Friday, September 12, 2014
Some kool words from POSP stringer Tim.
1. A brief survey or sketch, outline.
2. An immediate impression, especially an intuitive insight.
The raising of an issue by claiming not to mention it.
Lacking all or most of the hair on the head, bald.
An ardent longing, as for something lost.
To remove the ambiguity from, make unambiguous.
Having two contrasting aspects, especially duplicitous, two-faced.
1a. An ornamental stand for plants or flowers.
1b. A large usually ceramic flowerpot holder.
2. A garnish for meat consisting of several cooked vegetables cut into pieces.
1. Dealing lightly and gracefully with a subject, brilliantly playful, lambent wit.
2. Running or moving lightly over a surface, lambent tongues of flame.
1. Resembling or having the properties of oil, oily, also, containing or producing oil.
2. Marked by an offensively ingratiating manner or quality.
1. To kiss.
2. To bring into close contact or union.
1. A selection from a book.
2. A portion of sacred writing read in a divine service, lesson; lection.
1. [Obsolete]. The love of learning and literature.
2. The study of literary texts and of written records, the establishment of their authenticity and their original form and the determination of their meaning.
An abnormal desire to eat substances (as chalk or ashes) not normally eaten.
Capable of a high degree of independent activity from birth.
Physically beautiful, comely.
An usually basement tavern or restaurant.
To wrinkle, crumple, crease.
1. A rascal or scamp.
2. Stock character in commedia dell'arte and farce who is a cowardly braggart, easily beaten and frightened.
[Meterology] Fine rain falling after sunset from which no clouds are visible.
[Archaic] A vision, dream.
Of or pertaining to bells or bell ringing.
1. One word or promise, especially in engaging oneself to marry.
2. Faithfulness, fidelity, or loyalty by my troth.
1. The quality or state of being green.
2. The color of grass or foilage.
3. Naive innocence.
Hypothetically reconstructed parent language, as Proto-Germanic, the ancestor, Germanic languages.
A mythical animal usually represented as a 2-legged winged creature resembling a dragon.
Friday, September 5, 2014
"CU-Boulder investigating yet another philosophy professor -- Brad Monton"
Associate professor Monton subject of report written by outside investigator
August 25th, 2014
The University of Colorado is investigating yet another professor within the beleaguered philosophy department on the Boulder campus.
Associate professor Brad Monton is the subject of a report by Denver-based attorney David Fine for university administrators, according to an email from an account that appears to be Fine's.
Monton is the latest professor to come under scrutiny in the philosophy department, as one professor is in the midst of termination proceedings and another has threatened to sue the university. All this comes after the university made public an independent report that found sexual harassment, bullying and other misconduct within that department.
"I wanted to let you know that I am finalizing my report regarding Professor Monton," according to the email, which was sent July 29 to one of the parties Fine interviewed. "After reviewing all the information gathered, we determined we could not responsibly ignore the totality of information presented in this matter in light of the concerns expressed by you and others."
The email also said the university may reach out to witnesses in the future if anything they said was "relevant in proceedings related to the report."
CU declined to provide the Camera with the results of Fine's investigation and would not disclose the nature of the probe, citing confidentiality around personnel matters.
For the same reason, campus spokesman Ryan Huff declined to comment for this story. Huff said earlier this month that CU retained Fine to perform services, including independent sexual harassment investigations.
Fine said it would be inappropriate for him to speak publicly as the investigator on the case.
Monton confirmed that he is not teaching classes this semester. He would not say why, but said he is not being punished and is still completing service duties within the department.
He declined to comment further.
Monton had been scheduled to teach an introductory philosophy course and a course in critical thinking and writing philosophy, according to a fall 2014 course catalog.
Though not teaching, Monton is receiving his regular salary of $83,818.
Latest in philosophy
The inquiry into Monton comes to light several weeks after the revelation that the university initiated termination proceedings for tenured philosophy professor David Barnett, who has taught at the Boulder campus since 2005.
Another professor within the philosophy department, Dan Kaufman, is seeking $2 million in damages from the university after it barred him from campus for more than two months.
Many philosophy faculty members have said they fear the administration will dissolve the department for alleged incidents of misconduct summarized in an independent report released in late January. The university has not yet decided whether it will reopen graduate admissions into the philosophy department for the 2015-2016 school year after suspending admissions for 2014-2015.
CU initiated termination proceedings for Barnett after paying a graduate student more than $800,000 to settle claims that Barnett had retaliated against her after she reported being sexually assaulted by a fellow graduate student. The woman claims that Barnett conducted his own investigation into her alleged assault, and in the process, had conversations with other students and professors about her sexual history and behavior.
Barnett staunchly denies accusations that he inquired into the woman's past sexual history or that he made generalizations about her character.
According to a notice of claim the woman filed, Fine also looked into Barnett's investigation and issued a report about that case on May 5, 2014.
Fine also was hired to review the university's investigation into the alleged sexual assault involving the two graduate students. Fine concluded that the Office of Discrimination and Harassment, the office tasked with investigating claims involving university employees, acted appropriately and had followed university policy.
Monton, who has taught on the Boulder campus since 2006, specializes in the philosophy of science, religion and time, according to his curriculum vitae.
CU awarded him an arts and humanities fellowship in 2007-2008 that reduced his teaching load, and another fellowship in 2008-2009 to teach honors courses on campus.
In April, the state and local chapters of the American Association of University Professors alleged that Monton was forced to resign from the Boulder Faculty Assembly and was banned from participating in university committees and services responsibilities.
The AAUP claimed that Monton was pushed out of the faculty group for comments he made about an independent report that found sexual harassment, bullying and other unprofessional behaviors within the philosophy department.
Monton had said that several university administrators pressured him into retracting the opinions he expressed during a meeting of the faculty group's executive committee. His comments about the philosophy department report were erased from the meeting minutes.
"Philosophy of Abigail Adams illustrates August’s remembrance"
August 26th, 2014
Opening August’s backpack is fairly difficult because, well, we seem to have misplaced it. We retrace our steps, trying to recall what we were doing before we lost it. Nevertheless, for a panicked moment or two, we cannot remember where we put it. When we do recover it, the relief of finding it is obscured by the realization of its curious contents.
#Inside, there are no modern devices, no archived electronic files, no flash drive, no i-anythings or e-anythings. Just letters. Many old letters written by a timeless philosopher who urges us to remember: to remember as we evolve, to remember as we progress, to remember as we improve. To remember each other.
#The eighth month’s philosophy is poignant, ageless, bittersweet, tender and very, very human. Abigail Adams may not be the most famous of sages, but her wisdom effectively resonates — surprisingly and shockingly at times — with contemporary readership while offering prudent insight to current events. August’s philosophy is rooted in memory, awareness, honesty and real time, with a little bit of sauce served on the side.
#Honored historically for her role as first lady to John Adams’ presidency, and for several well-known and well-placed sentiments, Abigail Adams’ ideas are not often recognized as constituting an independent, legitimate and weighty philosophical theory. However, hers is just that. Abigail’s entire life, and her commentary about it, is a remarkable example of Kierkegaardian authenticity. It is a primal synthesis of paradox.
#Through her immense surviving correspondence, a massive collection of letters to her beloved husband, John, we hear Abigail’s voice as she personalizes and humanizes historical events against the backdrop of familial concerns. Through her letters, we experience, as Joseph J. Ellis writes in his book, “First Family Abigail and John Adams,” how she and John were not “comfortable denying any important dimension of their respective personalities. And the more they interacted, the more they defied rigid gender categories and completed each other.”
#He continues to explain, “(a)s they were working out their new roles as husband, wife, and parents, the American colonies were being asked to work out new roles within a reconfigured British Empire.” This, he argues, “permits us to recover the messier and more layered mentality of history happening, that is as Abigail and John actually experienced it. The great public events of the time that stand front and center in the history books were only part of the story they were living, and the more private side of their story — their family life — became the lens through which they perceived and made sense of those grander events emanating from England.”
#Ellis elucidates, “Logically, Abigail should have felt torn between her two sides as a traditional New England woman and a fiercely independent personality. But she did not. The apparent contradiction felt to her like a seamless continuity. She could mend a hem while engaging you in a discussion of Macbeth’s fatal flaw. If that caused trouble for some people, that was their problem. ... She was simultaneously a dutiful wife and an intellectual equal, a lover and a friend, a heart and a mind.”
#Her ability to recognize she was a part of history in the making, while attentively addressing the emotional, social, physical, economic and spiritual needs of those around her, is inspiring, comforting and humbling. Yes, it is something worth remembering.
#Against a backdrop of historic magnitude, she tackles domestic problems, struggles with economic investments, worries over the education of her children, advocates for women’s rights and counsels her husband in political matters. As Ellis points out, her ideas are creative, farsighted and, well, revolutionary.
#It is well known that she reminded John in March 1776 to “Remember the Ladies” while contemplating the principles of a new nation’s independence. She urges him, “Do not put such unlimited power into the hands of the Husbands. Remember all men would be tyrants if they could. If perticuliar care and attention is not paid to the Laidies we are determined to foment a Rebelion, and will not hold ourselves bound by any laws in which we have no voice, or representation.”
#And, also from the book “My Dearest Friend, Letters of Abigail and John Adams,” edited by Margaret Hogan and C. James Taylor, we hear her visionary thoughts expressed to John in a letter dated August 14, 1776: “If we mean to have Heroes Statesmen and Philosophers, we should have learned women. The world perhaps would laugh at me, and accuse me of vanity, but you I know have a mind too enlarged and liberal to disregard the Sentiment. If much depends as is allowed upon the early Education of youth and the first principals which are instilld take the deepest root, great benefit must arise from literary accomplishments in women.”
#Abigail’s philosophy is not limited to a particular space and time; it is a transcendent reflection, contemplation and theory with great contemporary relevance. For those of us trying to raise children in an uncertain and unfair world, she commiserates with us in our struggles.
#In 1783, she wrote, “I have a thousand fears for my dear boys as they rise into Life.” Moreover, in a letter to John in 1797, she recounts her incensed reaction to a schoolmaster’s limited application of the principles of liberty and equality. Appealing to the sensibilities of the person in question, she asks: Is denying educational instruction to a person based upon the skin color adhering to “the Christian Principle of doing to others, as we would have others do to us?”
#She addresses economic inequality, misplaced adherence to material wealth, struggles with virtues (or vice) within the folly of human behavior. Her philosophy constantly reminds us that this folly is not just theoretical, it is composed of real characters, real people. Our decisions affect real people; our beliefs influence our actions and determine our value system.
#Therefore, Abigail’s August philosophy urges us to remember. To remember the ladies, the less fortunate, the heroes and the sacrifices that are made — not only on the battlefield, but also on the home front when we own our principles and put them into action. She recognizes the gravity of the micro representations of the macrocosm within our communities. Her philosophy demands we remember the children, the marginalized and the less fortunate. To remember, amid the hustle of modern-day living, that fortitude, kindness, strength of character and humor never lose their relevance. To remember we are part of history in the making. August reminds us to remember, so that when others review our place in our own space and time, we, too, will be worth remembering.
[Jennifer Lemma is a philosophy instructor at Walla Walla Community College.]
If the universe is infinite now it has always been infinite. This is the opinion of many astronomers today as can be concluded from the following series of interviews, but the opinions differ much more than I had expected. Many astronomers do not have a clear opinion on this matter. Others have a clear opinion, but very different from the majority. Detailed arguments by two experts on general relativity are also included. Observations show that the universe is flat, i.e. the curvature is zero within the small uncertainty of measurements. This implies an infinite universe, though most probably we will never know that for certain. For comparison with the recent interviews, opinions during the past 2300 years since Aristotle about the universe being finite or infinite have been collected from literature, and it appears that the scientists often had quite definite opinions.
Astrosociology: Interwiews about an infinite universe by Erik Høg
Saturday, August 9, 2014
"The Beautiful Junkyard Where Bolivia’s Trains Were Left to Rot"
August 7th, 2014
Booming global demand for smartphones, tables, laptops, and electric cars has led to increased interest in Bolivia, home to the world’s largest deposit of the lithium needed for the batteries that power those devices.
It’s not the first time natural resources have attracted foreign interest to Bolivia, which celebrates 189 years of independence from Spain this week. Near the end of the 19th century, British engineers came to the country with the Antofagasta and Bolivia Railway Company, which was building a railroad to carry minerals from the Bolivian capital of La Paz to Chilean ports on the Pacific Coast. In the 1940s, the mining industry declined, leading to the creation of the Cementerio de Trenes, or train graveyard.
Just outside the city of Uyuni, in southwestern Bolivia, dozens of abandoned steam trains are scattered around as if a giant child dropped them there. The “cemetery” marked only by a small sign that explains very little, has become a minor attraction for tourists visiting the nearby Salar de Uyuni, the world’s largest salt flat. The trains have been buffeted by wind for decades, just a few miles an enormous natural stockpile of salt, and it’s obvious. They’re rusted out, long ago stripped for useful parts. Covered in graffiti—some of it pretty good—they’re strangely beautiful relics of an industry left behind.
"CU-Boulder moves to fire professor accused of retaliating against sexual assault victim"
Graduate student received $825,000 in settlement finalized this week
August 7th, 2014
The University of Colorado is moving to fire a tenured faculty member after the Boulder campus paid $825,000 this week to settle a graduate student's allegations that the philosophy professor retaliated against her for reporting she was sexually assaulted by a fellow student.
Chancellor Phil DiStefano recently issued a notice of intent to dismiss associate professor David Barnett, campus spokesman Ryan Huff confirmed to the Daily Camera.
If fired, Barnett would be only the fourth tenured professor ever dismissed by the university in its 138-year history.
Barnett is accused of compiling a 38-page report painting the victim as "sexually promiscuous" and alleging she falsified the report of the assault, according to a notice of intent to sue CU filed by the victim last month.
The move to fire Barnett, who has taught in the philosophy department since 2005, comes as CU already was under federal investigation for possible violations of Title IX, the federal gender-equity law. It also comes six months after a scathing report detailed sexual harassment, bullying and other unprofessional conduct within the philosophy department.
Barnett, 44, declined to comment for this story.
But Brian Moore, Barnett's Denver-based attorney, said that in its treatment of Barnett, CU is "holding up his scalp" to show the rest of the philosophy department the university's tough stance on behaviors described in the January report by the American Philosophical Association Committee on the Status of Women Site Visit Program .
Barnett will fight his firing under claims the university violated his First Amendment right to free speech and the Colorado statute that protects whistleblowers, Moore said.
"Every male member of the CU philosophy department already has had his reputation damaged as a result of the administration's selective release of information," Moore said. "Now, even though professor Barnett is not accused of harassing anyone, the administration is attempting to make him the scapegoat."
CU's Huff said the American Philosophical Association report was commissioned because of "longstanding problems" within the philosophy department, and separately from the events that led to Barnett's dismissal.
"While the events underlying the settlement did not precipitate the APA site visit, they are examples of the behavior that we are working to eradicate from the philosophy department and elsewhere on campus," Huff said.
CU harassment investigation
According to the notice of claim obtained by the Daily Camera, a female graduate student described being sexually assaulted by a male philosophy doctoral student at an off-campus party in August 2012.
Such notices of claim must be filed in advance of suing Colorado public institutions. In this case, CU settled before any lawsuit was filed.
The Camera is neither identifying the woman, because she is the victim of sexual assault, nor the alleged assailant, because he wasn't arrested.
While the case was referred by CU to Boulder police, it was closed without any arrests, according to a police report.
At some point after the alleged sexual assault, the male doctoral student, who is in his mid-30s, finished his studies and was hired by the university as an instructor. The university was not aware of the alleged incident at the time he was hired, Huff said.
In late October 2012, the victim, who is in her late 20s, reported the assault to CU's Office of Discrimination and Harassment.
While such proceedings and their results are confidential, the victim's notice of claim and a Boulder Police Department report show that the investigation found the male student violated the university's sexual harassment policy.
He was suspended from his position as an instructor during the course of the investigation, according to the police report. The university later decided not to renew his instructor contract, Huff said.
After the Office of Discrimination and Harassment concluded its case, Barnett launched his own investigation into the woman's reported sexual assault, according to the victim's notice of claim, which was filed with the Colorado Attorney General's Office on July 3.
According to the notice of claim, Barnett had discussions with university faculty members and students about the victim's sexual history, marital relationship and her sexual behavior on the night of the alleged sexual assault.
The document also said that Barnett told faculty members, university administrators and students that the victim was "sexually promiscuous" and that she falsified the report of the assault. Barnett, the document alleged, wrote that the victim fabricated the sexual assault to cover up the fact that she was cheating on her boyfriend.
Barnett wrote a 38-page report about the victim and sent it to the university, according to the notice of claim.
After receiving that report, the university hired Denver attorney David Fine to conduct an independent investigation into the matter, Huff said. The university will pay Fine $148,589.15 for that work, Huff said.
CU declined to provide the Camera with the results of Fine's investigation, citing confidentiality around matters involving sexual harassment. For the same reason, the university also refused the Camera's request for the 38-page report written by Barnett.
The victim, who declined to speak with the Camera, filed the complaint because Barnett "smeared her reputation" and she wanted to prevent something similar from happening to future victims who report sexual misconduct, her attorney, Debra Katz, said.
"She felt it was very important to bring that issue to the attention of the appropriate parties within the university and not only protect her own rights, but to ensure that other people who come forward and report serious Title IX violations are not retaliated against," Katz said.
Katz said that if the university tolerated retaliation, it would have a "chilling effect" on anyone wishing to come forward to report a violation.
She added that while her client did not ask for Barnett to be dismissed, the decision sends a "very strong message" that the university is serious about disciplining people who violate Title IX.
While not speaking about the allegations against Barnett specifically, Huff said it's important for investigations into possible university policy violations to be conducted by professionals.
"We have established mechanisms with trained professionals who are in charge of conducting investigations," he said. "Having non-trained, non-professional people conducting unauthorized investigations is not appropriate."
'Cloak of secrecy'
Barnett, however, said through his attorney that he never investigated the victim or her sexual assault, but rather wanted to look into the Office of Discrimination and Harassment's handling of the case.
In his report, which Barnett sent only to DiStefano and CU President Bruce Benson, according to his attorney, Barnett described how the Office of Discrimination and Harassment's investigation mischaracterized or excluded information from witnesses.
Moore, Barnett's lawyer, said his client included sworn statements by nearly all of the third-party witnesses cited in the Office of Discrimination and Harassment investigation.
"In speaking with these witnesses and hearing their concerns about the way their testimony had been summarized by ODH, professor Barnett became convinced that ODH had intentionally and systematically manipulated the evidence in order to support a finding of guilt," Moore said.
"Because ODH operates under a cloak of secrecy and without due process, professor Barnett was concerned that this likely was not an isolated incident and felt ethically obligated to do what he could to stop this abuse of authority, and hopefully in the process correct what he views as a miscarriage of justice against his former student."
Huff, CU's spokesman, defended the Office of Discrimination and Harassment and the university, saying that at every juncture, the campus has been fair and has followed policy and procedure.
"At all points, ODH has acted appropriately," Huff said. "An independent review by attorney David Fine supports this."
Moore said Barnett was an unofficial mentor to the accused male instructor, and someone the instructor went to for advice about the profession. Moore added that Barnett took care not to harm the female graduate student's reputation in the course of his probe.
Moore acknowledged that rumors about the victim were circulating in the department, but said those rumors were not started by his client.
Barnett's decision to inform the university of what he saw as an "abuse of power by ODH" and his defense of a student are protected by his constitutional right to free speech and by Colorado whistleblower laws. Moore said.
"We understand the importance of protecting the rights of students and others who come forward to report sexual harassment, regardless of whether or not their allegations are ultimately substantiated," Moore said. "However, it is no violation of those rights to urge that the accused not be convicted of a serious offense in the absence of sufficient evidence."
'A commitment to enforcing the law'
Though she did not go through with a lawsuit, the victim's lawyers wrote that damages caused by Barnett's behavior such as emotional pain and suffering, depression, anxiety and suicidal ideation, damage to educational career and reputational harm, among others, would total $2 million.
The university's settlement of $825,000 with the victim was finalized Tuesday.
Of that money, the victim received $520,000 and her attorneys at Washington, D.C.-based firm Katz, Marshall and Banks received $305,000. The settlement does not constitute an admission of liability or fault on the part of the university.
In the settlement document, the victim alleges that Barnett "unlawfully retaliated" against her in violation of Title IX, the federal gender equity law that prohibits discrimination on the basis of sex.
Under the law, which also protects students from retaliation, gender discrimination includes sexual assault and sexual harassment.
This most recent payout follows a $32,500 settlement CU reached with Sarah Gilchriese — who has agreed to be identified publicly — in May.
Gilchriese sparked a federal investigation of CU last year after filing a complaint with the U.S. Department of Education alleging the university violated Title IX in its handling of her sexual assault.
In 2007, the university settled a Title IX lawsuit and paid $2.5 million to Lisa Simpson and $350,000 to Anne Gilmore, who alleged that they were raped at a party attended by CU football players. The Camera has named Simpson and Gilmore because they sued the university.
In the current case, the victim has been admitted to CU's philosophy doctoral program and intends to remain on the Boulder campus, DiStefano said.
In a statement about the settlement, DiStefano wrote that he's "very pleased" the victim chose to stay at CU.
"We must honor her trust by ensuring not only that she has every opportunity to succeed, but also by taking the steps that will enable every student to thrive in a community free from discrimination and harassment," he wrote. "This settlement is part of our ongoing, intense effort to combat gender discrimination and sexual harassment across the campus."
Though the federal investigation is ongoing, DiStefano also commissioned an independent review of the university's Title IX policies and procedures. That review found the university to be compliant with federal law, and recommended that the campus hire an additional Title IX coordinator for campus-wide oversight.
CU announced in June that it had hired Valerie Simons, a former federal civil rights attorney, for that post. She began work at CU on July 22.
'Responsible leadership' at CU
As colleges and universities across the country grapple with how to make their campuses as safe and welcoming as possible, CU has said it wants to be a leader among its peers in addressing sexual harassment and gender discrimination.
The victim's attorneys applauded CU's hiring of Simons in a statement, and wrote that CU demonstrated "responsible leadership" in the settlement and other "corrective" actions.
"We would not have recommended to our client that she continue her studies at CU-Boulder unless we believed that the university's commitment was both sincere and meaningful," attorneys Lisa Banks and Debra Katz wrote.
In an interview with the Camera, Katz said she was particularly impressed by the university's hiring of Simon, who has a "great reputation" in the civil rights community.
She said it's unusual for a university to handle a situation involving Title IX violations so swiftly and so thoroughly. She pointed to the White House's recent recommendations for handling and preventing sexual assault and sexual harassment on college campuses. The U.S. Department of Education also made public this year the list of campuses being investigated by its office for potential Title IX violations, a list that included CU's Boulder and Denver campuses.
"Fortunately, we're starting to see the universities heed that warning and we think there's been a significant change, and certainly that's what the University of Colorado's actions reflect here," Katz said. "It's not only a commitment to enforcing the law, but to be better."
"Dismissal proceedings, sexual harassment case latest blows to CU-Boulder's philosophy department"
CU officials say positive steps are being taken
August 7th, 2014
The University of Colorado's move to fire tenured faculty member David Barnett is just the latest public blow to the Boulder campus' philosophy department.
Barnett's dismissal proceedings come with the revelation that a now-former instructor within the department was found responsible for violating the university's sexual harassment policy, an offense the instructor is alleged to have committed against a female graduate student.
The university this week paid the female student $825,000 to settle accusations that Barnett retaliated against her after she reported the sexual assault by the instructor, whom the Daily Camera is not identifying because he was not arrested.
These most recent developments come after six months of internal and public turmoil within CU's philosophy department.
In January, the university made public an independent report that documented sexual harassment, bullying and other unprofessional behavior within the department.
The findings of that report led the university to suspended graduate admissions into the department and to replace former department head Graeme Forbes with an outsider, Andy Cowell, who came to philosophy from the linguistics department.
Many members of the department criticized the university's handling of the report, saying that they were told it would remain a private document.
Others denounced the report, and said that its authors were biased in their investigation and writing of the document. And others alleged it was factually inaccurate.
Banned from campus
Then, in early March, the university placed associate philosophy professor Dan Kaufman on paid administrative leave and barred him from campus.
Kaufman's leave concerned faculty members from many departments because he was escorted from his classroom — in front of undergradaute students — by campus police officers.
Faculty members in philosophy were instructed to call police if they saw Kaufman on campus.
More than two months later, and after being assessed by a leading expert in workplace and school violence, Kaufman was allowed back at CU.
No explanation has been given by the university for his banishment or for his return.
The university still has not decided whether to admit graduate philosophy students for the fall of 2015, according to the department's website.
The philosophy department has taken positive steps in recent months to address the climate issues mentioned in the independent report, such as bringing in internal and external experts for training on CU's discrimination and harassment policies, campus spokesman Ryan Huffsaid.
He added that the department has also initiated bystander training for faculty, staff and students encouraging them report actions that are hostile to women and to challenge those who contribute to a hostile environment.
CU also has brought in an external expert and formed an external advisory committee to guide the philosophy department moving forward and to transform it into one of "openness, mutual support and collegiality," Huff said.
"Students defend CU-Boulder philosophy professor under fire as 'excellent teacher'"
August 7th, 2014
Current and former students defended David Barnett on Thursday after learning of the University of Colorado's move to fire the associate philosophy professor, saying he is a good person and a valuable teacher.
Chancellor Phil DiStefano has issued Barnett a notice of intent to dismiss — the first step in the long process to fire a tenured professor — in connection with accusations that Barnett retaliated against a graduate student who reported she was sexually assaulted by a fellow student.
Barnett is accused of compiling a 38-page report painting the victim as "sexually promiscuous" and alleging she falsified the report of the assault, according to the victim's notice of intent to sue CU.
Through his attorney, Barnett claims that the report — which is not publicly available — described inconsistencies in witness testimony about the alleged assault brought before CU's Office of Discrimination and Harassment.
Kyra Rehman, a former undergraduate student in CU's philosophy department, said she was at the party where the alleged sexual assault occurred. She is listed as a witness in a Boulder police report about the incident.
Rehman said Barnett approached her to see whether they could talk about the testimony she provided the Office of Discrimination and Harassment about that night.
Rehman, who said she was friends with both the victim and the alleged assailant, saw a copy of the Office of Discrimination and Harassment's findings and noticed inconsistencies in its depiction of her testimony.
When she talked with Barnett, they only discussed the Office of Discrimination and Harassment findings and her testimony.
"At no point did Barnett make any judgments on anyone involved in the case," Rehman, 24, said in an interview with the Camera. "Our conversation was purely related to ODH and the way they handled this."
"Barnett never, ever told me who he thought was guilty or innocent, or who he thought was right or wrong. He just noticed inconsistencies in the report."
Rebecca Chan, a current doctoral student within the department, also stepped forward to defend Barnett, who she said was her dissertation adviser.
Chan, who started at CU in 2007, said she met Barnett in her first week on campus.
"I've had the chance to get to know him on and off campus, and he is one of the best people I've met," she said. "In addition to being a brilliant philosopher, he is an excellent teacher who can communicate with students on their level and inspires them."
She added that she feels safe coming to him for help with professional and personal problems, and believes that he "saved" at least one suicidal student.
Chan said that Barnett "never said a word" against either the victim or the alleged assailant in the sexual assault case. She said the university's decision to fire Barnett is a "gross overreaction."
"That (Barnett) has retaliated or smeared the name of (the victim) is false," she said.
BFA monitoring the case
Faculty members, many of whom declined to comment on the record for this story, were instructed by email to preserve any records relating to the case because of current or future litigation.
The email named Barnett, the victim and the alleged assailant in the sexual assault.
"Do not discuss this matter with anyone outside the presence of university counsel or the risk management review process," the email from CU's legal office said. "Failure to keep this information confidential may result in a waiver of the attorney/client privilege."
For its part, the body that represents faculty interests on the campus is "monitoring" the processes being followed to terminate Barnett, said Boulder Faculty Assembly chairman Paul Chinowsky.
"It is very rare that the University of Colorado undertakes such processes and we all take this very seriously," he said. "It is clear that there are different perspectives on this issue from the parties involved.
"The BFA is committed to making sure all faculty have the opportunity to have their cases appealed as outlined by the regents' (policies) and we support the process being followed in this specific case."
Use the blog's search engine for more on this story.
Sunday, August 3, 2014
To remove the ambiguity from; make unambiguous.
The disguising of true intentions by deceptive words or action.
A science concerned with bettering the condition of human beings through the improvement of their environment.
1. To declare to be evil or detestable, denounce.
2. To detest utterly.
1. Of or pertaining to the West.
2. Mild or favorable, propitious.
1. To understand thoroughly and intuitively.
2. To communicate sympathetically.
1. [Music]. Chiefly British. a sixty-fourth note.
A topic to which one constantly reverts.
1. A pet name.
2. The practice of using a pet name.
[Botany, Zoology]. Cut into narrow. irregular lobes, slashed, jagged.
1. An offense violating the dignity of a sovereign.
2. A detraction from or an affront to dignity or importance.
The exact appropriate word.
[Ecology]. The biosphere including and modified by such human activities as agriculture, forestry, animal husbandry, urbanization, and industrialization.
1. To foresee.
2. To forewarn.
1. A lofty oration or writing in praise of a person or thing, eulogy.
2. Formal or elaborate praise.
A person who pretends to know more than they do to impress others.
A person who pretends to know more than they do to impress others.
A person who has an inability to discern the difference between education and intelligence.
Science fiction dealing with 19th-century societies dominated by historical or imagined steam-powered technology.
1. Needless repetition of an idea, especially in words other than those of the immediate context, without imparting additional force or clearness, as in "widow woman."
2. An instance of such repetition.
1. Confused, disorderly, haphazard, tumultuary habits of studying.
2. Tumultuous, turbulent.
Thursday, July 24, 2014
Quite an honor to be featured at the prestigious Astronomy magazine. She writes about Pluto.
"Guest blog: The case for planet Pluto"
July 10th, 2014
This guest blog comes from Laurel Kornfeld, a freelance writer and enthusiastic amateur astronomer from Highland Park, New Jersey.
The discovery that our solar system does not end with Pluto does not mandate that we accept the controversial IAU planet definition and artificially keep the number of solar system planets small. It is time to recognize a new paradigm, one in which planets are abundant and include spherical moons of gas giants and dwarf planets. Astronomers and educators should take into account not just the IAU view but also the dissenting one, the geophysical definition of planet and its implications for study of our solar system. That is the paradigm shift I argue in the article below.
Planetary Society blogger Emily Lakdawalla makes valid points discussing the all-too frequent diminishing of the solar system by educators in the wake of the controversial 2006 IAU planet definition vote.
She also argues, correctly, that the solar system of today is a larger, more diverse neighborhood filled with a huge number of planetary bodies, and that it should be conveyed as such by educators.
Where she and other astronomy educators err is in assuming that a broader, more comprehensive study of our solar system and its exotic worlds must be based on acceptance of the IAU planet definition, which precludes all but eight solar system objects from being designated as planets.
I, too, have heard stories of teachers and media correspondents confused in the aftermath of the IAU decision referring to Pluto as either a star, an exoplanet, a moon, an asteroid, a comet, or a gaseous body. Clearly, the IAU decision is responsible for generating far more confusion than clarity.
An expanding solar neighborhood
Interestingly, many teachers do view Pluto as a planet and continue teach it as such. Some teach it as an ongoing debate. My 7- and 10-year-old nephews understand there are two ways of looking at the solar system — one that classifies only the largest bodies as planets and another that views planets as any and all spherical worlds.
While some games, toys, and books have removed Pluto from the lexicon of planets, many printed after 2006 have chosen to include not only Pluto but also the other dwarf planets. Witness Dr. Ken Croswell’s book Ten Worlds and Dr. David Aguilar’s National Geographic book Thirteen Planets.
McDonalds continues to sell Happy Meals in boxes decorated with nine planets, to the dismay of some IAU partisans.
The best teachers trust their students’ intelligence to teach the planet definition issue as what it really is — an ongoing debate. Elon University Physics Professor Tony Crider combined astronomy with role-playing to create a game in which students role play astronomers at a 1999 debate and at the 2006 IAU General Assembly. This original, fun, and informative lesson was introduced in 2011 at a meeting of the Astronomical Society of the Pacific. It can be found here.
As an amateur astronomer and writer who does public outreach, I hear many stories of teachers not just including Pluto but also including the five named dwarf planets in lessons about the solar system.
Ironically, The Planetary Society sets an example with its set of holiday ornaments that includes planets, dwarf planets, and spherical moons of the gas giants (satellite planets). I have had lengthy conversations with prominent astronomers and have studied the changing landscape of our solar system. Those studies have led me to reject the notion that the addition of many new small planets in the Kuiper Belt disqualifies Pluto as being a planet too.
Additionally, my experience has been that the IAU vote of 2006 is inherently understood by many to not be the final answer or even a fait d’accompli for both astronomers and educators studying the solar system. We refine our understanding of individual objects by the new data we learn about those objects, not by discoveries made about other bodies.
Three planetary zones
Yes, the architecture of the solar system is different from what it was when today’s adults were growing up. But that difference can just as well be understood as a major expansion of the solar system. Specifically, what we have now are three rather than two planetary zones — the terrestrial planets, the gas giants, and the dwarf planets, with the dwarf planets being the most numerous.
But that does not make them not planets.
Nothing about Pluto’s orbit precludes it from being classed as a planet. While Pluto’s orbit is inclined to the ecliptic by 17°, Mercury’s orbit is inclined by 7°. Many multiplanet exoplanet systems look different from our solar system, with each one of the planets orbiting in a different plane.
Exoplanets are even stranger
At least two exoplanet systems contain two giant planets in 3:2 orbital resonances, the same resonance that exists between Neptune and Pluto. HD 45364 in the constellation Canis Major is one such example.
Gliese 876d, a planet of several Earth masses that orbits closer to its star than Mercury, and WASP-17b, a planet half the width of Jupiter but twice its mass, both orbit their stars backward, meaning in the direction opposite of their stars’ spin.
In the system K0I-730, discovered by the Kepler mission, two planets share a single orbit, taking 9.8 days to circle their parent star.
These examples tell us that neither eccentric orbits nor objects having migrated to different locations from where they initially formed preclude such objects from being designated as planets.
Biggest dwarfs equal smallest planets
You could consider Charon a dwarf planet on its own. The four tiny moons in the Pluto system actually orbit not Pluto alone but Pluto-Charon in various resonances. Pluto and Charon orbit a barycenter between the two objects, making them the only binary planet system orbiting our Sun.
Pluto is estimated to be 70 percent rock, and Eris, being 25 percent more massive than Pluto though slightly smaller in size, is likely more rocky and therefore more planet-like. Many astronomers believe Eris provides an example of what Pluto will look like as it recedes from the Sun, a world with its gases frozen on the surface. Yet a recent study by Dr. Catherine Olkin at the Southwest Research Institute in Boulder, Colorado, indicates that Pluto never completely loses its atmosphere in the entirety of its 248-year orbit.
Olkin’s observations revealed that Pluto’s atmosphere is now three times as thick as it was when discovered in 1988, in spite of the fact that the planet has been receding from the Sun since its 1989 perihelion.
She attributes this higher atmospheric pressure to the fact that the area approximately 100 meters below Pluto’s surface retains sufficient heat to keep at least some of the nitrogen in Pluto’s atmosphere gaseous throughout its elliptical orbit.
Does Eris retain any type of atmosphere throughout its 550-year solar orbit? With an aphelion about three times farther than Pluto’s, the likelihood is no, but ultimately, the only way to be certain is to go there. To truly understand these worlds, we need to observe them up close.
Sending New Horizons type missions to such remote worlds will require both international cooperation and advances in propulsion technology to shorten the travel time of robotic missions. Nevertheless, making such exploration a priority is a necessity if we are to become space-faring people familiar with our own celestial neighborhood.
And gaining public support for such missions requires younger generations who are not just aware of these planets’ existence, but are excited by it.
The complex structures of the dwarf planets drives home the point that these are whole, complex, enigmatic worlds—in other words, small planets. That is why it would be inaccurate to imagine the larger worlds of the Kuiper Belt as being akin to the asteroids between Mars and Jupiter.
As these faraway worlds slowly give up their secrets, the new knowledge will continually require us to revise classification schemes reflecting the realities of these worlds. It is already conceivable to imagine a subclass of planets that harbor subsurface oceans. Such a subclass might include worlds as diverse as Pluto, Ceres, Europa, Enceladus, Ganymede, Callisto, Titan, and Triton.
Finding a subsurface ocean on Pluto may very well presage finding similar bodies of water beneath the surface of many other dwarf planets in the Kuiper Belt, Guillaume Robuchon and Francis Nimmo of the University of California at Santa Cruz pointed out in their 2011 article in Astrobiology magazine. Because subsurface oceans could potentially harbor microbial life, every one of these worlds constitutes another potential location for this greatest search of all.
The new solar system
One can, therefore, look at the same data as Lakdawalla and yet draw a very different conclusion about our solar system. Rather than eight planets, our solar system has five terrestrial planets (including Ceres), the closest of which is on a slightly inclined orbit, four large jovians, which can be further subdivided into gas giants and ice giants, and a host of dwarf planets, of which all except one orbit past Neptune. Ceres could be jointly classed as both a terrestrial planet and a dwarf planet.
In the gas giant region, we have a host of spherical moons that, with their complexity, composition, and geology, can be considered secondary or satellite planets. These worlds present some of the most desirable targets for future searches for microbial life and for potential human colonization of the solar system.
Yes, there likely are many more worlds to find beyond Neptune, and there may very well be a Neptune-sized object lurking out there. Significantly, such an object would not fit the IAU definition of planet adopted in 2006 because at such a distance, the chances are it would not “clear its orbit” even at Neptune’s size.
The discoveries of the last 20-plus years have significant implications for science education. Not only should we not drop Pluto from discussions of the solar system; we also should include the newly discovered Kuiper Belt planets, Sedna, Ceres and the large moons of the gas giants.
But why pretend these objects are anything but what they are—fascinating, extremely diverse, unique, but still planets? As New Horizons Principal Investigator Alan Stern often says, the real paradigm shift to which we are still becoming accustomed is not from a solar system with nine planets to one with eight, but from a solar system with nine planets to one with 50, 100, or more.
Visit Laurel's blog anytime for Pluto updates and information...
"Thomas the Tank Engine had to shut the hell up to save children everywhere"
Classism, sexism, anti-environmentalism bordering on racism: any parent who discovered these hidden lessons will be glad the show’s star just quit
Tracy Van Slyke
July 22nd, 2014
There are many terrible children's programs through which parents must suffer during their child's young life. For every Sesame Street, there is an annoying Caillou or an acid-trippy Yo Gabba Gabba. But Thomas and Friends is – or was – the one show with enough subversive messages to make me turn it off for good.
My son, now three-and-a-half years old, thankfully never never went through a manic train fascination like so many other children. But once in a while, he'd get a bug in his brain to watch Thomas, and every time I sat and watched with him, I winced and groaned almost as much as Percy.
When I heard the news this week, that the voice actor behind Thomas's incessant whinging quit the series because he was underpaid, I remembered all of the reasons that I cut my kid off from the show in the first place.
Thomas and those friends are trains that toil away endlessly on the Isle of Sodor – which seems to be forever caught in British colonial times – and, on its surface, the show seems to impart good moral lessons about hard work and friendship. But if you look through the steam rising up from the coal-powered train stacks, you realize that the pretty puffs of smoke are concealing some pretty twisted, anachronistic messages.
For one, these trains perform tasks dictated by their imperious, little white boss, Sir Topham Hatt (also known as The Fat Controller), whose attire of a top hat, tuxedo and big round belly is just a little too obvious. Basically, he's the Monopoly dictator of their funky little island. Hatt orders the trains to do everything from hauling freight to carrying passengers to running whatever random errand he wants done, whenever he wants it done – regardless of their pre-existing schedules.
Inevitably, the trains get in a fight with or pick on one another (or generally mess up whatever job they are supposed to be doing) until Hatt has to scold one of them about being a "really useful engine", because their sole utility in life is their ability to satisfy his whims. Yeah, because I want to teach my kid to admire a controlling autocrat.
But there was one particular episode that caused me to put the brakes on Thomas for good. It revolved around James, a red engine who is described in the opening credits as "vain but lots of fun." (Wait, it's OK to be vain if you can show others a good time occasionally? Great – that's going in my Parenting 101 book.) In the episode "Tickled Pink", poor vain James, is ordered by Topham Hat to get a new coat of paint. But while James has only had an undercoat of pink slathered on, Topham Hatt interrupts and demands that James go pick up Hatt's granddaughter and deliver her and her friends to a birthday party right now.
James is mortified that he has to travel while pink and proceeds to hide from all the other trains along the way. When he's caught, the other trains – including Thomas – viciously laugh and mock him.
"What are you doing James? You're a big pink steamie," says Diesel, the bad-boy engine. (For the record, all the "villains" on Thomas and Friends are the dirty diesel engines. I'd like to think there was a good environmental message in there, but when the good engines pump out white smoke and the bad engines pump out black smoke – and they are all pumping out smoke – it's not hard to make the leap into the race territory.)
But once James gets back on the rails and picks up Granddaughter Hatt and her friends, all seemingly ends well because the girls love pink.
Well guess what? It's not OK. You think a little boy watching Thomas is going to file away the lesson that pink is OK for boys? No, what kids remember is that James was laughed at, cruelly, over and over again, because he looked different and was clad in a "girly" pink color.
And that's not even to get started on the female trains. Well, actually it's hard to get started on them, because they barely exist. Take a quick scan of the more than 100 trains and characters in the Thomas universe – it spans multiple books, toys and continents in addition to a TV show – and you can quickly count on two hands the number of lady trains that populate is Isle of Sodor. Emily – the only lady train to get name checked in the opening credits and the only one who regularly hangs out with the boy trains – is said to "know her stuff." That's the sole description of her personality. What does that even mean?
Last year, the British Labour shadow Transportation Secretary even called out Thomas for its lack of females, saying that the franchise setting a bad example for girl wannabe train engineers everywhere.
At first blush, Thomas and his friends seem rather placid and mild. And there are certainly a lot worse shows in terms of in-your-face violence, sexism, racism and classism. But looks can be deceiving: the constant bent of messages about friendship, work, class, gender and race sends my kid the absolute wrong message.
And really, that theme song makes me scream. Thomas can just go bust my buffers.
Island of Sodor...a model of "imperialism"?
"Does Philosophy Get Out of Date?"
Mary Midgley says philosophy is about understanding the context and about understanding how we came to be where we are.
I started to wonder about this topic some time back when rumours reached me that, in some universities, no philosophy was being taught except what had been published in the last twenty years. These rumours were hard to check and clearly practice is very variable. It seems cars have been seen in the States with bumper-stickers bearing the message, ‘Just Say No To History of Philosophy’. And Gilbert Harman at Princeton had a notice to that effect outside his office door. It also emerges that the term ‘History of Philosophy’ has changed its meaning. It is now being used to describe all study of older writers, not just study with a historical angle. So Harman’s idea is that you shouldn’t read them at all and should certainly not take them seriously. At Cambridge, a student recently told a friend of mine that he had spent his whole undergraduate career without reading a word of Aristotle, Descartes or Kant. At this, (said my informant) “my heart sank.”
Well, so does mine. But we need to ask just why our hearts sink, and we should ask too what the people who make these changes are aiming at? Wondering about this, I remembered some things that happened in the Thatcher years, when cuts first began to threaten universities. Administrators, sternly told to economize, saw that the quickest way to do it was simply to close small departments. This would also enable them to harmonize with the mystique of ‘centres of excellence’ which was then in fashion. These centres were supposed to be big schools in which the study of a given subject would be so well covered that no other departments elsewhere would be needed at all. Thus, ideally, all the physics could be done at Manchester, all the economics at LSE, and all the philosophy (if any was still needed) at Oxford.
Since philosophy departments were usually small, universities did indeed start to close them. Eight of them in Britain went in the end. As one after another vanished, it struck me that nobody was saying that this ought not to happen. Nobody was suggesting that the subject was important in itself – that universities needed to teach it, that, if they stopped doing so they would become, in some sense, hardly universities at all. Fired by this thought I wrote to a number of the eminent philosophers of the time saying, in effect, “Do something! Write to The Times (which was what one did in those days). Let people know that this is important.’’
Nothing much came of this, but one of the replies that came back still strikes me as significant. I didn’t keep it because it made me so cross, but I remember perfectly well what it said. It came from that very distinguished Oxford philosopher Michael Dummett, and he told me flatly that it was wrong in principle to try to preserve all these provincial academic departments. Philosophy, he said, was a serious and highly technical subject which should only be studied at its own proper level. Any less professional approaches to it were useless and might even do harm. And what Dummett meant by the proper level is clear from a well-known passage in his writings where he said that “the proper object of philosophy” had only been finally established with the rise of “the modern logical and analytical style of philosophizing.” This object, he said, was… “the analysis of the structure of thought, [for which] the only proper method is the analysis of language.” And, not surprisingly, he thought this business of linguistic analysis had now become a highly technical pursuit – something increasingly like nuclear physics – which could only be carried on by people specially trained in it
The question Dummett raised is about the aim – the point, the proper object of philosophy. What are we actually trying to do? And it strikes me at once that, when Socrates talked about the great dangers that threaten human life, he didn’t actually mention the danger of unexamined thought or unexamined language. What Socrates warned us against was an unexamined life. And it is surely the attempt to examine life as a whole, to make sense of it, to locate its central confusions and resolve its big conflicts, that has been the prime business of traditional philosophy. Only quite lately has a quite different pattern of philosophizing caught on – a pattern that is modelled closely on the physical sciences and is reverently called Research. In those sciences, progress can be seen as consisting in accumulating a string of facts, in moving on from one empirical discovery to another. This seems often to be imagined as a mining operation, a steady process of digging through the intervening strata to reach the truth – the precious metal that lies hidden far beneath. In this process, the obstacles that have been removed are, of course, only of passing concern. Once they have been conquered they become irrelevant to the enquiry. That is why, to a physicist, past physical discoveries often have only a mild historical interest. His business is always with the next discovery. This accounts for his exclusive concentration on the latest journals, and also for the very revealing metaphor of the ‘cutting edge’ of research.
Now of course this sort of progress does happen and it can go on usefully for a long time. But, even in physical science, it is never the whole story. It can only work so long as there is a given linear pattern, a preset journey which will go reliably from A to B and so on to the end of the alphabet in the expected direction. Even in the sciences, that pattern isn’t always there. Often the next important discovery is going to crop up somewhere quite different – right off to the side of the expected route. Some awkward character such as Copernicus or Einstein or Faraday or Darwin mentions a new thought which calls for a quite new direction, a new way of envisaging the subject. Similarly, Peter Higgs has explained that the work by which he discovered his famous Boson was right off his official line of research, and if it had been noticed that he was doing it he might have been in for trouble. The reason why these people can make their unexpected forays is that they themselves have been looking at things differently. They have found new standpoints from which entirely unexpected things can be seen.
How is this possible? Historians sometimes treat these achievements either as something inevitable or as a kind of miracle due to individual genius. (This is why some misguided people demand a further dissection of Einstein’s brain, as if that would explain his discoveries.) But what is really happening is something both more obvious and more interesting. It is that these original thinkers have stood back from their local problem. They have placed it in its wider context and thought about how it connects with the surrounding scenery. They have been using telescopes rather than microscopes, so they can deal with a larger subject-matter. In short, they have been philosophizing.
This business of looking at life as a whole – finding wider contexts to give sense to our immediate problems – is philosophy’s distinctive activity. It is what makes it a genuinely important occupation, in fact an occupation that matters to all of us. Philosophy is not just one speciality among others. It’s a kind of conceptual geography which looks at the relation between the subject-matters of various ways of thinking and tries to map it. The reason why some philosophers become well-known is not that they have discovered new facts but that they have shifted the whole standpoint of thought. Philosophers have repeatedly brought absurdities to the attention of their age by displaying current customs against a new background and pointing out the strange assumptions that are distorting them. After this, new ways of thinking become possible.
For instance, when Rousseau started his book on the Social Contract by saying, “Man is born free and everywhere he is in chains”, he was lighting up some crashing discrepancies between theory and practice which had to be investigated if current problems were ever to be properly dealt with. Similarly, when this same Rousseau pointed out the strangely unnatural way in which babies were being reared – babies who were removed from their mothers, bandaged onto boards and handed over to carers who might well not care much about them – people started to notice anomalies in their whole idea of what nature is, and how it relates to our species. These anomalies had never struck them before. More immediately, they also started for the first time to pay some serious attention to small children, as they have gone on doing ever since.
It is interesting that our forefathers apparently could not see through these previous muddled ways of thinking until someone like Rousseau pointed them out. The assumptions that had produced these earlier customs simply persisted till some shock was delivered – till they were plainly stated in a form that could be grasped and made more workable. This shows how deeply our thought depends on a mass of unstated assumptions, very much in the way that our physical life rests on the hidden shifting masses of the earth beneath us. We don’t notice these assumptions till things start to go wrong – until, so to speak, the smell coming up from below is so bad that we are forced to take up the floor-boards and do something about it. This is why I have often suggested that philosophy is best understood as a form of plumbing. It’s the way in which we service the deep infrastructure of our life – the patterns in life that are taken for granted because they have never been noticed. This is something both deeper and more outward-looking than just examining the structure of our current thought and language, which seems to be what Dummett was calling for.
Another useful piece of plumbing was done in the late seventeenth century, when John Locke worked out the concept of Tolerance. During most of that century people throughout Europe had assumed that they must not tolerate disagreement. If they couldn’t agree on a single truth about religion, they must just go on fighting till they did, and meanwhile individual heretics must all be converted or punished. The idea that different opinions could perfectly well be allowed to exist side by side was seen as a culpable weakness, leading to anarchy. What eventually struck Locke, and what he managed to express in his writings, was that this system of competing dogmas can’t work because the truth is simply too complex. Nobody ever has the whole truth, and people who grasp different bits of it can, in fact, perfectly well live peacefully together. Indeed, that may be the best way of putting the various partial truths together in the end.
This ‘discovery’ was not, of course, (as scientific discoveries sometimes are) simply a matter of finding a brand-new ready-made fact, such as that the Earth goes round the Sun. It was much more like inventing a new musical instrument and working out how to play it. Locke and the people who worked with him had to learn how to tolerate what had previously seemed intolerable, and how to do business with people they had previously thought were outside the pale. They had to learn, too, how to look at the outer borders of this toleration and decide what must still be regarded as intolerable.
In fact, toleration, like all big philosophical ideas, is a very complex instrument, as hard to play as the cello or bassoon, which is why we still have so much difficulty learning how to handle it properly and why we still need to go on thinking out the ideas behind it. And the other ideals round which we try to structure our lives, ideals such as equality, freedom, compassion, fraternity or sisterhood, justice – are all as complicated as they are attractive. Yet they all have to be thought out and used together by the whole orchestra,
These ideals were, of course, central to the message of the Enlightenment, a message which we now assume is the obvious framework for any decent human life. But the Enlightenment story itself wasn’t always obvious. It didn’t drop ready-made out of a machine called History. It had to be invented, devised with a great deal of hard, grinding work by philosophers like Locke and Rousseau and it has had to be thought through with increasing labour up to the present day. In every age, more work of this kind is needed because the truth about the world is endlessly complicated.
• • •
Are we getting any clearer now about what is the real aim of philosophical enquiry? One thing that is already clear surely is that it can’t be at all like the aim of any physical science. Physical sciences spiral inward and down onto particular bits of the truth, which sometimes are ready-made facts, while philosophy ranges indefinitely outward looking for new connections – new ways of thinking and living. So it is quite proper for nuclear physicists to know more and more about less and less. But philosophers are supposed to do almost the opposite – to find links that will restructure the whole scope of our experience and allow us to live differently. Their use is to extend our range. They can bring a landscape in sight that nobody even knew existed.
Of course the contrast between these two forms of thought is not complete because (as we have seen) physical scientists do sometimes have to widen their views in order to shift their focus, and philosophers too must sometimes deal with detailed technical questions. But in their general balance these two approaches really are opposed – not because they are at war, but because they serve quite different needs. Nuclear physicists are normally addressing a limited audience of specialists – people who already share much of their knowledge and want to know more about a particular aspect of it. But the philosophers’ business is something that concerns everybody. Philosophy aims to bring together those aspects of life that have not yet been properly connected so as to make a more coherent, more workable world-picture. And that coherent world-picture is not a private luxury. It’s something absolutely essential for human life,
World-pictures – perspectives, imaginative visions of how the whole world is – are the necessary background of all our lives. They are often much more important to us than our factual knowledge, as may be seen in the case of climate sceptics whose traditional views remain unchanged whatever new evidence appears that seems to disprove them. We all have these background pictures and we usually get them half-consciously from the people around us. We often don’t ask where they came from. But, if we do ask, we shall probably find that they have been shaped by earlier philosophers who have influenced our tradition. For us, at present, that often means the prophets of the Enlightenment, people like Locke, Rousseau, Descartes, Hobbes, Hume, Mill, Marx and Nietzsche. This earlier philosophy doesn’t get obsolete. Far from that, it’s still vigorously alive. It has shaped the way we think. It has deep roots in the soil of our lives and it goes on developing there in its own characteristic way until somebody comes along and rethinks it. That is why people who refuse to think philosophically so often end up trapped in bits of earlier philosophy that they have unconsciously taken on from their predecessors.
The alternative to being enslaved by past thought in this way is to attend directly to what these earlier philosophers actually said and to see how it relates to our life today. If we do this, we shall often find that these people’s message was far more subtle than the crude versions of it that are still working in the tradition. In fact, it is still throwing out shoots that can help us today. The reason why these philosophers caught the attention of their times was (as I have said) not just that they had solved particular problems but that they had lit up life from unexpected angles. They suggested, not just new thoughts but new concepts, distinctive approaches, whole new ways of thinking. Of course none of these new approaches solves all problems, but each of them gives us a fresh stance, fresh tools for the endless balancing act by which we try to understand our confusing world We can see how influential these suggestions still are, not just because people today often still quote from (say) Marx or Nietzsche or Plato or Buddha for their illustrations, but because current thinking as a whole is still often visibly shaped by these people; coloured through in a way that the people using it now are no longer aware of.
So, how can it be plausible to think that they are out of date and we can now forget about them? How could it not be necessary for us to attend to these still influential factors in our lives? The point is not just that – as I’ve suggested – we need to check their details to protect ourselves against distorted versions of their message that are still working in our tradition. We need also to attend to these mighty trees themselves for their own sake. We need to understand them because they have shaped the whole way of life that we still live by. They are still active features of our present life, parts of the tangled forest through which we are still travelling. In fact, the reason why we need to learn about the history of philosophy is just the same as the reason why we need to learn about the rest our history; namely that, without grasping the past, we can’t hope to understand the present.
On the political scene this is obvious. We know that, if we haven’t grasped the past history of the ravenous way in which Western nations competed to gobble up other countries during the nineteenth century, we can’t hope to understand why so many people in those gobbled countries still feel so bitterly resentful towards ourselves. Historical epochs don’t just succeed one another randomly like successive spinnings of a roulette wheel. They are phases in a continuum, organically connected, so that you often really cannot understand where you are now without grasping how you got there.
And if this background is necessary for understanding politics it is still more necessary for our moral and intellectual life. Without it, we can’t really make sense of current conflicts. In particular, any student who is now expected to study the philosophy of the last twenty years without being told about the long sweep of history that produced it is surely doomed to frustration. And this student has all the more right to resent that frustration because (as we have seen) it affects not just his or her knowledge but their whole world-view, their imaginative understanding of life. We need to grasp the story of our past intellectual evolution so as to understand where we are today, just as badly as we need to know about our past biological evolution.
Philosophy, in fact, is not just one specialized subject like another, something which you need not take up unless you mean to lecture on it. Instead it is something we all do all the time, a continuous, background activity which is likely to go badly if we don’t attend to it. In this way it is perhaps more like driving a car or using money than it is like nuclear physics. And perhaps it is more like music than it is like any of these other occupations. Anyway, like good music, good philosophy does not easily get out of date.
© Dr Mary Midgley 2014
[Mary Midgley lectured at the University of Newcastle-upon-Tyne until 1980. Her best known books include Beast and Man; Wickedness; The Ethical Primate; Science and Poetry and a memoir, The Owl of Minerva. She was given Philosophy Now’s 2011 Award for Contributions in the Fight Against Stupidity.]