philosophy meta-forum

Two ships in the night: unsuccessful attempts to engage

Anne

188 day(s) ago

I wish I knew how to describe responses to a critique of one's work that go like this (brazenly assume reviewer does not know anything, realize he does, give up/ reveal unfamiliarity with basic economic terms in process): http://peasoup.us/2017/06/ndpr-discussion-forum-jason-brennans- democracy/

Christine

188 day(s) ago

Christiano wins that one.

Alison

188 day(s) ago

reveal unfamiliarity with basic economic terms in process/

Anne

Which terms?

Anne

188 day(s) ago

Institutional economics. Some kind commentator tries to help him out. But don't ever show an actual economist his "work" on adjunct pay.

Nijaz

188 day(s) ago

Brennan is comically arrogant. Thag made him rich and famous but has now cost him his reputation as a philosopher.

Anthony

188 day(s) ago

I don't think anyone should engage with Brennan or discuss his work unless he's paying for their time. That includes us, by the way.

Ian

188 day(s) ago

I see the appeal of very, very simple argumentation. The public likes it. The press likes it. Eighth graders get it. They can understand it and it makes them not feel uneducated. Fine. It's like Ayn Rand's appeal. (I worry it has similar harms, like making its fans confident about their ignorance.) But the way Brennan hides tail each and every time he gets challenged by someone who knows more is fascinating. What does he think he is doing then? He is the only philosopher I've seen (maybe McGinn? Searle?) who will publicly announce how smart he is, which is fascinating. Yet he cannot engage with other philosophers. Not for a bit. I have wondered if writing for hobbyists on a blog gives you an imagined guru status, and maybe that has become his problem. I don't begrudge him a business school salary, but if he is aiming for rich or famous he has a lot further to go. I realize he must not think so, but that is what is so funny. Keep it up, Brennan. Enjoy!

Stephan

188 day(s) ago

You guys better watch it, or Lauren's going to come here and give you all a good talking to.

Fredric

187 day(s) ago

Christiano wins that one.

Christine

Brennan says democratic theorists don't know much political science. He cites a bunch of major political scientists who agree with his model of democracy.

Christiano comes in and just gainsays mainstream political science.

Brennan gets irritated.

How is that a victory for Christiano? Isn't that Brennan's whole point?

Theodor

187 day(s) ago

Christiano wins that one.

Christine

The last lines in that exchange are also funny, because it as if Brennan thinks the only interesting thing about Christiano's critique is whether it gets his view right, as if that is all that matters. Very guru-like. Fredric, that's quite an unusual read. Irritated at engagement? I'll go with how the OP put it. How about this, too: reliably, when someone knows what they are talking about they can explain where a critic went wrong. Reliably, when someone is BSing, they just say critics are ignorant and don't explain why. When a critic is easily shown to not be ignorant of two books in political science, and makes points as obvious as those Christiano makes, you would think someone interested in argument would relish the chance to defend his selective use of just voter ignorance data*, rather than the data on how democracies fare compartively. That is a simple and direct challenge. You would especially think someone bent on applying his theorizing to the extent that he floats the idea that specific groups of people should be disenfranchised would be sensitive to objections and be eager to address them, both for the sake of improving his own view and just for the sake of figuring out what is actually the case, given such high stakes. Why no arguments back?

*Why the political scientists ought to be able to speak for themselves: http://nymag.com/scienceofus/2016/10/dissecting-a-professors-argument-against-dumb-people-voting.html

Paul

187 day(s) ago

I dunno, I had the same read as Fredric. It seems to me that what Christiano is doing is dismissing the relevant parts of Achen and Bartels, and Somin, and all of the people they cite, in favour of his own preferred but highly speculative armchair theory of shortcuts and the economics of information. Could Christiano's view here be right? Sure. But the actual published empirical political science literature is more or less unanimously on Brennan's side here, as far as I can tell.

Cressida

187 day(s) ago

But Jason Brennan is mean to dumb people on facebook and he has the wrong political views. So this must obviously be a sick burn. He also got a moron to pay him $1000 to read and review his garbage book. What a jerk, right? Also writing should be turgid and arguments difficult to understand. Everyone knows that if you make things easy for the reader it's just because you weren't smart enough to obfuscate. And if someone doesn't respond to major claims in your argument you're supposed to repeat them forever, like in the exchanges between Jeff Ketland and his stalker at the metablog, the very form of dialectic. Anything less is tucking your tail between your legs and admitting defeat.

Theodor

187 day(s) ago

Right Jason, Christiano is just too dumb to engage. It's obvious. Why BOTHER? That is the right view. Very philosophical. And so, so smart. Crazy smart.

Rae

187 day(s) ago

Which readers? Academics do not have trouble reading other academics, you do realize. It is when material is dumbed down that we get lost because we are left full of doubt and with questions. If you are not writing for philosophers, maybe that is what you could make clear. You could be spared future reviews.

Cristiano merely does the same thing Somin does in his critique of you: points out that you need far more evidence to come close to having support for your claims. I would think that if you have time to be mean to your little facebook friends, maybe you have time to respond to objections from a philosopher, generous enough to spend his time on a book he surely expected to be able to treat like philosophy written by a philosopher. You know philosophers don't really think counter-arguments are "mean," so you can kind of have at it, if you would just try to respond to objections from your peers.

No one can read the Pea Soup comment by Christiano and think he does not understand simple data on voter ignorance. No one can have met Christiano and think that, for that matter. That is the first joke of this post (the joke the Brennans above are missing).

Joke two: that your response to criticism seems a little bit like you think those of us who have read the Somin and Achen/Bartels are going to think Brennan's proposal just follows, when even those authors do not think that.

Joke three: you think your regular non-engagement with philosophers' questions comes off as strident or arrogant. That is not really how it looks.

And for God's sake man, enough with the personal self-assessments and biography. You give people too much ammunition to riff on and you can leave that shit out and simply make your arguments. I don't know why you would want to raise the stakes so that someone's doubt about a take on justice makes you bring up your personal life. You are not a victim of disrespect when you get questioned or doubted. You can't just say you are so so so smart to a bunch of philosophers and make us not doubt you. Just argue back. Respond with argument when engaged by careful thinkers like C. That is the *whole point.* You are welcome and godspeed.

Cressida

187 day(s) ago

1 - I'm not Jason Brennan. Was Rae's post directed at me? It's so poorly written that I couldn't really tell. But hey, we're all academics here.

2 - Writing to be easily understood is not dumbing your writing down. It's writing well. And academics *do* have trouble reading other academics. Many of us are terrible writers.

3 - Brennan is quick with Christiano. But I don't get the nastiness that some people here are picking up. Can't you read his response as reflecting the following thinking: "Tom Christiano is a smart philosopher, and he doesn't make stupid mistakes. If he writes something that seems not to engage with an important book that came out recently, that means he probably hasn't had a chance to read that book yet." Did he say that Tom didn't understand simple data on voter ignorance? (That's a genuine question. I didn't notice that.) My reading of the exchanges might be colored by the fact that I know Tom and Jason know each other from Arizona, where I think Tom was on his dissertation committee. I'd be surprised if there weren't significant mutual respect there, but what do I know? I'm just not as smart as people who write badly on the internet.

4 - Tom's post was longer, but I thought his language was actually more combative. For example, "I was alarmed in the book and the response to my review by the extraordinary misinterpretation of my admittedly limited micro theory." I'm not saying there's anything wrong with this, but it's amusing that Brennan alone is getting the Miss Manners treatment here. Just use more words, Jason. You should really be doing that anyway, to smarten things up.

5 - It is remarkable how concerned people (plural?) here are about Brennan's style. I should really start insulting dumbasses on facebook. Apparently it gets them to spend a lot of time thinking about you.

Edvard

186 day(s) ago

Cressida, if you're not Brennan, you've certainly studied carefully his douchie way of public writing... is it a libertarian, Arizona thing maybe? Pittsburgh people can't fucking stop talking about Wittgenstein, Kant and Sellars (seriously, no one cares about Sellars), maybe the Arizona clique's "thing" is being douchie?

Kelly

186 day(s) ago

Sounds like somebody needs a safe space.

Terence

185 day(s) ago

I am not a Pittsburgh person, not an initiate of the Cult of Wittgenstein, and nobody's idea of a Kantian, but I do kind of care about Sellars. Or at least, given a choice between re-reading a few of Sellars' pieces (e.g. EPM or "Concepts as Involving Laws...") and reading, say, 99% of the stuff published in JPhil, Nous, PPR, etc., these days, I would definitely pick the Sellars.

On a related note, pretty much all contemporary philosophy is douche-y sounding, including Edvard's comment above, and this very comment, too. It's what we're trained to do.

Noƫlle

185 day(s) ago

I'm not a libertarian Arizona person, nor have I studied Brennan's public writing style with an eye toward emulation. I may simply have been born with the curse of a clear douchey writing style.

But maybe one's choice of style should depend on the quality of one's thought. If my thinking were at Edvard's level, perhaps I, too, would prefer opacity: http://www.ariseandshine.com/accessories/enema-bag-opaque-2-qt-sold-out.html

Gillian

184 day(s) ago

[Edvard here]

I seem to have hit a nerve, Yikes! But Terence seems to have cottoned on that my comment was a performative demonstration. "Nerve hitting" as a style in philosophy is exactly what Brennan and Brennan-lite arguers do, worse in some milieus it's exactly what we're trained to do. Which I genuinely do think effects the content, but also the reaction to criticism. Many welcome criticism as a way of going back to black board and shoring up their own positions such that it more closely approximates (dare I say, naively) the truth. What this, nerve-hitting, kind of writing does is frame the critique of one's position as "you've misunderstood" and therefore either I am completely wrong or you are completely wrong and there is nothing we can learn from each other, which just turns into a snark tornado which Noelle/Cressida/Brennan-lite amply demonstrated.

TLDR, write and react with generosity but also maybe epistemic fallibility. (Note: One doesn't have to be "humble" to be epistemically fallible, I'm not advocating for "politeness"; antagonistic philosophy, for me at least, has always been the best way to purify a philosophical position. Wrongness needs to be pointed out in no uncertain terms)


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