Tuesday, November 29, 2011

Using Your Own Book For a Class

I received a (somewhat dubious-looking) solicitation to work with a publisher in putting together an Intro to Philosophy reader. This is something I could imagine doing in the future--though I've also toyed with the idea of putting together a 100% open-access philosophy anthology (which would include both classic and contemporary writings, perhaps even some commissioned pieces).

This led me back to the old question: what are the (unwritten) rules, if any, concerning using one's own books in one's classes? (Perhaps some schools actually have written rules about this.) Presumably, if you have created a book for a particular class, it is one that meets your distinctive vision of what content is to be covered in that class. So why not use it? On the other hand, of course, is the sense that one would be making extra profit (on royalties). Of course, someone will get paid (though perhaps royalties aren't that much; I don't know), so why shouldn't it be you? Alternatively, one could defer the royalties from books sold to one's own students, or donate that money to a good cause. (One could even let the students vote.) I had a professor who paid each student a dollar to balance out the fact that one of our required texts was a book by him.


Monday, November 28, 2011

Learning about Humanity from a Wolf

Mark Rowlands is coming to town this Thursday to give the final Chautauqua Lecture of the semester. (I've been asked to introduce him, which should be fun, if I recover my voice before then.) He will be speaking on something from his book The Philosopher and the Wolf, which I read over the holiday. (Which is saying something in itself, as I'm generally a slow, easily distracted reader.)

I'm too busy to write anything like a decent mini-review here. But I think it's a good book, entertaining, with some interesting ways of putting some ideas together (about happiness, meaning, and how the wolf shows up some of the pitfalls and not-so-nice aspects of being a simian). I'm not entirely sure I accept his Camus-esque approach to the problem of meaninglessness and/or existential adversity, but I'll have to think more about it. It might also be a good book to give to someone who's interested in philosophy (or who you think should be thus interested) but isn't an academic, or doesn't have patience for academic philosophy.

I'm now greatly looking forward to a forthcoming book of his entitled Can Animals Be Moral? There's a paper of his here that might give some flavor of that project, and suggests that the answer is yes. (I haven't read it yet.)

Sunday, November 20, 2011

Consistency: Thesis & Antithesis

"[S]uch is the stuff that man is made of: in principle and in practice, in a right track and in a wrong one, the rarest of all human qualities is consistency."
— Jeremy Bentham, An Introduction to the Principles of Morals and Legislation (1781)

"Do I contradict myself?
Very well then....I contradict myself;
I am large....I contain multitudes."
— Walt Whitman, "Song of Myself" (1855)

Emerson, of course, is blunt about it in his own way, but I prefer Whitman's way of putting it.

Welcome (back?)

Things will carry on pretty much as they did before. All of the posts (and comments) from The HEP Spot have been moved over, so may the conversation(s) continue...

Monday, November 14, 2011

Sunday, November 13, 2011

Radical Hope & Ecological Humility

I've (finally) been reading Jonathan Lear's Radical Hope about the last principal chief of the Crow, Plenty Coups. The main question of the book is roughly: how can one go on with one's way of life in the face of circumstances which basically render that way of life obsolete? One point Lear makes that's worth restating:
...a culture does not tend to train the young to endure its own breakdown....inability to conceive of its own devastation will tend to be the blind spot of any culture. By and large a culture will not teach its young: "These are the ways in which you can succeed, and these are the ways in which you will fail; these are the dangers you might face, and here are opportunities; these acts are shameful, and these are worthy of honor--and, oh yes, one more thing, this entire structure of evaluating the world might cease to make sense." (83)
As Lear goes on to note, that final remark simply undercuts (it seems) everything that precedes it, and even though the remark is true, what can one do about it?

I've been thinking about similar questions about radical moral uncertainty in relation to ecological questions. The breakdown of current ecosystems could conceivably lead to such a point of uncertainty, which leaves old ways of life unsustained (and not simply unsustainable--the crucial point would be, as it were, the point at which things had broken down). And I've been thinking about--in light of an upcoming workshop on this issue (to which, alas, my proposal did not make the cut)--how the virtue of humility might provide some kind of answer, or how cultivating humility might be, as it were, a "preparatory virtue" of sorts (the value of which is not, however, simply limited to preparing for the collapse of one's way of life). This is part of what I said in my proposal (which I think is still worth working on):
The humble person recognizes that not every problem has a technological solution--that sometimes the solution requires changing oneself (or, by the by, one’s community). At the same time, humility does not reject technology as a viable part of our adaptation to changing environments or human needs. (It is not a luddite’s virtue either.) The humble person rather sees that no use of resources is justified if it unnecessarily diminishes diversity--human or non-human--within the world precisely because the humble person acknowledges a plurality of values and goods, and sees each as warranting as much respect as possible. As Keekok Lee points out, the humble person is also mindful of the fact that the natural world as a whole system needs our respect far less than our survival depends upon our respecting the fact of our own dependence upon a natural world that is, and continues to be, hospitable for us.* If we fail to live humbly, “the results could be that the last laugh, so to speak, would be on us, humans.”
The basic idea is that there is a kind of flexibility within humility (in contrast with the rigidity of the arrogant). Notably, Lear alludes to the relevance of humility in his discussion of Plenty Coups' need to reconceive of courage in order to lead his tribe with something recognizable as courage (and honor), when the old ways of acting with courage are no longer available.

(It's worth noting that Allen Thompson has written about applying Lear's notion of "radical hope" to the darker possibilities of climate change (here).)

* Keekok Lee, “Awe and Humility: Intrinsic Value in Nature. Beyond an Earthbound Environmental Ethics,” in Robin Attfield and Andrew Belsey, Philosophy and the Natural Environment (Royal Institute of Philosophy Supplement), (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1994), pp. 89-101

Friday, November 04, 2011

The Courage of Conviction

Here's the next essay in the series of (what a colleague of a colleague calls) "quasi-popular" essays I aim to write on many of the issues I've discussed on this blog and in some of my other work:

The Courage of Conviction

As always, comments appreciated.

Tuesday, November 01, 2011

Not All Animals are Animals (In Case You Forgot)

I've harped on this before, but here you have it, from a tutorial I'm reading as part of my training for EKU's IACUC (Institutional Animal Care and Use Committee):
The AWA [Animal Welfare Act] applies to all species of warm blooded vertebrate animals used for research, testing, or teaching, except farm animals used for agricultural research. The Farm Security and Rural Investment Act of 2002 amendments to the regulations that implement the AWA currently also exempt birds, rats of the genus Rattus, and mice of the genus Mus, bred for use in research.
Translation: the Animal Welfare Act does not apply to most of the "animals" used in research.

Use of those non-animal "animals," as I understand it, is regulated by the standards set by the NIH (which doesn't really matter to you if you don't have NIH-backed funding for your research). But more later; back to my education.