Monday, January 27, 2014

The unrealistic spirit

Apparently it's Holocaust Memorial Day, so this post I've been working on seems apt.

The Act of Killing (about the brutal suppression of communists and "communists" in Indonesia) is a good film, although not as surreal as some reviews had led me to expect. If you don't read any such reviews, though, I think it would be surreal. The sight of overweight, middle-aged murderers performing a musical about their crimes in drag is weird. The painful reality of memory and evasive fantasy take turns, with fantasy mostly winning out. Its victory is never secure, though, because it's so unbelievable. (Which is related to its badness as art and tempts me to say something about the truth of great art, but I'll resist. Evil people do seem to have terrible taste, though, and I think this must have something to do with an inability to see, or to accept, reality.)

Not long after seeing this I watched S21, about the torture and mass murder of the Khmer Rouge in Cambodia. The best part of the film is where one of the survivors of the S21 prison, Vann Nath, talks to former prison guards. He objects to their use of words like 'destruction' instead of 'murder' or 'killing', and to their claim that they had no choice about whether to kill prisoners because they would have been killed themselves if they had refused. He does not deny that they would have been killed, but he presents their excuses as a kind of attack on humanity. Humanity requires that we not use de-humanized, evasive words like 'destruction' and that we not think of ourselves as having no choice or responsibility, even when threatened with death. Humanity requires a kind of realism, albeit not the kind of realism that would see a coerced person as indeed having no real choice or responsibility. It isn't realistic to say, "What could I do? My hands were tied," because a person whose hands are tied does not just shrug when forced to kill.

Thinking about what it means to be realistic has led me to think about the meaning and ethics of facing death, and of what Wittgenstein says about this in the Tractatus. Here's 6.4311:
Death is not an event in life. One does not live through death.
If one understands eternity not as an endless period of time but as timelessness, then he who lives in the present lives eternally.
Our life is just as endless as our field of vision is limitless.   
The first sentence there is odd. Death certainly is an event in life, i.e. it happens. But it happens to other people: one does not live through one's own death. That's almost a joke. It's hardly news. So my death is not an event in my life in the sense that within the duration of my life the end of that life does not arrive. That is also a tautology or analytic truth that sounds almost like a bit of comforting Epicurean therapy, but anyone who is comforted by tautologies is surely confused.

The next paragraph sounds like the kind of idea that is standardly labeled 'inspirational,' but again it's just playing with words, isn't it? If one takes 'eternity' to mean timelessness then the present, which is not a measurable period of time, is an eternity. So what? We cannot live our whole lives in the present in this sense any more than Zeno's paradoxes mean that we can never reach the door or catch up with a turtle.

And then the comparison of life with the field of vision: Life as we experience it contains no limits because we do not, cannot, experience a limit to our experience. Again this is a tautology. The limit of my field of vision is not part of the field of vision, not one of the things I can see. Any sense of wisdom, insight, or comfort here seems illusory.

There's also this:
6.431 As too at death the world does not change, but rather stops.
This strikes me as false. The world does not stop when I die. I'm not sure what it would means for the world to stop, actually, and if it's a possibility then it might stop at the same time as I die. Not because I am so crucial to the world but rather because if the world ever stops then I will probably not survive. At my death my world will stop, the world as it appears or exists for me will stop, but that's just to say that I will permanently lose consciousness. And 'death' here presumably means something like 'permanent loss of consciousness.' This is not a hypothesis about immortality. 6.431 seems to say nothing, but it is a comment on 6.43, so what does that say?
6.43 If good or evil willing alters the world, then it can only alter the limits of the world, not the facts; not that which can be expressed through language.
In short, the world must then thereby become an altogether different one. It must, so to speak, wane or wax as a whole.
The world of the happy is a different one than that of the unhappy. 
This doesn't sound like nonsense, or empty speech. How might the world of the happy differ from that of the unhappy? Well, one belongs to the happy and the other does not. Is the former in some sense, or in what sense might it be, larger than the other? Some people do have little minds, lacking imagination or much sense of the reality of other people's lives. Their cares are narrowly concentrated on themselves. These are the kind of people we call small or miserable. This section does not feel like a joke, but its apparent content does seem to evaporate on inspection. The benevolent are happy if by 'happy' we mean 'benevolent', and likewise for the malevolent and unhappiness. Is there more here than that?

Does this tell us or show us anything about the ethics of murder or memory or fantasy? I don't think so. It might show that philosophy cannot tell us what is realistic (or good?). Only reality can do that. Can goodness? So far as it, like evil, is part of reality I think it might.

Saturday, January 25, 2014

Teaching philosophy

[This is an oldish post that I didn't publish because I wanted to wait until I'd seen what the students thought about the course I describe. They seem to have liked, i.e. valued, it. Not that that proves its value, but it's something.]

I'm teaching a not perfect but very good course this semester and have been thinking about blogging about it. Recent questions about how to make grades reflect the level a student has reached by the end of a course and how to get students to read comments written on their papers make me think I should perhaps explain what I do, at the risk of sounding smug, in case it's helpful to someone else.

First of all, I should say something about why I think this course is so good. It seems to me that my students are considerably more engaged than they usually are in other courses I am teaching and have taught; that they are producing better work; that they are working harder; and, in short, that they are learning more. They also seem reasonably happy despite all this. Some look a little shocked but none have actually complained about how much work they are doing or how low their grades (so far) are. So what am I doing?

One thing I do is to let them re-write their papers. This means that they have an incentive to read my comments and pay attention to them. I also only count the final grade that they get on each paper, so that at the end of the course their grades should reflect the level they have reached by then and not be lowered because of earlier mis-steps. There is no incentive to feign incompetence in order to show improvement, because I don't reward improvement as such (only a good final product). And I discourage (successfully, so far) slacking off early on by giving a permanent penalty to the grade on any assignment turned in late or that does not get a passing grade first time around. Actually that's not quite true: any student who gets an F on the first version of a paper has one week to bring it up to a passing grade, otherwise they get that penalty that never goes away no matter how much they improve their work. This means that a paper that is revised until it is A+ standard will only get an A; not a crushing penalty but enough of an incentive to make them do a decent job (or try to do so) when the paper is first due.

Another thing I do is grade them on class participation and turning in written summaries of all assigned readings. If they want to get an A then they pretty much have to read and summarize all the readings and make a positive contribution to every class. If they want to get a C they have to do one or the other (or half and half). The only alternative is to write more papers, and of course reading the assigned material and paying attention in class are important for this too. Painfully shy students are encouraged to come out of their shells, but not forced to do so. They can just write a couple more papers instead. Each paper counts for 10% of their final grade, and they can do 4, 5, or 6 of them. Engagement (summaries and participation) then counts for 30, 20, or 10% of their final grade. A final exam makes up the remaining 30%.

The result is that far more of my students are coming to class prepared and are attentive and active in class discussions than I am used to seeing. I grade their papers unsparingly (lots of Fs) knowing that they can re-write them as many times as they like, and they accept these grades because they know they can bring them up by working on their papers more. (They also aren't the complaining type, which sounds good but sometimes seems like despair).

This would be too much for a lot of people, I know, but we have small classes (15-16 in each of my three this semester) and I try to write only a few comments on each paper. I use a checklist to make my grading (seem) as objective as possible and to show clearly where points were earned or dropped (effort, clarity, consideration of counter-arguments, accurate presentation of the arguments discussed, etc.). For re-writes I require that students turn in the previous drafts with my comments, so that I can focus on how they have responded to my comments. I end up having to grade a few papers every day, but rarely more than that.  

I think I have assigned too much reading [this was the biggest complaint on the student evaluations at the end of the semester], which means not enough time for discussion. The course feels a little rushed at times. And maybe some of the material I've assigned is too ambitious (they have really struggled with Kant, for instance, despite my assigning Jonathan Bennett's relatively accessible translation). Then again, they don't have to write about Kant. There are eight essay topics and they only have to write papers on four of them.

The other problem I ran into was that I was too generous with regard to what I counted as making a positive contribution to class, so some students ended up with higher grades than they probably deserved. Still, I'm pretty happy with the way it went.

If the above is too long or confusing, here's the short version: I increased student engagement in the course by grading it; students who did not want to speak in class could write extra papers instead; I got them to write better papers (and to think more carefully about what they were writing about) by letting them re-write their papers as many times as they could stand before the semester ended. They knew they had to be engaged or their grades would suffer, and when they read the assigned material and joined in discussions of it in class they understood and valued it more. The downside for the teacher is that you can only do this with small classes, and it does involve a lot of grading. But the papers are short (a minimum of three pages, though I encourage them to write more); there are eight assignments, of which each student must do at least four (so when a paper is due I rarely get more than about ten from a class of fifteen students); and I write only a few comments on each paper, focusing on the main points I want them to address when they re-write. So far it seems to have worked.

Friday, January 24, 2014

VMI in the news

Well, Crooked Timber anyway. I was here when VMI was all-male, so I know a bit about the transition to co-education. I don't think I have anything to add to what's already been said though.

Monday, January 20, 2014


This sounds like the kind of book I would like to read. The review seems good, too, but I was struck by this sentence:
Heidegger and the later Wittgenstein agree that the basis of intelligibility, the groundless ground of our conceptual edifice, is the everyday shared reality in which we already find ourselves.
That can't be right, can it? The basis of intelligibility, if there is such a thing, must be independent of intelligibility, hence unintelligible. But how could we find ourselves in an unintelligible "everyday shared reality"? There's also this:
Both Heidegger and Wittgenstein intended to lay bare the background experiences, the forms of life, the worldhood of the world, that first make language meaningful.
How can language be made meaningful? If it isn't already meaningful then it isn't language.

A little charity might be in order. There isn't a background that makes language meaningful or a ground that is the basis of intelligibility. At least not if the words 'basis,' 'ground', etc. are being used in the normal way. Rather, when we look for a basis or background all we find is everyday reality, forms of life, etc. But these are not the foundation of language, however important they might be in or to language. Language is not the kind of thing that could have a foundation. Asking for its basis is like asking what matter (or whatever we call the fundamental stuff of material reality) is made out of, as if matter were a cake whose ingredients we could discover. We can ask what goes in the cake, and what baking powder, etc. are made of, and what atoms are made of, but at some point it's a mistake to think you can ask "And what's that made of?" The fundamental constituent of material things is not itself made of anything else. Similarly, language is what stories, arguments, etc. are made of. It is not itself made of anything else. (It isn't made of words, for instance, because a word is not a word unless/until it is part of a language. So we can say that language is made of words, but not in any foundational sense. The words don't come first even if sounds and marks that later become words do.)

Wednesday, January 15, 2014

Wittgenstein and Marx again

Tommi's right. Peter Stallybrass's "Marx's Coat" is a very nice essay. One of Adam Smith's best observations is that in addition to what they need to survive, people also need clothes suitable for appearing in public without shame. Stallybrass and Marx add to this insight. Here's most of the conclusion to Stallybrass's essay:
It has become a cliche to say that we should not treat people like things. But it is a cliche that misses the point. What have we done to things to have such contempt for them? And who can afford to have such contempt? Why are prisoners stripped of their clothes, if not to strip them of themselves?
This reminds me of a interesting passage in Wittgenstein's Koder diaries (pp. 147-148 of Klagge and Nordmann):
Mutilate a human being all the way, cut off his arms & legs nose & ears & then see what remains of his self-respect & of his dignity & to what extent his concepts of such things still remain the same. We have no idea how these concepts depend on the ordinary, normal, condition of our body. What becomes of them when we are led by a leash with a ring through our tongues & tied-up? How much of a human being then remains in him? Into what sort of state does such a human being sink? We don't know that we are standing on a high & narrow rock & around us chasms in which everything looks completely different.  
I don't have anything to add, but it's memorable and horrific.

Tuesday, January 14, 2014

Josh on music

Several memorable thoughts on music over at josh blog recently:
I don't like going to philosophy conferences, but I like it less when I'm frustrated enough to lose sight of why they're dissatisfying. One way of putting it: however little it makes sense or however obscure it is to think this, I somehow see artworks as having the same standing as works of philosophy; or, art as having the same standing as philosophy. I have a fantasy of beginning a paper-reading session at a conference like this by playing a piece of music—giving the audience a chance to listen and then displaying an attempt to put into words what is heard, giving a demonstration of the fact that there are phenomena in life with the structure of calling-for-articulation. The difficulty of putting things to words seems to get short shrift among philosophers.
All of this is worth reading, too, albeit hard to talk about.

And finally this: I used to prefer 'Protection'. Now I prefer 'Safe From Harm'.

Thankfully we don't have to choose, Although I wish foreign policy were directed by someone with the hardly extraordinary insight of whoever wrote the words to 'Safe From Harm' (i.e. people don't always like being 'liberated'). 

Predictably all I got from josh's recommendations was the discovery of Kacey Musgraves, by far the safest music on his list. I don't think of myself as liking country music at all (except when it's done by non-Americans), but I like this. Perhaps because it sounds a little like Mary Lou Lord (not this song, really, but others). 

I don't have much to recommend in return, but I liked Tracey Thorn's autobiography a lot. I think of this blog as a diary as much as anything else, so even if it's of interest to no one but me let me record that it was nice to read something that felt as though it came from my world. I'd forgotten that was a world and not just me. (Not that her world is quite the same as mine: there are regional, age, and gender differences that matter, as well as some differences of taste. And I never became a pop star.) But if you like 'Protection' enough to want to know more about its singer then you might want to know that she's written a good book.  

Tuesday, January 7, 2014

The ethics of free markets

I've been asked to be on a panel on the ethics of free markets next month, which involves speaking for about ten minutes and then joining in a discussion. It's for a non-philosophical and probably rather conservative audience. Below is what I've got so far. Are there any bloopers, omissions, or excesses I should correct?

The two most obvious ways in which free markets appear to be ethical are in the freedom they embody and the efficiency they provide. Freedom and efficiency are good things. Anyone who wanted to challenge the claim that free markets are ethical would have to argue (1) that these good aspects are outweighed by other bad ones, or (2) that freedom and/or efficiency are not really good in this particular case, or (3) that (a) freedom and (b) efficiency are not really features of free markets after all. These are ideas that anyone interested in the ethics of free markets ought to consider, even if we end up rejecting them ultimately. I’ll address them in turn, in reverse order.

3b. Are free markets efficient, or more efficient than the alternatives? Of course it depends what we mean by ‘efficient’. I’ll take the question to mean: do free markets get people what they want to a greater extent than alternative systems of distribution? If we assume that people know what they want better than anyone else then it does seem likely that allowing them freely to seek what they want and make whatever offer they like for it will maximize their getting what they want at a price that they are OK with. There are some assumptions here that could be questioned: Do people know what is out there? And can they get to it?, for instance. But history suggests that free market economies deliver more successfully than controlled ones.

3a. Are free markets really free? Well, it depends what you mean by ‘free’. Free markets are free in the sense that people’s behaviour in them is constrained only by the law, and I suppose we have to assume relatively liberal laws. One objection, though, might be that liberal laws allow advertising, and advertising makes us want things we wouldn’t want otherwise, or makes us want things more that we would want less otherwise. We are not free, the argument goes, to resist its allure. This is a real issue, it seems to me. Or rather two issues (if not more). One is an empirical question about the effects of advertising. I don’t have the answer to that, but I assume it is at least somewhat effective otherwise companies wouldn’t keep spending so much money on it. The other is an ethical question, which I will pose but not try to answer. Which is more important, the freedom to behave as we desire or freedom from having our desires manipulated by others? I think a case could be made that the way goods are marketed would be limited (no advertising aimed specifically at children, perhaps) in a maximally free market. But that isn’t an argument against free markets as such.

2. Are freedom and efficiency, while undeniably good in general, somehow not good in this particular case? This could be the case if the freedom of free markets had bad consequences, for instance if it was not efficient, but we’ve already addressed that concern. The real issue here, it seems to me, is whether the efficiency of free markets is a good thing. In other words, is it good that people tend to get what they want at prices they are willing to pay? That might sound like a ridiculous question (“Of course it’s good!”), but people don’t always want good things. If everyone simply got what they were given by the government, say, then they might complain about it but they might also get healthier food, more educational or morally improving forms of entertainment, and so on. They might not, of course, but they might. We currently restrict the buying and selling of various drugs, weapons, sexual goods (if ‘goods’ is the right word), etc. Would a completely free market be more ethical? It would be amoral. If we value freedom to buy and sell above all else then allowing anything and everything to be bought and sold would be a moral improvement, because it would maximize that kind of freedom.  But arguably drug addicts are not fully free, and a free market for drugs might be expected to lead to an increase in the number of addicts. We could argue also that freedom might be reduced if just anyone were allowed to buy chemical or nuclear weapons, or tanks, for instance. We might also have doubts about the value of the freedom to be a prostitute. Not to mention questions about the ethics of the freedom to buy and sell people, body parts, embarrassing information, very large sodas, raw cheese, unsafe vehicles, and so on. The question seems to be not so much whether free markets are better than unfree ones but rather, given that there have to be restrictions on the market, what restrictions should we have? (There have to be some restrictions because otherwise we would have a market for slaves, and because the very idea of a market implies or presupposes the rule of law, which implies laws restricting what people can and cannot do.)

Finally, 1, what bad aspects might free markets have that could outweigh the goodness of freedom and efficiency? One is that with freedom there are no guarantees. If people are free to hire other people or not then there is no guarantee of a job for everyone. Nor is there any guarantee that what jobs are available will pay a decent wage. Similarly there are no guarantees regarding healthcare, education, housing, and food. It might be better to sacrifice some freedom and efficiency in order to ensure that everyone has what they need to stay alive. It might be better to sacrifice some freedom and efficiency to make sure that everyone has more than this: a realistic chance to live a decent life. Again, I won’t try to say whether it is worth it or not, but we can ask the question, as well as questions about what a decent life is.

Those are concerns about the outcomes of free markets: will everyone end up with what they need, and if they don’t then what should we do? Another kind of question concerns justice or rights. I need a job because I need to eat, roughly speaking (I also need shelter, etc.), and there isn’t any free food. That is, if I want to grow crops to eat then I can’t because the land on which I might grow them has all been taken by other people. The same goes for fruit I might want to pick, deer I might hunt, etc. There isn’t any free land, and we need land to live. Of course people do hunt deer, but only with the permission of the landowners or else on land that the hunters already own. If I want (or need) to hunt and own no land then I am at the mercy of people who already own land. By what right has the land all been taken? It’s very hard to answer that question, unless we simply say that the answer is none. It is debatable whether rights exist as anything but a potentially useful fiction. John Locke argued for strong property rights on the basis of mixing one’s labour with the land one works, but only on condition that one leaves as much and as good for others. And people have not left as much and as good for others. They haven’t left any. I can’t go into much careful argument about property rights here, but claims that property rights are absolute exist on very shaky ground. The most plausible defence of property rights is (in my opinion) on the basis of utility, and utilitarian considerations certainly suggest that some of some people’s property should be taken to help those who need it. To the extent that we redistribute wealth or income our economy is less free. At least in one sense of ‘free’.  The recipients of redistributed goods might be much freer than they would otherwise have been. People who can eat are freer, can do more, than those who starve to death. People who go to college have more options than those who cannot afford to do so. A well fed, educated society might be much more productive than the alternative, leading to greater wealth in general, and hence an overall increase in opportunity and, in another sense of the word, freedom.  And to the extent that redistribution is good, a less free economy (in the sense of freedom for those with goods to do with them as they please) is better than a freer one. To repeat and, hopefully, clarify: freedom from taxes is an instance of one kind of freedom (often called negative) and freedom to do things is another kind (generally called positive). Both are undoubtedly good, but it’s possible that less of the former might lead to more of the latter. If that’s true then negatively free markets (which are usually what people have in mind when they talk about free markets, I think) might not be as ethical as other kinds.

Another objection to free markets is to their market aspect. What’s so great about shopping? Do we fetishize commodities? This brings us back to advertising, but I won’t discuss that again. It also raises questions about culture. Free markets by themselves do not cause commercialism. But excessive banging of the drum for free markets might do so. I have argued that free markets are at least to some extent a good thing. Very roughly speaking, socialism doesn’t work and freedom is intrinsically good. So free markets are good. But markets need restrictions, they need laws. And a society needs taxes. So we cannot have complete freedom. Indeed, as many people have pointed out before, complete freedom means anarchy, and anarchy leads to tyranny by local bullies or foreign powers. The most we can have is the maximum possible freedom, not total freedom. How much that is depends, in part, on what kind of freedom we want. Perhaps the real question then is not whether free markets are ethical but which markets are the most free. 

I have a fear that I might sound like a socialist and be ignored for this reason, so let me conclude by addressing that idea head on. I am not advocating socialism. I’m not really advocating anything here so much as I am raising questions. But the suggestion behind these questions is that the kind of system we have now is on roughly the right lines. It is good that we don’t allow the buying and selling of slaves. It is at least reasonable that we don’t allow the unrestricted buying and selling of all drugs, weapons, secrets, and uses of human bodies. It is reasonable that we don’t allow unrestricted advertising. And it is good that we have measures in place to ensure that people aren’t left to die if they slip between the fingers of the invisible hand. Freedom is a great thing. My interest is in how we can have as much of it as possible.

Saturday, January 4, 2014


I don't always agree with Simon Blackburn, but this all seems right to me (it's an interview about arguments for and against religion). Here's a taste:
Marx is admired by militant New Atheists for saying that religion is the opium of the people. But they forget what he said next, which is that “The abolition of religion as the illusory happiness of the people is the demand for their real happiness. To call on them to give up their illusions about their condition is to call on them to give up a condition that requires illusions.” I think that is right, which is why moral and political questions should occupy all of us far more than ontological questions.
Would the world be a better place if everyone were an atheist?
Across large parts of the world religion conspires with tyranny and injustice to oppress women, to cement the power of men, to suppress free speech, to force acquiescence with the status quo, and to whip up hatred against other peoples. Nobody would want Europe to return to pre-Enlightenment attitudes; nobody sane thinks that people flourish more under theocracies. But as the Marx quote shows, it would require a whole moral, political, and economic change before the need for religion will wither.

Friday, January 3, 2014

The humanities again

Alex Rosenberg lays into the non-analytic-philosophy humanities here (h/t Brian Leiter). It's unfortunate that just when he talks about people losing credibility he misspells both 'Virginia Woolf' and 'lose' in the same line. But never mind. What does he actually say?

His claim is that few students want to major in the non-philosophy humanities because they don't believe that doing so will help them become better leaders or better at dealing "with the human condition in a way that matters to them." And he gives three reasons for this:
  1. too much multiculturalism (or too much sacrificing of attention to canonical works and figures in order to make room for others) and "theory"
  2. too little attention to the basics, such as composition (which is rarely taught by senior professors)
  3. attempts by humanists to "compete on the terrain of the sciences," which inform us scientifically while the humanities move us emotionally
The solution is for humanists to get back to helping people appreciate and create art.

It's hard to agree. Learning to appreciate or create art won't make anyone a better leader. Or at least offering to teach such appreciation will not attract large numbers of students whose primary goal is to develop leadership skills. There is no clear connection between leadership and art. 

What about those who want to learn to deal with the human condition in a way that matters to them? I'm not sure such people exist, because I'm not sure that either the human condition or ways of dealing with it exists. Perhaps that's silly. Part of the human condition is that we die (so there must be such a thing as the human condition, if it has parts), and there are surely ways of dealing with mortality, of coming to some terms with it. Perhaps. But do large numbers of students want to major in this kind of thing? Surely not. There are students who want to major in something that matters to them, that seems important. Pretty much all students want that, even those who reluctantly major in something that seems trivial but practical to them. So perhaps there's a problem of perceived importance in the humanities (by which we seem to mean literature). 

One problem, then, seems to be that not many students care enough about literature to major in it. There is something sad about this, but I'm not sure how much it matters. If they love to read but care even more about finding a cure for cancer, for instance, then that's not a shame. And there certainly are some students who love literature enough to want to major in it. If the number has gone down I suspect this is partly because of new media (people read more stuff online and watch more movies than they used to, and correspondingly read fewer books) and partly because professors of literature themselves seem to have lost interest in literature. At least the more you talk about theory and science (although I'm not sure how much of the latter really goes on) instead of literature, the less your students are likely to think you care about literature. And apathy is contagious. 

As for composition, it's not something I really believe in. I'm not sure that composition instructors really believe in it either. Those who specialize in rhetoric and composition generally present themselves as something other than champions of proper spelling and grammar. And students can learn how to write in courses whose primary focus is on something else, such as philosophy or literature. They won't go from illiterate to literate in one course, but they can improve if they have to read and write well written stuff throughout their education. Learning foreign languages is likely to help too. As Rosenberg notes, though, the incentives in place favor devoting time to research rather than to teaching. (And "good teaching" often means engaging teaching rather than challenging teaching, which is another thing I would change if it were up to me. Not that engagement is bad, but it's not the only good.)        

Part of the problem, surely, is that the education we offer is too largely based on the choices of the uneducated. If we offer a major in money-making they will sign up. If we offer a major in doing one's duty they won't (unless they are especially self-righteous). This is why people major in business. As long as we only let people study things that are worth studying, and require them to study things that ought to be required, then there's no problem. A core curriculum of something like two literature courses, two history courses, two philosophy, one religion, one art, and two psychology (for instance) should do the trick. (I'm not convinced that college-level math and science courses for those who won't use them have any value, although something on what science is (not "just a theory") might be worthwhile.) Other courses could be required depending on the major (math for scientists, languages for humanists, for instance). We wouldn't necessarily have lots of people majoring in the humanities, but that's OK. 

Wednesday, January 1, 2014

Happy New Year

New Year's Resolution: to write something of value.