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Heraclitus 2012

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“Barack Obama. Now there’s a river you wouldn’t want to step in twice.” In perhaps the most groan-worthy moment of the evening, Heraclitus riffs on his well-known river aphorism to caution against re-electing the current president. He’s speaking to perhaps a dozen supporters at a Dairy Queen outside Nashville, Tennessee, on the third stop of his tour of the American Southeast.

Though you wouldn’t be able to tell from his speech tonight, Heraclitus’s official platform has three planks: (1) Things are constantly changing (universal flux), (2) Opposites coincide (the unity of opposites), and (3) Fire is the basic material of the world. The platform is summarized by the slogan, “Change. Unity. Fire.”

“People like the ‘Change’ and ‘Unity’ parts,” explains campaign adviser Jill Harnish. “They don’t actually realize what he means, but it sounds good. When he gets to ‘Fire,’ however, people usually get a little creeped out.” As a result, Harnish has steered Heraclitus away from detailed discussion of his positions and towards the cliches and sloganeering familiar from more mainstream candidates.

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October 17, 2012 at 9:51 pm

Four steps to strengthen our democracy (UPDATED)

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The following is an editorial by guest author Gerald Mueller, the Strom Thurmond Chair of Conservative Thought at the University of Cascadia.

Responsible voters come in all shapes and sizes. Some are tall. Some are short. Some even have freckles!

The election season provides a prime opportunity to reflect on the state of our democracy. And, upon reflection, it is hard to deny that we face significant and growing threats to the integrity of our electoral system. Here are four of the most important (and least discussed) steps we should take to strengthen our democracy.

1. Keep out-of-state interests out of local politics

People like David and Charles Koch are often criticized for using their wealth to influence state politics around the country, but there is another threat to the integrity of local politics that has gone ignored. We need to protect small towns from the out-of-state interests who live in those small towns: college students. As New Hampshire Speaker of the House William O’Brien explained last year, college students are “taking away [small] towns’ ability to govern themselves” by outnumbering and outvoting long-term residents, and “that’s not fair.” Fairness demands that we expand restrictions on voting by out-of-state students. If you will not be around for the long haul, why should you have a say in the laws you will live under for the next four years? (Which is why we should also prevent voting by those who plan to move within the next four years, but that is another issue.)

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October 3, 2012 at 5:43 pm

Princeton philosophy: Stimulating (UPDATED)

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After conducting a Google search for ‘princeton philosophy’ today, this reporter was surprised to see the image above. Under the heading ‘Princeton University Department of Philosophy’ were four links: ‘Philosophy’, ‘Search Results’, ‘Viagra no prescription’, and ‘Viagra online’. A subsequent search for ‘princeton university viagra’ revealed two departmental pages with both ‘viagra’ (sic) and ‘Princeton University’ in their titles.

Without confirmation from the department it’s too early to say for sure, but FauxPhilNews is going to go ahead and call this one: the Princeton philosophy department is partnering with pharmaceutical giant Pfizer to provide direct-to-consumer marketing and sale of Viagra. No longer will men have to turn to shady online retailers; now they can purchase their sex drugs straight from one of the most respected names in higher education.

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September 16, 2012 at 4:26 pm

3 Quarks Daily 2012 Philosophy Prize (UPDATED)

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The FauxPhilNews entry for the 3 Quarks Daily 2012 Philosophy Prize won the voting round but was not selected by the judges to be a finalist. The finalists can be seen here, and the FauxPhilNews entry here. Thanks to all who voted!

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September 16, 2012 at 3:40 pm

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Psycho Analytics marks one-year anniversary

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Graduate student Samuel Pope says the stress of facing a tight job market is starting to get to him. “Maybe I’m losing it, but I’ve started to wonder: Can a non-existent object think about me? I’m sympathetic to Meinongianism, so this is a possibility I have to take seriously.”

In news that will surely comfort unemployed philosophers everywhere, the mounting stresses of the job market have led to a breakout first year at Psycho Analytics, LLC, a Los Angeles clinic catering to distressed philosophers. Since its founding in August 2011, the clinic has doubled in size to four practitioners and developed a reputation for a nuanced understanding of the world of professional philosophy.

“The clinic may be new,” explains co-founder Samantha Greer, “but I do what I’ve always done: help people deal with insecurity and peer rejection. Except now it’s more about job insecurity and peer-reviewer rejection.”

Not surprisingly, the stressful conditions of academic philosophy can lead to a range of mental and physical problems. Intriguingly, the problems are often unique to the modern academic. “Take premature e-publication,” Greer suggests. “I’d never even heard of it before a few years ago.” She’s talking about the posting of half-baked papers online, where they can damage the author’s reputation or job prospects. Premature e-publication is one of the most embarrassing problems an academic can face. The young, the inexperienced, and the easily excitable are especially prone to this type of premature release. “There’s nothing wrong with self-publishing,” Greer says. “Everyone does it. But we try to help philosophers control the urge to do it at inappropriate times.”

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August 18, 2012 at 3:30 pm

What is it like to be a zombie in philosophy?

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This is what a philosopher looks like.

What is it like to be a zombie in philosophy? That’s the question posed by a new blog chronicling the experiences of zombies in what is still a field dominated by the not-yet undead. The blog follows in the footsteps of a similar project about life as a woman in philosophy.

Also, this.

“I think the expansion from women to other marginalized groups is the natural next step,” says Noam Chompsky, the site’s unfortunately named creator. “Zombies typically rank somewhere between pedophiles and atheists in terms of the general level of distrust among the public, and I think some of that distrust finds its way into the discipline.”

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July 4, 2012 at 7:47 pm

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Reader poll (UPDATED)

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UPDATE: Ok, I found out how to see the write-ins, but I don’t think you can access them. Here are my favorites:

I’m a bat. I can tell you about THAT.


the available brains are chewier, not as fresh as normal brains

“Zombie” is a pseudo-concept

Braaaaaaaaaaaaaaaains = minds!

I wish I had brains enough to answer this question.


It’s definitely not phenomenal.

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July 4, 2012 at 7:46 pm

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(Real) letter to the editor

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Dear Sirs,

As much as one must applaud the effort of the editors to offer selected articles on philosophy to be published in the International Journal of Psychoanalysis, I cannot help but wonder if these are properly refereed submissions and if there is not a certain danger in their being accepted without criticism or comment. As but one example, in the submission on perception by Tyler Burge he speaks of qualia and perceptual anti-individualism. Yet in a book by Metzinger, himself a noted philosopher, it is stated unequivocally that qualia do not exist, as well as insisting on a position quite distinct from Burge in terms of the latter issue. As a non-philosopher I am unable to make any sort of reasonable decision about this issue, and I wonder if more balanced presentations would not be preferable. I do not in any way mean this as a criticism of Tyler Burge, who is an outstanding scholar, but more as a matter of general editorial policy.


Metzinger T (2003). Being no one. Cambridge, MA: MIT Press, p. 66.

[Notes: The above letter to the editor was passed along to me some time ago by Alex Kerr. It can be found, with citation information, here.]

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June 29, 2012 at 4:54 pm

Philosophy grads, part 2

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The Edible Complex: When you want to eat out with family.

“Here is one hand,” says Moore, “and here is another.” While Moore’s Prosthetics isn’t actually one of the philosophy-themed small businesses popping up around the country, I couldn’t resist ducking in and asking Mr. Moore if there were any hands. I can’t stay long, however, as I’m on my way to the Edible Complex.  I’m meeting with Neil Levy to discuss some of the businesses popping up as new PhDs look for alternatives to the anemic academic job market.

The Edible Complex is a hip new café, just down the street from the risqué leather shop Discipline and Punish. Like several nearby cafés, they have board games set out for customers. Unlike anywhere else, however, the games are all philosophy-themed. There’s a philosophy edition of Guess Who? (“Is this person a physicalist?”), as well as several selections from the Ludwig’s Language Games series (“Whereof one cannot speak, thereof one must make funny noises.”)  Jesse Patton opened the Complex last year, leaving behind work as a per-term instructor in the California State system. Patton has several business ideas in the works, including a challenger to Ancestry.com, the Genealogy of Mortals (“God is dead. And he was once married to your mother’s second cousin.”)

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June 12, 2012 at 10:04 am

Philosophy grads look to careers outside academia

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Their pastries are phenomenal!

“Thesis: toast. Antithesis: nothingness. Synthesis: bagel. This is what I call the ‘bread dialectic.’ Name of shop: Hegel’s Bagels.”

I’m sitting in Jorge Frazier’s Brooklyn apartment, listening to him pitch his new business idea. Frazier graduated last year from the University of Northern Marianas, specializing in 18th and 19th century German philosophy. On the wall behind him is a sign that reads, “Don’t be a Kant. Buss your own table.” He sees me looking. “Oh, that’s from my last place, an all-you-can-eat pizza joint called ‘Perpetual Pizza.’ For some reason it didn’t catch on.”

Frazier thinks his new business will be more successful than the last. He’s planning to set up shop right across the street from Berkeley’s Bakery, the newest philosophy-themed small business to hit New York.  “I expect to give them a run for their money,” Frazier says confidently. “Berkeley’s mincemeat pie is a thing of beauty, but their bagels are quite insubstantial.”

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May 30, 2012 at 9:43 pm

Children’s philosophy book series cancelled

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Jimmy Becker’s parents say he hasn’t been the same since he started reading Random House’s Philosophy for Kids series.

Jimmy Becker is a curious and determined eight-year-old.  That determination, however, is getting him into trouble.  “What’s the point of life if everything I do is already fixed by the laws of nature and prior conditions?”  His mother lets out a sigh.

“He’s been talking like this ever since he read that book,” says Ms. Becker.  “That book” is Billiards, Bugs and Brains, part of the Philosophy for Kids series from Random House.  With brightly colored pictures and monosyllabic words, Billiards explores the deterministic behavior of the natural world, including the world of human thought and action.

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May 6, 2012 at 2:52 pm

UNM grants “hunting licenses” to military recruiters

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Well, one more recruit won’t be enough, but certainly no single recruit will make the difference between having enough and not having enough, so…  The sorites problem: you know you shouldn’t, but they offer you a heap of money to join.

A decade after banning military recruiters from campus, the University of Northern Maine has begun issuing visitation permits allowing recruiters to speak with college seniors about post-graduation plans.  The ban was initially enacted in opposition to the military’s “don’t ask, don’t tell” policy, but was reconsidered after DADT officially ended last September.

In what’s come as a surprise to many, the UNM philosophy department officially supports the move, citing the desire to help its majors find employment after graduation.  While traditionally the department limited its efforts to helping majors gain admission to graduate programs, in recent years the department has encouraged its majors to consider other career paths.

“We knew there was a problem when papers started showing up talking about ‘the applications paradox’ instead of ‘the lottery paradox,'” explains Alan Pittman.  He’s referring to the question of why someone applying to a graduate philosophy program can know they’ve been rejected after receiving a rejection letter but not before, given that the probability a rejection letter was sent by mistake is greater than the probability, before receiving such a letter, that an applicant will be accepted by a given program.

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April 19, 2012 at 5:34 pm

Consciousness goes under the microscope (UPDATED)

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Roth (right), Goldman (center), and a colleague at MSU crowd around The Experience Machine.

The nature of conscious experience has been one of philosophy’s most hotly debated questions in recent decades.  While discussions of intentionality, phenomenology, and first-person access have produced a voluminous literature, there’s been frustratingly little consensus.  Jamie Roth hopes to change that.

“I want to start a conversation about conscious experience that doesn’t just turn into another opportunity for Ned Block to talk about how impressive his orgasms are.”  She wants, that is, to break away from relying on diverging intuitions about cases.  “Representationalists and qualia freaks, physicalists and property dualists — each camp trots out its favored examples and no one ever changes their mind.”

In an effort to break the impasse, Roth is partnering with Francis Goldman, a microscopist at Michigan State University.  The two claim to have developed a technique for extracting and imaging subjects’ conscious experiences.  “Getting the experiences was easy,” says Roth.  “By the end of freshman year the average student is brimming with experiences they wish they didn’t have and is more than willing to donate a few.”

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April 6, 2012 at 12:02 am

Anti-realists attack climate science in new ad campaign

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According to leaked documents, the new Shell advertising campaign is based on a lightly edited version of the introduction to Haley’s PhD dissertation.

A series of television ads funded by Shell Oil Company hit the airwaves this week, responding to last month’s statement by Métaphysiciens Sans Frontières calling for immediate action to reduce global climate change.  The ads, produced by the public relations firm Anti-Realists for Responsible Science, take aim at mainstream climate science in general and the MSF statement in particular.

The first commercial aired Monday, focusing on the claim by MSF spokesman Frank Jackson that, if historical patterns continue, the carbon dioxide concentration of the earth’s atmosphere will reach a dangerous tipping point of 450 parts per million by mid-century.  In the ad, ARRS founder Jack Haley dismisses Jackson’s warning as “naive enumerative inductivism.”  Haley notes that for every year on record carbon dioxide levels have been below 450 parts per million.  “If that pattern continues, we’ll never reach 450 parts per million,” says Haley.  “So by Jackson’s own logic we both will and won’t reach the alleged tipping point.  Which is it, Mr. Jackson?  Will we or won’t we? The American people await your answer.”

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March 30, 2012 at 10:27 am

Nation’s philosophy literacy falls to all-time low

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Even lawyers, despite years of formal education, often have sub-par logic skills. Many can’t prove innocence even given that the defendant is assumed  innocent until proven guilty.

The average American knows less about philosophy now than ever before.  So say Samantha and Robert Lawson in a paper forthcoming in Teaching Philosophy.  The Lawsons reached their depressing conclusion after examining nearly 60 years of data, including information on Americans’ reading habits, formal philosophy education, and the citation of philosophers by writers outside the discipline.

“Many in academia bemoan the gap between public opinion and scientific consensus,” says Sarah Lawson.  “But the disconnect between lay and expert opinion in philosophy is just as bad.”  Lawson points to Gallop polls that indicate 40% of Americans believe God created humans in their present form and 46% believe the global warming of the past century has been due to natural causes.  By comparison, a shocking 97% of respondents in one recent poll said that objects are colored.  Most of the remaining 3% endorsed “a facile and vague ‘colors are just in your head’ theory,” says Lawson.  “Very disappointing.”  Similarly, in one of the Lawsons’ own surveys, 99% of subjects said they knew they had hands, with the remaining 1% split between “Not sure,” “Other,” and “Shut up and take me to the hospital.”

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March 23, 2012 at 7:22 am

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Reason and Action banned for obscenity

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"I don't know what 'affordances' are, but I do know it's pretty perverse to say the family dog goes around all day thinking, 'Is that F-able?' about every object it sees."

Provo City Library in Provo, Utah, pulled Larry Hall’s Reason and Action from its shelves this week after complaints by library patrons prompted an official review. Upon review, the library board found the book to be in violation of PCL’s obscenity policy.  The move comes as a surprise to Hall, who describes the book, a study in the philosophy of action, as “rather dry, really.”

While library officials won’t disclose the number of complaints or their specific contents, one of the complaints was filed by Heather Lord, who chose to come forward to comment on the incident.  “Every page was ‘F this’ and ‘F that,'” says Lord, who found the book in her teenage son’s backpack.  “And not just people, either. It talked about animals F-ing, robots F-ing—it was some pretty shocking stuff.”

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March 16, 2012 at 12:02 am

Republicans attack ObamaContent as “socialized meaning”

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One of these things is not like the others

In a rare break from party infighting, Monday’s Republican primary debate saw the candidates unite in their derision of “ObamaContent,” the president’s newly unveiled theory of linguistic meaning.  The theory, which relies upon the practice of a speaker’s linguistic community to fix the semantic content of many words, was attacked as “socialized meaning” by the debate participants.

“If you want content, you fix it yourself,” said Romney, kicking off a long series of comments on individual responsibility.  “I didn’t always use to be this erudite,” added Gingrich.  “You can either put in the work to learn new words, or you can leech off the knowledge of others.”

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March 9, 2012 at 10:40 am

Despite precautions, another suicide at Foxconn

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The workers here at Foxconn Jinan work 12 hours a day, six days a week.  They’re denied health coverage, pensions and other benefits.  There’s no overtime pay and minimal job security.  Things are so bad that last week, barely six months after it opened, Foxconn Jinan saw its first worker suicide.

“And that’s why we don’t let the adjuncts read Camus anymore,” says factory manager Liu Kun.  He’s referring to the adjunct professors who labor in Foxconn’s newest factory, grading papers and lecturing via Skype for philosophy courses back in the United States.  Originally slated to produce LEDs, Foxconn Jinan was converted to a philosophy factory after American university administrators realized the potential of cheap Chinese labor.

Well, more like cheap “Chinese” labor.  The overwhelming majority of the adjuncts here are US citizens.  They packed their things, left their families and moved to China because “it was easier than finding a steady teaching job in America.”  So says Lauren Carr, a 28 year-old fresh out of graduate school.  “At least here, there’s no shortage of work to be done,” she adds, clearly one of the more optimistic workers at the site.

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March 2, 2012 at 7:09 am

Logic professor irradiates self for fun and profit

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“What, so now a female philosopher can’t solve the P versus NP problem without irradiating herself first?” indignant readers ask

"I love logic thiiiiis much"

Like most philosophers, Jennifer McAdams refined a little uranium on the side.  She never intended it to go too far; just a little fission in her garage, as a challenge, and maybe to keep down the electricity bill.  Of course, things did go too far.  The professor of logic and computer science mistook a drum of yellowcake for, well, yellow cake, and the rest is history.  Or it will be soon, anyway.

McAdams quickly realized the identity of the yellow powdery stuff, but not before exposing herself to dangerous levels of radiation.  At first she felt sick, all day and all night.  After a few days, however, the nausea was present only when McAdams was grading her students’ problem sets.  While she had often felt this way while grading student work in the past, McAdams soon noticed that the feeling came and went according to whether the proof she was grading was invalid or not.

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February 25, 2012 at 10:07 pm

Experimental philosophy gets real

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“Ten bucks an hour? Sweet!”

A new study confirms what philosophers have long suspected: ordinary folk disapprove of violently killing innocent bystanders. Published this week in Science, the study is turning heads less for its conclusion and more for its methods. Studying folk intuitions in moral dilemmas is nothing new. But in response to criticism that his laboratory experiments lack ecological validity, Harvard’s Joshua Greene decided to take his research out of the lab and into the field.

“Sure, people will say that pushing a man in front of a speeding trolley is wrong on paper,” says Greene, the study’s lead author. “But what happens when they actually get out there and kill a man? Still wrong? Nobody knew because nobody had tested it.”

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February 25, 2012 at 4:16 pm