Thursday, 14 October 2010

a title goes here

SMBC hits again:

[I apologize for the whole "no posts last week" thing. I've been busy. I'll be back soon, I promise.]

Sunday, 3 October 2010

women's intuition

According to a recent study, there may really be such a thing as women's intuition, but it isn't what we might have thought. Instead, it could help explain why there are so few women in academic philosophy.

The study (via Leiter) is by Wesley Buckwalter (CUNY) and Stephen Stich (Rutgers).

The paper presents a series of gender-differentiated intuitions from common philosophical thought experiments. Not every thought experiment produces a statistically significant gender difference, but in those that do, the effect is marked.

The authors argue for the strong conclusion that this gender difference in intuitions about thought experiments is implicated in the gender difference in academic philosophy. (They are clear that this is not the only cause.)

Consider the predicament of a young woman in a philosophy class, who (like 71% - 75% of women in the Starmans & Friedman study) does not find it obvious that the characters in Gettier vignettes do not have knowledge of the relevant proposition. Rather, her intuitions tell her that the Gettier characters do have knowledge, though her instructor, whether male or female, as well as a high percentage of her male classmates, clearly think she is mistaken. Different women will, of course, react to a situation like this in different ways. But it is plausible to suppose that some women facing this predicament will be puzzled or confused or uncomfortable or angry or just plain bored. Some women may become convinced that they aren’t any good at philosophy, since they do not have the intuitions that their professors and their male classmates insist are correct. If the experience engenders one or more of these alienating effects, a female student may be less likely to take another philosophy course than a male classmate who (like 59% - 64% of the men in the Starmans & Friedman study) has the “standard” intuitions that their instructor shares. That male student, unlike the majority of his female classmates, can actively participate in, and perhaps enjoy, the project of hunting for a theory that captures “our” intuitions.
It is enough to convince me that I should be careful in presenting thought experiments as evidence, since my intuitions won't predict those of other people. (It's likely that gender isn't the only bias in the "received" interpretation of thought experiments. See this post.)

Saturday, 2 October 2010

the 27th letter of the alphabet

Geoff Pullum of Language Log writes that "one of the very worst things about the English writing system ... is that it very clearly employs 27 letters in the spelling of words but there is a huge and long-standing conspiracy to market it as having only 26." He explains:
One of the worst things about the forgotten letter is that it never stands for a sound in native English words. Indeed, it could be argued that it never appears as a letter within the plain form of any lexeme, and never occurs initially in any word in modern English. But it does appear as the first letter of the two-letter genitive singular suffix of regular nouns; as the second letter of the two-letter genitive plural suffix; as the middle of the three letters that spell the suffix identifying the negative form of auxiliary verbs; as the first letter in the written clitic forms of am, are, had, has, have, is, will, and would; and it has miscellaneous other uses. But though obligatory where it occurs, it never corresponds to any sound in native words.
If you're still confused, read the whole thing!

CFP: “The Regimen of Bodily Health: Nourishment and Natural Knowledge”

I'm very excited that Steven Shapin is the keynote speaker at my department's grad conference! (Great job organizing, Jai!) See below for the call for papers.


“The Regimen of Bodily Health: Nourishment and Natural Knowledge”

HAPSAT 7th Annual Conference

“The body” as both a material object and metaphor, provides a rich source of inspiration for both philosophical and historical studies of the production and transmission of knowledge. Lawrence and Shapin’s influential anthology, Science Incarnate: Historical Embodiments of Natural Knowledge (1998) broke new ground in this area with discussions of bodies as tools for philosophical inquiry, what it means for knowledge to be “embodied” in physical artifacts, and how bodily self-presentation can generate disembodied knowledge. The body also presents an arena for interplay of ideas about proper management of health and diseases and the application of scientific and medical expertise. Seventeenth century physicians, for instance, recommended a mixture of medicine and dietetics for consumptive patients; proper dietary regimes were often based on theoretical ideas about nourishment and health. Moreover, the body and our ideas of the body have been a political battleground: within the “culture of dissection” and public executions; as displays of ecclesiastical value and status; as technologically manipulable aspects of the self; as and as subjects of experimental philosophy.

On Friday March 18, 2011, HAPSAT, the Graduate Student Society at the Institute for the History and Philosophy of Science and Technology at the University of Toronto, will host its seventh annual conference, The Regimen of Bodily Health: Nourishment and Natural Knowledge.

This year’s distinguished keynote is Steven Shapin (Dept. Of History of Science, Harvard University): “The Long History of Dietetics: Thinking about Food, Expertise, and the Self.” The keynote is jointly hosted by HAPSAT and the IHPST Colloquium Series.

We invite graduate students and recent graduates working in fields such as HPS, STS, history, sociology, philosophy, public health, anthropology, gender studies, and law, to submit paper and panel proposals that critically engage with this theme. For papers please email abstracts of up to 250 words to by December 1, 2010. For panels, please email a document with a 250 word abstract describing the panel as a whole in addition to individual abstracts for each paper (also 250 words). Each presenter will be given 20 minutes.

We welcome papers addressing, but not limited to, the following questions:

  • What is the relationship between embodied lives and disembodied knowledge?
  • How have health regimes influenced historical or philosophical ideas about the body?
  • Do philosophical ideas about the nature of the self, identity, and human agency affect society’s treatment of bodies?
  • To what extent have technologies of the body influenced science in practice (e.g. technologies of blood transfusion)?
  • How are food, bodies, and personal and institutional authority related within the modern medical establishment?
  • What is the relationship between personal appearance and epistemic authority?
  • How have ideas about the degenerate body (e.g. monsters, deformity, disease) been shaped by cultural or social beliefs?
  • How do different modes of food production and consumption affect the political relationships between bodies?
  • What sorts of new political relationships, and political philosophies, are likely to arise if technological advancement makes the transhumanist dream a reality?

We hope to be able to offer billeting and small travel subsides for graduate students travelling to Toronto for the conference.

For more information, visit the conference website (to be updated shortly). The pdf poster is also available.

Friday, 1 October 2010

How to steer a hurricane

Duncan Geere of Wired describes how "microscopic plants less than half a centimeter across may be able to change the paths of 300-mile-wide tropical storms, due to their ability to change the color of the surface of the sea."