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A nod to the top philosophy blogs

Posted by Christopher Shea  August 4, 2009 01:46 PM

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The armchair bites back

At the request of a site called Blogs.com, Brian Leiter, the sometimes-controversial rankings king of philosophy departments and a professor at the University of Chicago, presents his list of the top 10 philosophy blogs.

Coming in at No. 1* is Certain Doubts, devoted to epistemology (how is it that we know what we think we know?), followed by Experimental Philosophy, a home for the growing number of scholars who believe that philosophers ought to spend more time in the laboratory, studying what and how ordinary people think (which may or may not be different from what philosophers think).

Coincidentally, Certain Doubts recently posted a young scholar's argument that traditional philosophers need to act fast to regain some of the P.R. ground they've lost in recent years to the whippersnapper "X-phi" crowd. Experimental philosophy has adopted as its representative icon an armchair in flames, a tongue-in-cheek suggestion that the old ways of doing philosophy need to be swept away. There's a video, too, and an alt-rock song.

"It's a brilliant symbol, and a smashing PR success," wrote John Turri, a philosopher who teaches at Huron University College, in London, Ontario, at Certain Doubts. "Students get a kick out of it. Journalists love it. And it's all in good fun."

Turri's counter-proposal: a pro-armchair video. Shaun Nichols and Joshua Knobe, it helps to know here, are prominent experimental philosophers:

[Camera fades in.] A lab coat hangs next to a clipboard prominently displaying a questionnaire, outside a lab door labeled "Nichols, Knobe & Associates." The coat, and subsequently the lab, catch fire [cue the background music*], and slowly burn to ashes. [Camera pans out to reveal the destruction.] Everything is black and charred … except for a regal armchair, which sits comfortably in the corner, utterly unscathed. [Pan in slowly on the chair while fading to black.]

Needs fine-tuning, I'd say, but Turri does produce a fine "regal armchair," courtesy of the Nickelodeon series "Blue's Clues."

*"She Blinded Me with Science," by Thomas Dolby.

*CORRECTION. Um, as it happens, the list is in alphabetical order, not ranked by Leiter's preference. So disregard the "No. 1" business.

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2 comments so far...
  1. There are still plenty of philosophers, whippersnappers among them, to whom the notion of doing empirical research to settle philosophical questions sounds about like empirical research to discover whether 2+2=4. The armchair, that is, suits mathematicians just fine for the most part... Of course, I'm reminded of the old joke about the Dean who tells the Chair of Chemistry in response to a budget request for an expensive microscope "Why can't you be more like the mathematicians? They only ask for paper and wastebaskets.... Or the philosophers? They don't even ask for wastebaskets." Self deprecation aside, I do wish philosophers didn't have to light something on fire to get some popular attention.

    Posted by jrshipley August 5, 09 09:06 PM
  1. "Coming in at No. 1 is Certain Doubts, devoted to epistemology (how is it that we know what we think we know?), followed by Experimental Philosophy, a home for the growing number of scholars who believe that philosophers ought to spend more time in the laboratory, studying what and how ordinary people think (which may or may not be different from what philosophers think)."

    You realize the list is in alphabetical order, don't you?

    Posted by Doug Portmore August 6, 09 08:14 AM
 
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