Sunday, November 08, 2009

Dewey's child-raising practices

One "liberated" practice that would surely have shocked their Ann Arbor neighbors, had they known of it, was alluded to much later in a letter by Dewey to W.E. Hocking. He told the somewhat genteel philosopher that "during the critical years of the sex-development of their children, Mrs. Dewey and he would go around the house in the nude." (Joseph Ratner believed that this was the reason the children talked about sex so freely.)
Jay Martin, The Education of John Dewey, 132-3.

For Sabrina

I am thinking of you, and my darling I do want you so this evening.... Oh, sweetheart, you are the centre of everything, so that my being would be torn by its attraction to its centre, were you not the circumference of everything also. My own self, I love you---and it is hard to be without one's self. My own life, I love you---and it is hard to live without one's life. But darling you are my self and my life and so I can be and live.... Darling, how did you ever manage to do away with and put out of sight so thoroughly my old doing & my old thinking, and fill my self so full of you? [You] ... found a home for me, who had been homeless before, because I was always looking for you.
-- John Dewey to Alice Chipman, Christmas 1885, quoted in Jay Martin, The Education of John Dewey, pp. 91-2.
Sweetheart, I have found that I am only an abstractly subjective standpoint without you.
-- John Dewey to Alice Chipman, Christmas 1885 (?), quoted in Martin p. 103

Saturday, October 24, 2009

Dewey Birthday Conference, Day II, part 1

This is my second post about the Dewey sesquicentennial conference. Read day 1 here.

Yesterday began with Ruth Anna Putnam on "Dewey's Faith," continuing the discussion from last night by Larry Hickman. Overall, the conversation convinced me that I need to read and take more seriously Dewey's A Common Faith.

Putnam started with a general description of Dewey's naturalism:
  1. No appeal to supernatural entities could play a role in solving philosophical problem.
  2. Belief in a supernatural being had pernicious effects on one's ability to deal with personal and social problems.

Then she argued that Dewey, following James, thought that experiences appropriately called "religious" are found in all communities. Such experience is valuable, and would be moreso if free from traditional religion & the supernaturalism, which simply hinder what is valuable in genuine religious experience and religious practice.

What is valuable about the religious experience? Not its cause or quality, but its effects. It leads to positive readjustment in one's attitude to life. Such an adjustment is very important. One sees the things one values forming a unified whole, in terms of a unified and unifying ideal. Such ideals, Dewey was always keen to argue, have important effects in concrete life, by which we judge them.

Examples of the "religious life," in Dewey's sense, can be found in art, science, and good citizenship. That's because all of these ways of life are guided by ideal ends. Dewey wrote A Common Faith to make explicit the implicit "religious" values (ideal ends) in science and our common life, especially democracy. We seek truth, beauty, justice, a common good. We have faith in the world's amenability to scientific inquiry; we have faith in the power of democracy. We learn these faiths, not blindly, but slowly, given their value as organizing principles in out lives.

Next up, I'll talk about the panel sessions...

Thursday, October 22, 2009

Dewey Birthday Conference, Day I

Today was the first day of the Dewey Sesquicentennial Conference. You can see my play-by-play thoughts on my Twitter account, but I thought I'd do a quick wrap-up of my thoughts before hitting the bed. Of course, I'm paraphrasing what I took them to be saying, and I may have gotten it quite wrong. This is how it sounded to me and what I thought.

Paul Kurtz gave the first lecture, "Looking Ahead: What are the Prospects for Dewey’s Philosophy in the Future?" This was full of personal anecdotes about Dewey (Kurtz met Dewey when Kurtz was a grad student at Columbia), some quite general comments about Dewey's philosophy, and some reflections on how our current situation, especially the difference in our scientific knowledge after the last 50 years or so, changes the way that we think about Dewey's philosophy.

What Kurtz said was that we know much more about just how contingent the evolution of the human species has been, and now that we have a less romantic account of it than even the early Darwinians, we can see just how uncertain human prospects are. What will come hinges on unpredictable contingencies. Dewey's philosophy gives us a way of understanding ourselves and the world that gives full credence to this, while nevertheless providing some sense of hope.

I would add that most philosophers, who fail to recognize the degree of precariousness and uncertainty in nature, and who give a relatively rosy picture of the likelihood of the growth of knowledge and justice, are deluding themselves.

What Kurtz thinks we need to add to Dewey is a kind of "planetary ethos," which seems like it combines universal empathy for all human beings, and something like a Leopoldian "land ethic," a sense of our responsibility to the natural world.

Larry Hickman then gave a talk on "John Dewey's Spiritual Values." I've heard Hickman speak before and I always consider it a pleasure. At the beginning, he mentioned several projects ongoing at the Center for Dewey Studies. Most exciting, from my perspective, is that they're going to be publishing a bunch of Dewey's lecture notes. Apparently, Dewey's students hired professional stenographers, and the Center has that stuff.

According to Hickman, Dewey was opposed militant atheism and militant supernaturalism. If we understand "atheism" to mean simply, not a theist, then Dewey admits that he is an atheist. But, Dewey said, the popular meaning of atheism is denial of all ideal values, and I'm not an atheist in that sense. Dewey's "spirituality" is thus a kind of "moral idealism," an insistence on the reality of moral ideals.

Now, Dewey was aware that "spiritual" is a problematic term, with a long history of abuse. The problem is that there has been an unwarranted separation of spiritual from material. So spiritual/ideal values are seen as separate from material world. Dewey thinks there is something to our use of "spirituality" that is important, that militant atheism doesn't capture.

According to Hickman, Dewey's conception of spiritual values are just as relevant today, situated as we are in the cultural battleground between religious fundamentalists and the New Atheists.

There was some really interesting discussion after this, though I must admit it was getting a bit late in the day for me to process it very well. I'll just reproduce the notes I have on three key points, paraphrasing what I took them to be saying:

Paul Kurtz: There's a crisis in secular humanism. We need a "natural reverence" that the New Atheists cannot capture.

Larry Hickman: There's "spirituality" in the sense of moral ideals, and in the sense of wonder. Dewey wanted to capture both. And "spiritual" can act as an important talisman for coalition building with religious humanists.

Philip Kitcher: Values aren't beliefs; commitments, promises, hopes, emotions are the right cognitive attitudes. The problem with the New Atheism is they identify religion w/ a set of beliefs. But it's also community structure, values, hopes, etc. James and Dewey saw this clearly. This is one reason that A Common Faith is so valuable.

Looking forward to a full day tomorrow!

Wednesday, October 21, 2009

John Dewey's 150th Birthday Celebration (10/22-24)

This weekend, I'm going to be at John Dewey's 150th Birthday Celebration: An International Conference on Dewey's Impact on America and the World. I'm going to be presenting a paper, "Dewey on Science", which lays out some of the key features of Dewey's philosophy of science, with some special reference to issues of concern for contemporary debates about science. Largely, the focus will be on giving a systematic explanation of the core of Dewey's philosophy of science, though of course in a 20 minute conference paper, some important stuff will be left out.

I'll be blogging about the conference live, here and on twitter, as much as possible.

Monday, October 12, 2009

How-To Automate UT-Dallas Proxy Server

UPDATE: This does not work in Chrome, my current browser of choice. There is a great plugin, though, called Library EZProxy that is even easier. As far as I know, the below is still one of the easiest methods for Firefox.

So, among many of the things that is difficult to navigate about the library at the University of Texas at Dallas is the library proxy. They provide no way of configuring a proxy for your browser or any kind of PAC script, nor is there any all-purpose link on their website, or even a VPN, so far as I can determine. You have to go through the library website to get the link to the journal. As a result, if, say, someone links to a journal on their webpage, or a friend links to a Chronicle article on facebook, it's basically not worth your time to actually try and get there through the obvious channels. Hacking around it even proved fairly difficult, due to the fact that UTD uses a suffix proxy system. Here's how I finally figured out my way around the problem for Firefox.

First, I looked at some links from the library website to outside journals and databases. I noticed that they tend to look like this:

Noting the similarity, I decided to navigated on over to . This gives a big old list of electronic journals and databases, with several links that are out of date. But I noticed a common pattern here. All the links were to:

This was the key to my problem. I finally found this MozillaZine article on creating keyword searches.

What you need to do is go to Bookmarks->Organize Bookmarks. Add a bookmark with the location as [the capital S is crucial]

And add the keyword as "utd" (or whatever you like). Then, when you have a webpage that you need the library proxy for, click in front of the URL and add "utd " in front, like so:

Then hit return, and you'll be taken to the login for the UTD library proxy, and then you'll be taken to:

Ta-da! Full access, much less hassle.

Anyone else found an easier way?

Wednesday, October 07, 2009

Recent Blogging

Just checking in to let you know what I've been blogging about lately.
* By "complex," I don't mean to tout the complexity of my theory. Rather, I mean that there is a complex profile of functions that evidence is involved in. But, multi-process-functionalist and its cognates are uggers.

Letter to my Senators

Dear Senator,

Senator Tom Coburn (R-OK) has introduced amendment 2631 to H.R. 2847 with the aim of prohibiting the National Science Foundation from funding research in political science. Senator Coburn's amendment is not based on an understanding of the nature of scientific research nor a concern for funding scientific projects that, as he says, "expand our knowledge of true science and yield breakthroughs and discoveries that can improve the human condition." Rather, Coburn is attempting to interfere in the funding of science purely on the basis of political motivations and base anti-intellectualism. I strongly urge you to oppose this amendment.

I am an assistant professor at the University of Texas at Dallas, and my main area of teaching and research is in the philosophy of science and technology, which addresses, among other thing, the nature of scientific inquiry. While the differences between the natural and social sciences is a complex and subtle academic issue, there is absolutely no basis for the wholesale discrimination against political science and the social sciences generally that Coburn's amendment implies. Political science no less than physics or chemistry aims at knowledge and discoveries that can improve the human condition. If it is relatively less developed than some of the natural sciences, that is all the more reason to fund its improvement, especially in a day and age in which social and political problems are as or more pressing than problems dealing exclusively with the mechanisms of the natural world.

For the sake of the growth and integrity of science, I urge you to vote against such an amendment.

Sincerely yours,
Matthew J. Brown, Ph.D.

Thursday, September 17, 2009

Call to Action! Expanding Dragon*Con Academics

Dragon*Con Academics was GREAT this year. We did 8 panels with high attendance, great presentations, and rousing discussions. Now's the time to push for an expansion of academic programming at Dragon*Con! The way to do this is to let the Dragon*Con office know how much support there is for academic programming and an academic conference at the convention. I'm aiming for the stars, hoping to get a full academic track at the convention.

To see the panels we've done in the last two years, you can visit these links:

What I'm asking from you is to contact the office and let them know how you feel. There are three ways to do this. You can email them at You can fill out the webform at:

Or you can call the office at 770-909-0115 (M-F 9:00 a.m. - 5:00 p.m. EST).

Below I've provided the beginning of a message. You can edit it, mix and match your reasons, and (this is crucial!) provide some detail about your own experience.

Thanks for your support! Tell your friends!

Best, Matt


Subject: Track Request: Academics

Dear Dragon*Con Office,

I'm writing to request the creation of an academic track at Dragon*Con. I [[attended / participated in / wish I could have been at]] the academic conference organized by Matt Brown at Dragon*Con in [[2008 / 2009]], and I am very much in support of expanding it. The attendance has been very high, the presentations have been interesting and informative, and have lead to lively discussions.

While the ordinary, informal fan discussions at Dragon*Con can be fun and informative, these panels really bring something extra to my Dragon*Con in terms of the amount of work that has gone into the panel, and the type of intellectually stimulating discussion that results.

It would really help to have the academic panels be more officially organized, so they would be easier to find and in a more consistent space as well.

It seems like making an academic track would allow a wider variety of academic presentations. Right now, it seems to be limited by what tracks have space open.

We're not only ready for a higher level of intellectual discussion at Dragon*Con. We need it!

I've also heard that Matt Brown is willing to continue to organize academic presentations at Dragon*Con. [[I'd also be willing to help out by presenting / volunteering at the Con / helping with organization / attending the panels.]]

Thank you for your time!

[[Your signature here]]

Thursday, August 27, 2009

Class Blog

For those who happen to follow this blog despite the lack of postings, I suspect that much of my blogging energy this semester is going to be directed at the blog I set up for my grad seminar on "Science, Values, and Democracy":

Hopefully some of you will be interested in the discussions.

Wednesday, May 20, 2009

Dragon*Con 2nd Annual Comics & Popular Arts Conference

Call for Participation

Institute for Comics Studies
Comic Book Convention Conference Series


Atlanta, Georgia September 4-7, 2009

The Institute for Comic Studies and Dragon*Con present their second annual academic conference for the studies of comics and the popular arts to take place at Dragon*Con, the largest multi-media, popular culture convention focusing on science fiction and fantasy, gaming, comics, literature, art, music, and film in the US. For more info on Dragon*Con, visit

Please submit a proposal for a 15/20-minute presentation that engages in substantial scholarly examinations of comic books, manga, graphic novels, anime, sf, fantasy, and popular culture. A broad range of disciplinary and theoretical perspectives is being sought, including literary and art criticism, philosophy, linguistics, history, and communication. Proposals may range from discussions of the nature of the comics medium, analyses of particular works and authors, discussions of the visual language of comics, comics pedagogy, cross-cultural and cross-medium comparisons, and more. This year, we're especially interested in proposals dealing with anime/manga, sf/fantasy literature, and Star Trek, though presentations on any of the above topics will be considered.

This conference of Dragon*Con represents the Institute for Comics Studies' mission to promote the study, understanding, and cultural legitimacy of comics and to support the discussion and dissemination of this study and understanding via public venues.

100 to 200 word proposals due: July 1, 2009


Please submit your proposal at the following address:

Prospective participants are encouraged to submit a guest application in advance at the following address:

Matt Brown
Dragon*Con Academics Chair

Monday, March 30, 2009

web presence

I need to figure out what to do with my web presence. I'm not necessarily opposed to having a bunch of different faces updated a bunch of different ways, but I think mediocre user interfaces and ho-hum appearances are cramping my style and decreasing the frequency of updates significantly. So far I've got:

  • Homepage: - made with iWeb, which produces okay-looking output but is no fun to use, and loses points for being WYSIWYG. Also, iWeb's directory and file structure is a dog's breakfast.

  • Blog 1: The Sequential Philosopher - That's this. Handles line breaks fairly poorly, such that I can't compose entries in Markdown without either (A) ending up with tons of extra line-breaks in the posts or (B) deleting all the line-breaks in all prior posts. Pages look okay, but configuring appearance is a bear.

  • Blog 2: Livejournal - Ugh. Acceptable for keeping track of livejournal friends, posting semi-private entries and junk I don't want to post on my more "serious" blog.

  • Twitter - Pro: Super easy to update. Brevity is the soul of wit. Con: few users of Twitter (though twitter facebook app helps).

  • Facebook - Insert old man grumblings about interface updates and applications. I actually kind of like facebook for lots of things, except that it isn't good for professional stuff. Something about navigating facebook makes me unlikely to update it if I haven't recently been updating it a lot.

  • - Pretty cool academic social networking site. Tuned for making professional-looking pages and posting papers and such.

  • Flickr - Last updated July 2008. (Probably as much for my lack of picture-taking as anything.) Irritating restrictions on service if you're not willing to pay.

Is that it? I hope so.

Anyhow. I'm not afraid of PHP, CSS, or hand-coding HTML, and in fact I far prefer it to using programs like Frontpage and Dreamweaver, and I kind prefer it to using iWeb. Except, I'm not so confident in my ability to make pages that don't look like crap, and I'm not sure I've ever had one that didn't. Besides, who has time to design webpages? Also, I've been burned by things like Movable Type and Wordpress in the past, and I'm overall not sure that having big hulking blog software on my own server makes any sense. Here's what I really want, in order of importance.

  1. An attractive personal home page containing easily accessible information like publications, course info, CV, and such which is also easy to update and not beholden to finicky and irritating WYSIWYG editors.

  2. A blog that is easy to update, preferably in Markdown, easy to read.

  3. Somewhere to post pictures that is easy to use and will let me access all my pictures.

  4. Reasonable integration of all these things (which a possible exception of my Facebook-Livejournal un-professional space).

(1) is really my major concern right now. Help?

Tuesday, March 24, 2009

dissertation: almost done

Just posted a draft of my dissertation on my website. I'm taking a big step, I think, publishing it under a creative commons license. But it's important and I'm sticking with that.


Tuesday, March 10, 2009

book review - anti-individualism

Good news from analytic philosophy! A review of

Anti-Individualism: Mind and Language, Knowledge and Justification by Sanford C. Goldberg, Cambridge University Press, 2007, 280pp., $90.00 (hbk).

Reviewed by
Matthew J. Brown

To most readers of Mind, Culture, and Activity, the thesis of Sanford Goldberg's Anti-Individualism will seem familiar and uncontroversial. He defends the view that the content of language and the mind, the nature of knowledge and the justification of belief depend not merely upon the properties of an isolated, individual speaker, thinker, or knower, but these things also essentially depend on the physical and social environment or context in which they are embedded. Goldberg's style of presentation and method of argument, on the other hand, will seem highly unfamiliar, abstruse, and daunting to most readers of this journal. On the other hand, from the point of view of the intended audience of the book, analytic philosophers, the thesis will seem somewhat radical and extreme (though it is, I think, becoming an increasingly common position), but the style and method of presentation will seem quite common and familiar.1 In mainstream experimental psychology and cognitive science, I suspect that both the claims and the methods of the book would seem quite radical and implausible.

Anti-Individualism does not proceed primarily through examination of experimental data nor detailed individual case studies.2 The vast majority of the citations are to work in anglophone philosophy from the last thirty years. The main arguments in the book proceed by the elaboration of complex thought experiments, mostly about the nature of testimony, i.e., the communication of knowledge through language, and marshalling the intuitive judgments "we" make about such cases. Considering the following example of the type of argument Goldberg relies on:
Imagine a distant planet, which I will refer to as "Twin Earth," which is exactly like our own Earth in all but one respect: on Twin Earth, the liquid English speakers refer to as "water" is not H2O, but a liquid with a complicated chemical formula that we will conveniently abbreviate XYZ. At large scales, at standard temperature and pressure, XYZ is qualitatively identical to H2O, such that travelers on a spaceship from Earth would originally assume that "water" has the same meaning on Twin Earth as it does back home. Only consulting with Twin-Earthling chemists or doing complex laboratory experiments would convince them that "water" means XYZ on Twin Earth. Nevertheless, prior to the advent of chemistry, "water" still means H2O on Earth and XYZ on Twin Earth (because these are the substances that the word refers to).3
Goldberg vastly extends this line of argumentation, covering a wide variety of situations of thought, language use, and the communication of beliefs, with complex tales of the difference between speakers of English and Twin English, reliable witnesses amongst roomfuls of liars, and so on. This type of argument is much more controversial amongst philosophers than it was even a decade ago, with challenges from "experimental philosophers" who have put such claims about "intuitions" to empirical test (with surprising though likewise controversial results),4 neurophilosophers who suggest we should begin not with naive intuitions but the results of neuroscience and cognitive science,5 philosophers who draw on empirical research more generally,6 and pragmatists who argue that all intuitions are historically conditioned, fallible, and revisable.7 Nevertheless, this is still a common and often-defended method of philosophical theorizing.

One interesting and important departure is the reliance in the final chapter (Chapter 8) on the literature in developmental psychology on the role of testimony in the acquisition of beliefs by children. Even here, Goldberg does not depend on the details of the processes of learning and development. What Goldberg does appeal to is empirical data that suggests that very young children, those Goldberg calls "cognitively immature," do little to monitor the credibility of testimony; they are quick to trust what others say, especially adults. Whatever the exact texture of the growth of critical or skeptical capacities, there is a clear difference between three-year-olds and four-year-olds (p. 203), and a variety of empirical studies that point in this direction. Goldberg argues that what guarantees the successful transmission of knowledge in these cases (which is potentially threatened by uncritical acceptance) is that the reliability of testimony is monitored for the child by others (p. 200) and further, that this is a general phenomenon displayed most clearly in the case of children because they are not also extensively
monitoring credibility themselves. Thus, the acquisition of knowledge via testimony is actively anti-individualist, since it depends not only on social (linguistic and epistemic) norms and an individual's ability to discriminate on the basis of those norms, but also on social processes of monitoring and checking the testimony of others to others. This argument is significant for those interested in learning and development not because it sheds particular light on the psychological
processes at work (it doesn't), but because it makes clear that there is a normative social structure at work in such processes. In teaching/learning we care not only about the transmission of beliefs, but about the reliable transmission of accurate beliefs for the right

Whatever the judgment of philosophers of mind, language, and epistemology about this book, the majority of the readers of this journal would likely find Goldberg's book a difficult read with little ultimate pay-off due to mere differences in interests.8 Those tempted to give the book a go are encouraged to read the introduction and skip straight to the final chapter before deciding what other parts of the book to tackle. Those not so tempted are encouraged to take comfort from the fact that scholars in very different disciplines, using radically different methods and beginning from almost opposed principles and presuppositions, can come to very complementary conclusions.


Adler, J. (2009) "Review: Sanford C. Goldberg, Anti-Individualism: Mind and Language, Knowledge and Justification," Notre Dame Philosophical Reviews

Churchland, P.M. (1979). Scientific Realism and the Plasticity of Mind. Cambridge, MA: Cambridge University Press.

Churchland, P. S. (1986) Neurophilosophy: Toward a unified science of the mind/brain. MIT Press.

Churchland, P.S. (1994) "Can Neurobiology Teach Us Anything about Consciousness?" Proceedings and Addresses of the American Philosophical Association, Vol. 67, No. 4, pp. 23-40.

Doris, J.M. and Stich, S. (2005) "As a Matter of Fact: Empirical Perspectives on Ethics," in F. Jackson and M. Smith, eds., The Oxford Handbook of Contemporary Analytic Philosophy, (Oxford: Oxford University Press), 114-152

Margolis, J. (2002). Reinventing Pragmatism: American Philosophy at the End of the Twentieth Century. Ithaca: Cornell University Press.

Putnam, H. (1975) "The Meaning of 'Meaning'." In K. Gunderson (ed.), Language, Mind, and Knowledge (Minneapolis, Univ. of Minnesota Press).

Rorty, R. (1979) Philosophy and the mirror of nature. Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press.

Rorty, R. (1982). Consequences of pragmatism (Essays 1972-1980). Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press.

Weinberg, J., Nichols, S. and Stich, S. (2001) "Normativity and Epistemic Intuitions." Philosophical Topics, 29, 429-460.

  1. Those familiar with, interested in, or patient enough to
    struggle through dense work in analytic philosophy of mind,
    language, and epistemology might consult Jonathan Adler's review
    (Adler 2009).

  2. Though there are occasional footnotes to work in experimental
    psychology consonant with the claims of the book, they are not the
    crux of the arguments, with some exception in Chapter 8.

  3. This example is a summary of one originally due to Hilary Putnam
    (1975). I pick Putnam's example because it is famous in the field,
    and relatively simply statable as compared to Goldberg's examples.

  4. See Weinberg, Nichols, and Stich (2001).

  5. See Paul Churchland (1979); Patricia Smith Churchland (1986;

  6. See Doris and Stich (2005).

  7. See Rorty (1979; 1982) and Margolis (2002).

  8. Myself included, I am sorry to say.

Wednesday, February 18, 2009

Whitehead on Philosophy

Has anyone else noticed that there are all these Science Studies and Lit/Cultural Studies folks into Whitehead now? What's that about?

Here's a great bit of Whitehead:

Philosophy destroys its usefulness when it indulges in brilliant feats of explaining away.