What is a lie, academic division!

WEDNESDAY, JANUARY 11, 2017

The absence of the profs:
We know, we know! On Monday, we said we were going to examine the skill levels put on display when some journalists recently tried to answer this basic question:

Should a journalist call a lie a lie?

Our view? As a general matter, the answer is no! But let's return to that tomorrow. For today, let's consider the recent death of Derek Parfit.

Very few people have ever heard of Parfit. In the New York Times, the obituary, by William Grimes, started off like this:
GRIMES (1/5/17): Derek Parfit, a British philosopher whose writing on personal identity, the nature of reasons and the objectivity of morality re-established ethics as a central concern for contemporary thinkers and set the terms for philosophic inquiry, died on Monday at his home in London. He was 74.

Janet Radcliffe Richards, his wife, said the cause had not been determined.

Mr. Parfit, who was associated with All Souls College at Oxford for his entire career, rose to pre-eminence with the publication of his first paper, ''Personal Identity,'' in 1971.

[...]

''It was a revolutionary paper, and it made him a philosophic celebrity instantly,'' Jeff McMahan, a professor of moral philosophy at Oxford and one of Mr. Parfit's former students, said in an interview.

''Reasons and Persons,'' published in 1984, was greeted as the most important work of moral philosophy since Henry Sidgwick's ''The Method of Ethics'' in 1874. In it, Mr. Parfit elaborated his ideas on identity and explored issues in moral choice that reanimated the field of ethics, which had descended into abstruse technical analyses of moral terms like ''ought,'' ''good'' and ''right.''
The obit runs more than a thousand words. Let's consider what is said right there, at the start:

According to Grimes, Parfit's work "re-established ethics as a central concern for contemporary thinkers." Parfit became a "philosophic celebrity" in 1971. The book he published in 1984 "was greeted as "the most important work of moral philosophy" since a book by Henry Sidgwick in 1874.

These statements struck us as strange. Reason: we'll guess that very few New York Times readers have ever heard of either Parfit or Sidgwick. But according to Grimes, they were the most important writers in the field of ethics and/or moral philosophy in at least the past 150 years!

We decided to check. Given their greatness, how often has either man's name ever appeared in the Times?

The Nexis archives date back, fairly reliably, for thirty to forty years. But when we searched, we found that Parfit's name had appeared in the Times only five times during that period. Sidgwick's name beat him, racking up seven cites.

Trust us—these were almost all fleeting single citations, often in book reviews:
Dates of previous mentions in the New York Times:
Parfit: 10/3/10; 1/2/11; 10/2/11; 3/18/12; 8/5/12

Sidgwick: 7/15/84; 7/22/84; 9/9/90; 12/2/02; 8/14/06; 8/20/06; 5/8/11
This struck us as strange, but revealing. Everyone has heard of "morality," "morals" and "ethics." But no one has ever heard of the two most important academic figures in the field of ethics over the past 150 years!

If you read the rest of the Grimes obit, you may come to see why that is. You'll be reading hopelessly abstruse attempts to summarize some hopelessly abstruse work.

The problem will become much more stark if you read Dylan Matthews' schoolboy-crush pretense of a discussion of Parfit at Vox. (Unintentionally ironic headline: Here's Why He Mattered.) Meanwhile, if you click the link Matthews provides, you'll find that he came very close to plagiarizing a hopelessly abstruse account of Parfit's work from a lengthy 2011 profile in The New Yorker.

Over the past thirty years, our national discourse has been disappearing beneath the waves of what is now known as Trumpism. Our journalists have almost completely lacked the skills, or perhaps the will, to confront the attacks of the sanity and the clarity of our discourse. Meanwhile, our professors of ethics have been absent, like central figures from one of Ingmar Bergman's all-time gloomiest films.

God is dead? So are our philosophy professors!

Go ahead! Read the profile of Parfit from The New Yorker. See if you can con yourself into believing that you have any idea what Parfit was talking about. Do you feel sure that he was talking about anything at all?

Was God AWOL for poor Bergman as of The Seventh Seal? Our logicians and our ethics professors have been AWOL for us for a good many years! In their absence, what's the best our journalists can do in their stead? Believe it or not, this is the way the lengthy New York Times obit ends:
GRIMES: In addition to his wife, Mr. Parfit is survived by his sister, Theodora Ooms. In addition to his home in London, he had one in Oxford.

On Daily Nous, Mr. Singer offered a snippet from Mr. Parfit's new work:

''Life can be wonderful as well as terrible, and we shall increasingly have the power to make life good. Since human history may be only just beginning, we can expect that future humans, or supra-humans, may achieve some great goods that we cannot now even imagine.

''In Nietzsche's words, there has never been such a new dawn and clear horizon, and such an open sea.''
Did our greatest moral philosopher write those words? Or was it actually (we're just asking) possibly Chance the Gardener?

By way of contrast: And we're just saying. Edie Sedgwick's name has been mentioned several hundred times.

20 comments:

  1. By way of contrast: And we're just saying. Rachel Maddow's name was not mentioned once in this post.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. His points about RM are correct, like his insights into M. Dowd. Both harm more than they help.

      Delete
    2. “Our journalists have almost completely lacked the skills, or perhaps the will, to confront the attacks on the sanity and the clarity of our discourse.”

      Do the owners of our society (and our discourse) with their pharaonic levels of wealth want a society with sane and clear discourse?

      A sane and clear discourse would include questions about why anyone should have pharaonic levels of wealth. So I’m guessing a creating a discourse that includes sanity and clarity is not on the agenda at the morning meeting and that destroying such a discourse is right at the very top.

      Delete
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  2. I never heard of that philosopher, but don't most academics only speak to each other? Isn't is unusual when one affects popular culture?

    ReplyDelete
  3. Chris Matthews today called that 35-page memo published by Buzzfeed "disinformation". It isn't. It is unverified intelligence provided by a former British intelligence agent with a reputation for reliability. It is unconfirmed because much of it is difficult to confirm and because sources are not named. Trump is calling this stuff lies. but he would say thst even if it were verified.

    Why is Chris Matthews shilling for Trump this way?

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Those who know Matthews are not surprised.

      Delete
  4. My ex and I were together for 5 years. We lived together and were engaged. We went on a trip with friends and his family and had a nasty fight and broke up. We both moved out of our home and with our parents. We decided to go no contact for a month and 2 weeks in he started dating a girl and took her on a trip to California ( where we’ve gone the last 2 years on my bday) on my birthday weekend! After battling it out thru emails and a few meetings we finally came to see each other all of last week, i love him so much and i was so desperate to have him back coz i new that girl was not the right person for him so i have to save my relationship and reunite with me ex again so i try all i could to bring him back but all to avail i have be in contact with so many spell caster who only too my money and still nothing good work out of it, i ws so confuse and devastated one day trying to search on facebook, i come across a wonderful testimony of a lady on how a spell caster who she contacted also for love spell help her and bring her husband back to her with-in less day 2 days after the spell i was so fill with joy coz this lady meant my day and i regain my hope back so i directly and desperately email http://happyspelltemple.webs.com/ coz i love my ex so much and i want him back all to my self so with-in 5 min,Dr happy email me back with hope and told me that i have found solution in him that i should worried no more so i did all he ask of me and he gave me assured and guarantee that my ex will come back so i believed and was so gifted all to my surprise after the spell my ex call, come to my working beg and apology for his mistake,and he said sorry for the nasty break up that he was inconsiderate of my feelings nt in tend to hurt me. i can testify with the power love spell of Dr happy me and my ex are happily married now thank you Dr happy i will for ever be grateful to you and keep sharing your testimony if you need help or love spell fine it difficult to get back with your ex, email happylovespell2@gmail.com or call his mobile number on +2348133873774

    ReplyDelete
  5. Most people cannot name the top figures in any field. Who is the best computer scientist or engineer in the US? Why should philosophy be any different?

    ReplyDelete
  6. Fascination with Edie Sedgwick makes no sense, a rather empty person. Putting Dylan's creepy relationship with Edie aside, Billy Duffy is one of the greats.

    ReplyDelete
  7. The New York Times Syndicate asked Noam Chomsky, a professor of linguistics and philosophy, to write op-ed columns. The Times itself published NOT ONE of those columns.

    So here was a perfectly willing philosopher, but the press wouldn't publish his op-eds.

    https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Making_the_Future

    Chomsky's political writing is completely understandable, not technical like his linguistics.

    ReplyDelete
  8. @impCaesarAvgJ--Good info. Thanks. Pro-plutocracy media like the NYT would never have the guts to publish Chomsky.

    ReplyDelete
  9. My ex and I were together for 5 years. We lived together and were engaged. We went on a trip with friends and his family and had a nasty fight and broke up. We both moved out of our home and with our parents. We decided to go no contact for a month and 2 weeks in he started dating a girl and took her on a trip to California ( where we’ve gone the last 2 years on my bday) on my birthday weekend! After battling it out thru emails and a few meetings we finally came to see each other all of last week, i love him so much and i was so desperate to have him back coz i new that girl was not the right person for him so i have to save my relationship and reunite with me ex again so i try all i could to bring him back but all to avail i have be in contact with so many spell caster who only too my money and still nothing good work out of it, i ws so confuse and devastated one day trying to search on facebook, i come across a wonderful testimony of a lady on how a spell caster who she contacted also for love spell help her and bring her husband back to her with-in less day 2 days after the spell i was so fill with joy coz this lady meant my day and i regain my hope back so i directly and desperately email http://happyspelltemple.webs.com/ coz i love my ex so much and i want him back all to my self so with-in 5 min,Dr happy email me back with hope and told me that i have found solution in him that i should worried no more so i did all he ask of me and he gave me assured and guarantee that my ex will come back so i believed and was so gifted all to my surprise after the spell my ex call, come to my working beg and apology for his mistake,and he said sorry for the nasty break up that he was inconsiderate of my feelings nt in tend to hurt me. i can testify with the power love spell of Dr happy me and my ex are happily married now thank you Dr happy i will for ever be grateful to you and keep sharing your testimony if you need help or love spell fine it difficult to get back with your ex, email happylovespell2@gmail.com or call his mobile number on +2348133873774

    ReplyDelete
  10. Hello, I am Theresa Williams After being in relationship with Anderson for years, he broke up with me, I did everything possible to bring him back but all was in vain, I wanted him back so much because of the love I have for him, I begged him with everything, I made promises but he refused. I explained my problem to my friend and she suggested that I should rather contact a spell caster that could help me cast a spell to bring him back but I am the type that never believed in spell, I had no choice than to try it, I mailed the spell caster, and he told me there was no problem that everything will be okay before three days, that my ex will return to me before three days, he cast the spell and surprisingly in the second day, it was around 4pm. My ex called me, I was so surprised, I answered the call and all he said was that he was so sorry for everything that happened that he wanted me to return to him, that he loves me so much. I was so happy and went to him that was how we started living together happily again. Since then, I have made promise that anybody I know that have a relationship problem, I would be of help to such person by referring him or her to the only real and powerful spell caster who helped me with my own problem. email: drogunduspellcaster@gmail.com you can email him if you need his assistance in your relationship or any other Case.

    1) Love Spells
    2) Lost Love Spells
    3) Divorce Spells
    4) Marriage Spells
    5) Binding Spell.
    6) Breakup Spells
    7) Banish a past Lover
    8.) You want to be promoted in your office/ Lottery spell
    9) want to satisfy your lover
    Contact this great man if you are having any problem for a lasting solution
    through drogunduspellcaster@gmail.com

    ReplyDelete
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