in the UC system and at many universities across the United States to narrow the boundaries of academic freedom and permissible speech by faculty, students and other members of the university community, and, in particular by the inappropriate and misleading appeal to concepts like “civility” and “collegiality,” deceptively used to limit the “right” to free speech, and as criteria for hiring, tenure, promotion and even disciplinary procedures,
That all professional evaluations related to hiring, tenure, and promotions of either present or potential faculty are the sole purview of designated committees composed of faculty members, department chairs, and deans as peers and/or academic supervisors of anyone under review and/or evaluation,
That senior campus and University/system-wide administrators, as well as Regents and other governing boards, or donors to the university and/or its foundation(s), do not have any right to interfere in these processes, and that final decisions on appointment and promotion must be based solely on information in the candidate's file that is related to established categories of teaching, research, and service and that has been added by established procedures of peer academic review.
That we oppose any insinuation that civility, per se, be added either formally or informally as a valid category in the academic personnel process, as well as any attempt by external parties, including donors to the university, government officials, or other forces, to interfere in any personnel decisions, especially through the threat of withholding donations or investments should certain academic policies or personnel decisions be made.
(CUCFA -- The Council of University of California Faculty Associations -- is a coordinating and service agency for the several individual Faculty Associations -- associations of UC Senate faculty -- on the separate campuses of the University of California, and it represents them to all state- or university-wide agencies on issues of common concern. It gathers and disseminates information on issues before the legislative and executive branches of California's government, other relevant state units dealing with higher education, the University administration, and the Board of Regents.)
Personal note: I [ES] think the final clause is too strongly put, if it's intended to express the view that civility should never be a factor in hiring decisions. In my view, it's sometimes reasonable, in hiring, to consider factors like collegiality and the type of classroom atmosphere that a professor encourages, and civility can sometimes be a factor in that.
At first blush, Zhuangzi might seem an unlikely critic of ableism (prejudice against people with disabilities). Two of the most visible recent Anglophone interpreters of Chinese philosophy, A.C. Graham and P.J. Ivanhoe both defend "skillfulness" interpretations of Zhuangzi, according to which what Zhuangzi most values is a kind of skillful responsiveness to the world that goes beyond what can be captured in words -- like the skill of a diver or a master wheelwright. You might think, then, that Zhuangzi's ideal would be the renowned, competitive athlete or the strong, healthy, elite craftworker (cf. early Yangism which emphasizes preserving the body; N.B. neither Graham nor Ivanhoe take the skillfulness interpretation in this direction).
I've criticized the skillfulness interpretation of Zhuangzi twice already on this blog. What I want to highlight now is how frequently Zhuangzi offers disabled people as positive exemplars, and how that might connect to his views about skill and conventional values.
The number of physically disabled exemplars is quite striking, given the brevity of the core text (Ch. 1-7). Here are some (Ziporyn, trans., with a couple modifications):
* When Gongwen Xuan saw the Commander of the Right he was astonished. "What manner of man are you, that you are so singularly one-legged? Is this the doing of Heaven or of man?" He answered, "It is of Heaven, not man. When Heaven generates any 'this,' it always makes it singular, but man groups every appearance with something else" (3.6). * In the expiation ceremony, cows with white spots, pigs with upturned snouts, and humans with hemorrhoids are considered unfit to be offered as sacrifices to the river god. All shamans know this, and they thus regard these as creatures of bad fortune. But this is exactly why the Spirit Man regards them as creatures of very good fortune indeed! (4.18) * Now Shu the Discombobulated was like this: his chin was tucked into his navel, his shoulders towered over the crown of his head, his ponytail pointed toward the sky, his five internal organs were at the top of him, his thigh bones took the place of his ribs. With sewing and washing, he could make enough to fill his mouth.... When the authorities called for troops... his chronic condition exempted him from service. When the authorities handed out rations to the disabled, he got three large measures of grain and ten bundles of firewood. A discombobulated physical form was sufficient to allow him to nourish his body... And how much more can be accomplished with discombobulated Virtue! (4.18) * In the state of Lu there was a man called Wang Tai whose foot had been chopped off as a punishment. Yet somehow he had as many followers are Confucius himself. Chang Ji questioned Confucius about it. "Wang Tai is a one-footed ex-con, and yet his followers divide the state of Lu with you, Master. When he stands he offers no instructions, and when he sits he gives no opinions. And yet, they go to him empty and return filled.... What kind of man is he?" Confucius said, "That man... is a sage. Only my procrastination has kept me from going to follow him myself" (5.1-5.2) * "Many two-footed people laugh at me for having one foot, which always used to infuriate me. But as soon as I arrived here at our master's place, my rage fell away.... I have studied under him for nineteen years and never once have I been aware that I was one-footed. Here you and I wander together beyond shapes and bodies -- is it not wrong of you to seek me within a particular body and shape?" (5.12) * Duke Ai of Lu consulted with Confucius, saying, "There's this ugly man in Wei named Horsehead Humpback. When men are with him, they can think of nothing else and find themselves unable to depart. When women see him, they plead with their parents, saying they would rather be this man's concubine than any other man's wife.... And yet he's never been heard to initiate anything of his own with them, instead just chiming in with whatever they're already doing. He has no position of power... and no stash of wealth... and on top of that he's ugly enough to startle all the world.... In the end I prevailed upon him to accept control of the state. But before long he left me and vanished. I was terribly depressed, as if a loved one had died, unable to take any pleasure in my power. What kind of man is this?" (5.13). * Suddenly, Ziyu took ill. Ziji went to see him. Ziyu said, "How great is the Creator of Things, making me all tangled up like this!" For his chin was tucked into his navel, his shoulders towered over the crown of his head, his ponytail pointed toward the sky.... He hobbled over to the well to get a look at his reflection. "Wow!" he said. "The Creator of Things has really gone and tangled me up!" Ziji said, "Do you dislike it?" Ziyu said, "Not at all. What is there to dislike? Perhaps he will transform my left arm into a rooster; thereby I'll be announcing the dawn.... Perhaps he will transform my ass into wheels and my spirit into a horse; thereby I'll be riding along -- will I need any other vehicle?" (6.39)Now you might or you might not like how Zhuangzi is portraying disability in these passages; regardless it's clear that disability plays a substantial role in Zhuangzi's thinking.
I believe that Zhuangzi's positive portrayal of disabled people is of a piece with his positive portrayal of other disvalued groups in his era, including women, criminals, members of remote tribes, and people practicing the "lower" crafts, and that this in turn fits with his rejection of conventional evaluations generally, including the conventional evaluations of the four main schools of thought to which he reacted: the Confucians (valuing duty to family and state), the Mohists (valuing usefulness and practical benefit), the Yangists (valuing health and long life), and the logicians (valuing clear categorization and rational thought).
But I think Zhuangzi's emphasis on disability also has a specific connection to what I view as his critique of skill. Skillful action implies a standard of success and failure; and Zhuangzi is suspicious of such standards. The weasel is great at catching rats, but ends up dead in a net (1.14); Huizi was a great master of logic and Zhao Wen of the zither, but it is not clear whether they really accomplished anything worthwhile (2.27); archery contests start as tests of skill but devolve into wrangling (4.14). So what is successful by one standard fails by another. It's not that all these activities fail by the one true, absolute standard. Rather, there is no one true, absolute standard for Zhuangzi. Zhuangzi even repeatedly challenges the general assumption that life is preferable to death (3.7, 6.25, 6.46-47, 2.41 ["How do I know that in hating death I am not like an orphan who left home in youth and no longer knows the way back?"]).
By presenting disabled people as equal to or even superior to the non-disabled people around them, Zhuangzi is challenging conventional ideas about success and failure, about what is good and what is bad, and about what skills and abilities are worth having.
Zhuangzi also gives us this striking story about trying to force a standard appearance and set of abilities upon an unusual person:
The emperor of the southern sea was called Swoosh. The emperor of the northern sea was called Oblivion. The emperor of the middle was called Chaos. Swoosh and Oblivion would sometimes meet in the territory of Chaos, who always attended to them quite well. They decided to repay Chaos for his virtue. "All men have seven holes in them, by means of which they see, hear, eat, and breathe," they said. "But this one alone has none. Let's drill him some." So each day they drilled another hole. After seven days, Chaos was dead (7.14-15).It is on this note that the Inner Chapters, the authentic core of the Zhuangzi, ends.
Revised Sept. 11
Now I was all set today to work up some speculations on why philosophy is so different from the other humanities and social sciences in this regard (a favorite hypothesis: a disciplinary addiction to the cult of genius plus a high degree of implicit bias in anointing geniuses). Then I went to the Survey of Earned Doctorates to look up some of the raw data. There, I found that the overwhelming whiteness of philosophy is not so unusual among the humanities, if one digs down into the subfield data.
Since I suspect some other philosophers might also be surprised to discover this, I thought I'd aggregate the three most recent years' data by humanities subfield (U.S. citizens and permanent residents only), considering only subfields with consistent SED classifications across the period and excluding general and catch-all categories.
Starting with philosophy we see:
These data thus stand in sharp contrast to the gender data, where philosophy is unusual among the humanities in remaining overwhelmingly male. Philosophy is joined by French, German, and Italian literature, English literature, classics, European history, archaeology, and music theory in being mostly non-Hispanic white folks.
Now in a way it's not too surprising that the study of German and Greek literature, European history, etc., should tend to disproportionately attract white folks. After all, the average white person probably identifies with such literatures and histories as part of her own ethnic or cultural heritage more than does the average non-white person. Perhaps, then, the best explanation of the overwhelming whiteness of philosophy is similar: Despite aspiring to be a broad, topically-driven inquiry into fundamental questions about truth, knowledge, beauty, and morality, perhaps philosophy as currently practiced in the U.S. is experienced by students as something closer to the study of a piece of ethnically European cultural history.
Also see:Why Don't We* Know Our Chinese Philosophy?Citation of Women and Ethnic Minorities in the Stanford Encyclopedia of PhilosophyandSEP Citation Analysis Continued: Jewish, Non-Anglophone, Queer, and Disabled Philosophers.
I can't wait for the book.
Bloom argues against giving empathy a central role in normative moral psychology. But by defining "empathy" somewhat narrowly, he perhaps makes his thesis a little easier to defend, and less radical, than if he were to come out against strong feelings of compassion generally.
The boycott arose after Steven Salaita, who had been scheduled to start teaching at UIUC this term, was summarily dismissed by the chancellor of UIUC in the wake of some controversial tweets about Israel and Zionism. (His contract had not been completely finalized yet; sometimes they aren't until after one has already started teaching.) His old tweets can be found here.
Much has been said on both sides (e.g., against Salaita 1, 2, 3; in defense of Salaita 1, 2, 3). My opinion is that the pro-boycott case is stronger than the anti-boycott case: Salaita's tweets were not sufficient grounds for the chancellor's extreme and unusual action; and even if they were sufficient to justify revoking his position, Salaita did not receive due process. A strong response is warranted.
However, I do feel compelled to add two points that haven't been as clearly acknowledged by the pro-boycott side as I would have liked to see:
(1.) Given the recent and not-so-recent history of extreme violence against Jews and journalists, reasonable people reading Salaita's tweets might understandably be upset to see these public statements coming from a senior scholar in a position of trust and authority -- even if carefully reading the tweets in context might show them to be less hateful than they at first seem.
(2.) The argument that the UIUC chancellor behaved wrongly in canceling Salaita's appointment is not identical to the argument that a boycott is the best response. A boycott sends a strong statement; but it also harms many people who have done no wrong. I believe that graduate students are especially harmed, since interacting with visiting scholars and speakers is central to their education, exposing them to views other than their professors' own and putting them in contact with the larger scholarly community.
With heavy heart, I am honoring the boycott. I have canceled my talk and abandoned my conference plans.
Okay, I'm a dork. I want to apologize right away for this list, for two reasons, but then also excuse myself for two reasons.
First apology: It's a little weird for me to occupy space in a philosophy blog with talk about science fiction magazines. I know! Excuse: I've come to think that science fiction, and other types of "speculative fiction" (e.g., Borges), is an interesting and valuable way to explore the metaphysical, ethical, and epistemological dimensions of various "what-if" possibilities. The concreteness of speculative fiction, and the way the stories engage the emotions and imagination, has I think both epistemic virtues (you think through the specific scenario somewhat better) and shortcomings (you might be too influenced by particular incidental features). Serious speculative fiction belongs in the philosopher's toolbox.
Second apology: It's silly to take rankings like this very seriously; and also, in certain respects, such rankings tend to reinforce the privilege of the status quo. Excuse: However, in another respect, lists level the playing field. I've started publishing science fiction, and until recently I had no idea where to send things. So I started looking at the original venues for some of the stories I liked in the "Best of" anthologies I'd been reading. This seemed better than just searching "science fiction magazines" on the web and seeing what popped up. The list below is really just a systematization of my efforts, as an outsider without word-of-mouth connections. It magnifies the advantage of insiders if outsiders are at sea about what is read and respected by those at the top of the sci-fi publishing hierarchy. (The SFWA list of qualifying markets isn't necessarily a good guide.)
Okay, I know, I'm still a dork. Feel free to stop reading now, lest you become a dork too!
Method and Caveats:
1. Asimov's (197 hits)2. Fantasy & Science Fiction (146)3. Subterranean (47) (started 2007)4. Clarkesworld (43) (started 2006)5. Analog (38)6. Tor.com (33) (started 2008)7. Strange Horizons (32)8. Interzone (31)9. SciFiction (26) (ceased 2005)10. Lightspeed (25) (started 2010)11. Fantasy Magazine (16) (started 2005, merged into Lightspeed, 2012)12. Postscripts (11)13. Jim Baen's Universe (10) (ran 2006-2010)13. Realms of Fantasy (10) (ceased 2011)15. Apex (6) (started 2005)16. Helix SF (5) (ran 2006-2008)17. Beneath Ceaseless Skies (4) (started 2008)17. Electric Velocipede (4) (ceased 2013)19. Black Gate (3)19. Black Static (3) (started 2007)19. Cosmos (3) (started 2005)19. Flurb (3) (ran 2006-2012)19. The New Yorker (3)19. GigaNotoSaurus (3) (started 2010)25. Aeon Speculative Fiction (2) (ceased 2008)25. Conjunctions (2)25. Futurismic (2) (ceased 2010)25. Lone Star Stories (2) (ceased 2009)25. Weird Tales (2) (off and on throughout period) --------------------------------------------------
Two things are immediately striking about this list:
First, really just a few magazines dominate the nominations and "best of" selections -- especially Asimov's and F&SF;. Given the chanciness and subjectivity and imperfections of the submission and selection process, and given the fact that excellent authors might sometimes prefer venues other than the top few on this list, I find it difficult to believe that those few magazines really have that proportion of the highest quality stories. Almost half of the hits are from the top two, and 83% are from the top ten. And there are very good magazines that don't appear on this list at all (Nature's "Futures" series, Lady Churchill's Rosebud Wristlet, Daily Science Fiction, Flash Fiction Online, Abyss & Apex...).
The graph below captures this distribution visually (click to enlarge):
[BTW, the Pushcart Rankings served as a partial model.]
Update, Aug. 20:
In the comments, Sean Wallace suggests re-analyzing with a five-year window to see if the dominance patterns are shifting. The results, through 5 hits:
1. Asimov's (100) 2. F&SF; (66) 3. Clarkesworld (42) 3. Subterranean (42) 5. Tor.com (33) 6. Lightspeed (25) 7. Interzone (21) 8. Strange Horizons (18) 9. Analog (16) 10. Fantasy (14) 11. Apex (6) 11. Postscripts (6) 12. Realms of Fantasy (5)
Not radically different, though as Sean suggests, it does show some broadening away from Asimov's and F&SF; toward others in the top ten.
Second update, Aug. 20:
Following another suggestion of Sean's, I looked at five and ten years' selections of novelettes and short stories from the Locus Recommended Reading List (no novellas this time).
Over a five-year window, the spread is considerably flatter than my original ten-year list above, with the number one Asimov's (60) approximately doubling the number 5 Subterranean (25) and five times the number 10 Beneath Ceaseless skies (13). Also Intergalatic Medicine Show, Interfictions, Nightmare, The Dark, and Tin House now appear (2-3 hits each).
Over a ten-year window, the top-ranked magazines start to pull away again, with Asimov's (164) and F&SF; (142) well ahead of the 3rd to 7th ranked (all 31-40 hits). Magazines on this list that are not mentioned above are Argosy, MIT Techology Review, Harper's, and Lady Churchill's Rosebud Wristlet (2-3 hits each).
See The Underblog for my full Locus ranking lists.
In 2001, I published a piece in the American Philosophical Association's Newsletter on the Status of Asian & Asian-American Philosophers & Philosophies. In light of my recent reflections about the visibility of non-Western philosophy and philosophers, and especially this remarkable piece from an Asian-American who left philosophy, I thought I'd reproduce a revised version of the essay here. I've appended two new substantive notes at the end.
Why Don't We Know Our Chinese Philosophy?
APA Newsletter on the Status of Asian & Asian-American Philosophers & Philosophies, 1 (2001), 26-27; revised 2014.
Philosophers in the United States have all heard of Confucius (Kongzi) and Laozi (Lao Tzu). Some have also heard of their approximate contemporaries in classical China: Mencius (Mengzi), Zhuangzi (Chuang Tzu), Mozi (Mo Tzu), Xunzi (Hsün Tzu), and Han Feizi (Han Fei Tzu). So why haven't most of us read any of their works?
Are they not really philosophers? Even applying the narrowest criteria for what counts as a "philosopher", it would be strange to deny that Mozi and Xunzi are philosophers. Both produced long, discursive works on ethics and political philosophy; both support their views with reasoned arguments; both offer counter-arguments to opponents' views. Han Feizi is similar in structure, though more narrowly focused, like Machiavelli, on advice for achieving political power. Mencius and Zhuangzi did not write in standard philosophical essay format, but both offer persuasive arguments for positions in ethics, political philosophy, philosophy of mind, and epistemology. Unconventional format should no more disqualify Mencius and Zhuangzi than it does Nietzsche and Wittgenstein. Confucius and Laozi are more fragmentary and less argumentative; but many ancient Greek philosophers are even more fragmentary than Confucius and Laozi.
Nor do these philosophers rely on any narrowly religious dogma; rather, they start from considerations that are for the most part intuitive and widely acceptable even in the contemporary United States. Despite the fact that their works are more often taught in Religious Studies than in Philosophy departments, their religious commitments are less invasive and dogmatic than the religious commitments of many European philosophers. Mengzi's and Xunzi's arguments are far more secular than Descartes's and Berkeley's.
Perhaps, then, these classical Chinese philosophers are insufficiently important to warrant broader attention in the United States? If "important" means good, it's not clear that this is so. Although to some extent such judgments are a matter of taste, in my estimation Mengzi and Xunzi's views of moral psychology are as good as anything we have going now [note 1], and their debate about whether human nature is good or bad is considerably more sophisticated than the corresponding debate between Hobbes and Rousseau. Zhuangzi's skeptical and relativist arguments are as lively and challenging as Descartes' first two Meditations, Sextus Empiricus, or Peter Unger, and his positive vision is interestingly distinct from that of any major philosopher in the West.
If we assess importance by historical influence, different potential criteria come into competition. Considered globally, Confucius, Laozi, and to a lesser extent the other major classical Chinese philosophers have been enormously influential, probably more influential in Eastern Asia than Socrates, Plato, and Aristotle have been in Europe and the Americas. Even in the United States among the general population Confucius and Laozi are better known and more broadly discussed than any but a handful of European philosophers.
Still, perhaps the proper measure of historical importance for us philosophy professors in the U.S. in deciding what to teach and read is the influence that a particular philosopher has had on contemporary philosophy in the United States. Here, finally, we might have a justification for our ignorance of classical Chinese philosophy.
But it is then worth inquiring why classical Chinese philosophers are not especially influential in contemporary U.S. philosophy. One possibility is historical accident: Because the dominant culture in the United States traces back to Europe, the classical Chinese philosophers were not taught to, and thus not read by, the succeeding generations. Ignorance thus apparently justifies ignorance: Because we don't know their work, they have little impact on our philosophy; because they have little impact on our philosophy, we are justified in remaining ignorant about their work.
That seems like a regrettable state of affairs, unless we already know that these philosophers wouldn't have much positive influence on our thinking even if we did read them. But if they are as good as I know them to be, it's hard to see why reading them wouldn't have a positive influence on us -- not unless our education has so distorted us that we are unprepared to learn what they have to teach. [note 2]
Further thoughts, 2014:
Note 1: When I wrote this in 2001, empirical moral psychology was still dominated by intellectualistic models that left little room for emotion and spontaneous reaction, and seemed really to be measures of how good a moral philosopher one was (esp. Lawrence Kohlberg's stage theory). Philosophical moral psychology was not, in my view, a whole lot better. The intervening years have seen a huge surge of interest in morality as a phenomenon in which emotional and intellectual processes, spontaneous reactions, habit, and more thoughtful reflection, all come together in complicated ways. We are finally starting to catch up with Mengzi and Xunzi! (In this one respect at least.) If you had been reading ancient Chinese philosophy in the 1990s, you might have been surprised that the field hadn't moved past Kohlberg even sooner. My own reaction was to criticize intellectualist models of moral psychology by close empirical examination of the moral behavior of ethics professors -- a project that grew directly out of my work on Mengzi and Xunzi.
One huge advantage of reading outside of the dominant tradition, in my view, is that it helps you see past the narrow trends and presuppositions of your current cultural situation -- and the farther out of the mainstream you go, the more so.
Note 2: In this piece I didn't comment on the possibility of implicit bias (or even explicit bias) against Asians in U.S. philosophy departments, but I have become increasingly convinced that it plays an important role.
Readers might also be interested in these items, brought to my attention by Daily Nous:
Before getting into that, let me emphasize: I regard this list as a rough metric of a sociological phenomenon, mainstream visibility in recent Anglophone/analytic philosophy. I do not regard it as a metric of objective quality or importance from a global perspective.
Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Transgender, Queer Philosophers:
Judith Butler, David Hull, and Kwame Anthony Appiah are pretty visible members of this group. Among philosophers deceased 20 years or more ago, H.L.A. Hart and Richard Montague are also widely viewed as LGBT. I am hesitant to name living or recently deceased philosophers, even if they are "out", unless they seem willing to put themselves forward publicly as examples, but based on conversations I've had with others in the discipline, I estimate a minimum of 2-4 additional LGBT philosophers among the 267. It's perhaps also worth noting that two of the most famous gay men of the 20th century almost make the list, Michel Foucault (20 entries) and Alan Turing (19). I welcome further information, but only if consistent with respecting people's privacy. It's an interesting question to what extent current Anglophone philosophy exhibits prejudice against this group (and whether perhaps there is more prejudice against transgender people than against other LGBT people).
I know no philosophers on this list who have a very visibly obvious physical disability (excepting those who acquired disability later in life, often due to ageing, after their reputation was established), unless we include Paul Feyerabend, who walked heavily on a cane due to a war injury. Please correct me if I am mistaken! Less obvious disabilities are of course more difficult to identify, and it's not clear exactly how to categorize disability. I am aware of a couple philosophers on this list who have disvalued speech patterns such as stuttering. I hesitate to spotlight individual living or recently deceased people in this category unless they put themselves forward, but the ancient Chinese philosopher Han Feizi is interesting in this connection: He is said to have stuttered so much that he turned to writing so that his opinions would be taken seriously. Certainly, too, there are at least a few philosophers on this list with histories of depression, severe anxiety, and/or alcoholism, as well as serious chronic physical diseases, though my information here is too sketchy to warrant quantitative analysis. Shelley Tremain has recently presented data suggesting that in North America the percentage of employable disabled people in philosophy departments is very much less than the percentage in the general population.
I have already commented on how Anglophone this list is. Foucault, for example, at 20 entries by my method, doesn't even rank. (He does have his own dedicated entry, though.) Anglophone/analytic philosophers just don't cite recent European philosophers very much. (Here's one analysis I did in 2012 that shows the amazing magnitude of this tendency in the top-ranked journals.) Can we quantify this a bit more?
I've done some quick biographical searches of the top 50 philosophers on this list (actually 53, given ties). If my biographical information is correct, only nine (17%) were born in non-Anglophone countries. But actually that substantially underestimates Anglophone dominance. Derek Parfit was born in China, but to English parents who returned to England when he was still an infant. Thomas Nagel was born in Yugoslavia but was educated at Cornell, Oxford, and Harvard. Bas van Fraassen was born in Netherlands but emigrated with his family to Canada when he was 14 or 15. Timothy Williamson was born in Sweden but went to grammar school in England, and then Oxford. Nicholas Rescher was born in Germany but came to the U.S. at age ten. Joseph Raz was born in Mandate Palestine and got a Magister Juris at Hebrew University, but then went to Oxford for his doctorate and publishes entirely or almost entirely in English. That leaves Alfred Tarski (Polish), Karl Popper (Austrian), and Jaakko Hintikka (Finnish) as the least Anglophone members of the group, though both Popper and Hintikka still published mostly in English. Worth noting, too: All three are in the oldest generation I analyzed (born 1900-1930).
Among the top ten philosophers on the list, eight were born in the U.S., one in Britain (Bernard Williams), and Nagel went from Yugoslavia to the U.S.
Again, please correct me if I have committed any errors.
I doubt that the proper moral to draw is that Heidegger was right that philosophy is best done in certain languages but wrong about which particular language is the best.
Eric Schliesser comments that this list "is a testament to the successful emancipation of Jewish men in the Anglophone world". And maybe that's right. Fully half of the top ten philosophers on this list are Jewish or have Jewish backgrounds: Putnam, Kripke, Nozick, Nagel, and Nussbaum. (I'm relying on internet sources of iffy reliability for Nagel and Nussbaum, so I welcome confirmation or correction.) A quick-and-dirty count using personal knowledge and Wikipedia's list of Jewish philosophers (except in one case where I doubt Wikipedia's accuracy), I count 35/267 (13%), which is probably an underestimate. But even going with that low-ball estimate, the proportion of Jews on this list substantially exceeds the proportion of Jews in the population as a whole (2% of the U.S. population, for example).
But before we hasten too quickly to the conclusion that there is no prejudice against Jewish philosophers, it's worth noting that early 20th century Germany, despite outrageous levels of antisemitism, also had an impressive number of very influential Jewish philosophers, including Edmund Husserl, Ernst Cassirer, Hermann Cohen, Max Scheler, Walter Benjamin and Martin Buber.
[Updated Aug. 15, Aug. 18]
I count 27 women on the list: 10% of the total. There is only one woman in the top 50 (Martha Nussbaum, ranked 9th), and seven in the top 100 (Nussbaum, Korsgaard, Anscombe, Anderson, Annas, Thomson, and Young).
Impressionistically, it has seemed to me that female philosophers have been more likely to go into ethics, political philosophy, or history of philosophy than into metaphysics, epistemology, mind, logic, or language; and some of Josh Rust's and my data (from five U.S. states) partially support that generalization (28% of sampled ethicists were women, vs. 17% of non-ethicist philosophers). So I coded each philosopher as ethics/political/history or not, based on where their primary influence has so far been. (There were a few close calls, but mostly it was pretty clear.) My impression was strikingly confirmed: 16/27 (59%) of the women had their primary influence in ethics, political philosophy, or history of philosophy, compared to 77/240 (32%) of the men (Z = 2.7, p = .006).
I'm not sure what the explanation for this is, assuming that my analysis here is correct. I welcome your thoughts.
We can also examine gender distribution by age. I was able to find birth year data for most of the philosophers on the list, and I estimated the remaining 45 based on year of bachelor's degree, PhD, or first publication. I created four age groups: birth year 1900-1929, 1930-1945, 1946-1959, 1960-present. Women constituted 5/58 (9%) of the oldest generation, 5/102 (5%) of the depression-war generation, 15/88 (17%) of the pre-1960 baby boomers, and 2/19 (11%) of the youngest group. This suggests some increase in the representation of women over time, but hardly an overwhelming shift. (To put some inferential statistics on it: mean male birth year 1939 vs. mean female 1945, t = -2.3, p = .03.)
How about ethnic minorities? That's much harder to judge. The list looks very white, but names and physical appearance can sometimes be misleading. Also ethnic categories are somewhat labile, and it's not clear how to think about mixed-ethnicity cases. Among the top 100, there's only one person I'd be inclined to think of as other than non-Hispanic white: the Korean-American philosopher Jaegwon Kim, tied for 61st. [Updated Aug. 8: Due to a transcription error, I left one name out of the top 100, and that shifted Sorabji down to 101.] (Please correct me if I've missed someone!) The rest of the list isn't a whole lot more diverse -- maybe seven members of ethnic minorities total among the whole 267 (3%)? (If you have specific knowledge about people on the list who identify as ethnic minorities, I'd be interested to hear.)
Summarizing these estimates, then:
Top 50: 2% female, 0% minority,Top 100: 7% female, 1% minority,Top 267: 10% female, 3% minority.I regard these data as broad confirmation of what we all already knew -- perhaps a little more systematic and depressingly specific. At the highest levels of visibility in contemporary mainstream Anglophone analytic philosophy (as measured by citation in the discipline's leading reference source), men vastly outnumber women, and ethnic minorities are virtually absent. The effect appears to be larger the greater the visibility. The effect might also be larger among our older and recently deceased contemporaries than it is in the younger generations, but even if that is so, it remains very large in all groups.
[Updated Aug. 8 - Aug. 14]
Comparing my 2014 analysis with my 2010 analysis:
* In 2010, I posted a similar list. The biggest methodological difference is that I included historical entries in 2014, while I had excluded them in 2010. Thus, Jonathan Barnes (71st), Julia Annas (81st), Anthony Kenny (95th), and many other historians appear on the 2014 list but not in the 2010; and Martha Nussbaum, Jonathan Bennett, Christine Korsgaard, for example, appear higher up the 2014 list (9th, 30th, and 58th, respectively) than the 2010 list (19th, 52nd, and 99th).
* Another striking difference is several logicians' much higher ranking in 2014. For example, Jaakko Hintikka rose from 76th to 30th, Alfred Tarksi from 72nd to 46th, Kit Fine from 82nd to 48th, and Nicholas Rescher from 72nd to 48th. My first thought was that this might reflect a large number of new SEP entries in logic and philosophy of math. And maybe that is part of the story, but a quick perusal of the SEP entries published between 2010 and 2014 does not show a particularly striking trend in that direction.
* I was also struck by Stephen Darwall's shift from 156th (21 qualifying entries in 2010) to 66th (48 qualifying entries in 2014), despite the fact that there was no general rise in ethicists' rankings.
Year of Publication:
I searched each bibliographic line for four-string digits "1900", "1901", etc., assuming that virtually all such strings will be publication years of cited work. On that assumption, the most cited year is 2003 and the runner-up is 1999. The citation advantage of publication about 10-15 years ago is very strong, as is evident from this figure:in my 2010 analysis.
Also, if you squint at the graph above, you'll notice what seems to be dips in the production of cited work during the two world wars.
The Baby Boom Philosophy Bust?
In 2011, I conjectured that the generation of philosophers hired during the 1960s to teach the baby boomers -- the depression-war generation -- sat atop the social hierarchy in philosophy through the 1990s and prevented the baby boomers from attaining as much visibility as they otherwise would have. If so, this would explain the relative paucity of boomers in the topmost slots: Nussbaum is the only boomer in the top twenty, whereas depression-war babies occupy ten of the top twenty slots (Lewis, Kripke, Nozick, Nagel, Searle, Fodor, Dennett, Harman, Jackson, and van Fraassen). Now another possibility is that the baby boomers have not yet had time for their influence to be fully felt and reflected in the SEP. Indeed, this is quite possibly the case. Even the older boomers are still in their 60s and philosophers often produce very influential work late in their careers. On the other hand, the SEP's bias toward recent work, as reflected in the chart above, would seem if anything to favor the boomers over the older generations. Also, in an earlier analysis of Philosopher's Index, I found that philosophers tend to receive peak professional attention (in the form of mentions in the abstracts of philosophy articles) around ages 55-70, which is the current age range of the baby boomers. Then again (back on the first hand), if we look at the entire 267 and not just the top 20 -- still a very select group! -- the boomers are about as well represented as the previous generation.
Methodology: Second Authors and Multiple Citations per Entry:
My technique (as mentioned in the post) was to only count first authors. Second authors proved computationally intractable. I did keep noticing names of some people who were often appearing as second authors and who thus deserve to show higher on the list. Let me apologize for the unfairness of this. I'm tempted to list some names, but since I can't do so systematically I fear compounding the unfairness toward the regularly appearing second authors who didn't happen to come to my attention. If someone wants to attempt a systematic repair, I would welcome that.
My technique was only to count the number of front-page entries in which the author's work is cited, not total number of citations. Prepping my 2010 analysis, I tried it both ways, and counting total SEP entries rather than total bibligraphic lines produced a list with better face validity as a measure of visibility in Anglophone philosophy. My impression is that this was because although having four different works cited in one entry probably does tend to reflect more visibility on the topic than having only one work cited, it probably doesn't reflect four times as much visibility. (For example, Kaplan and Soames have four bibliographic lines each in the entry on names, while Kripke only has one line.)
Re-analyses: Schliesser and Leiter:
Eric Schliesser suggests an interesting measure of closeness to the sociological core of Anglophone/analytic philosophy by considering what percentage of the list you can count as former teachers of yours. (I, like Schliesser, count 4 [1.5%].) Another measure might be how many of the authors on the list you recognize well enough to be able to say in what subfield they made their main contribution. (For me, this would have been maybe all but ten.) Eric also makes an interesting point about Jewish philosophers, which I'll discuss in a follow-up post.
Brian Leiter re-analyzes the data to rank departments by summing the entry count of the faculty appearing on the list. Interestingly, there is considerable overlap between the rankings derived by this SEP-based method and Leiter's 2011 Gourmet Report rankings of philosophy departments in the English-speaking world. All but three departments in this "SEP top twenty" appear in the top twenty of the Gourmet Report's rankings, and those three (UT Austin, Notre Dame, and Duke) all appear in the Gourmet top 30. Conversely, all but three of the Gourmet top 20 departments appear in this SEP-based top twenty, with the exceptions (Cornell, Arizona, and Toronto) all in the last spot among the Gourmet's top 20 (a 5-way tie for 15th). I find it very striking that these two superficially very different methods yield such similar results. It suggests, to me, that whatever sociological phenomenon the Leiter rankings capture is also captured pretty well by looking at SEP citation rates. There is much less overlap, in contrast, between the top scoring schools in the 2010 NRC research rankings and either the Leiter or SEP rankings (e.g., CUNY, Yale, USC, and UCLA, in this SEP-based top-twenty, are all 50th or lower in the NRC if one sorts by the average of the high and low research scores).
More Group Analyses:
A number of people have urged that I look at potentially disadvantaged groups besides women and ethnic minorities, especially queer, disabled, Jewish, and non-native English speaker. So I'm working a follow-up post about that, hopefully up later today.
Update: I've posted the analyses.