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.