Wednesday, March 22, 2017

What Kinds of Universities Lack Philosophy Departments? Some Data

University administrators sometimes think it's a good idea to eliminate their philosophy departments. Some of these efforts have been stopped, others not. This has led me to wonder how prevalent philosophy departments are in U.S. colleges and universities, and how their presence or absence relates to institution type.

Here's what I did. I pulled every ranked college and university from the famous US News college ranking site, sorting them into four categories: national universites, national liberal arts colleges, regional universities (combining the four US News categories for regional universities: north, south, midwest, and west), and regional colleges (again combining north, south, midwest, and west). I randomly selected twenty schools from each of these four lists. Then I attempted to determine from the school's website whether it had a philosophy department and a philosophy major. [See note 1 on "departments".]

Since some schools combine philosophy with another department (e.g. "Philosophy and Religion") I distinguished standalone philosophy departments from combined departments that explicitly mention "philosophy" in the department name along with something else.

I welcome corrections! The websites are sometimes a little confusing, so it's likely that I've made an error or two.

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Results

National Universities:

Eighteen of the twenty sampled "national universities" have standalone philosophy departments (or equivalent: note 1) and majors. The only two that do not are institutes of technology: Georgia Tech (ranked #34) and Florida Tech (#171).

Virginia Tech (#74), however, does have a Department of Philosophy and a philosophy major -- as do Stanford, Duke, Rice, Rochester, Penn State, UT Austin, Rutgers-New Brunswick, Baylor, U Mass Amherst, Florida State, Auburn, Kansas, Biola, Wyoming (for now), North Carolina-Charlotte, Missouri-St Louis, and U Mass Boston.

National Liberal Arts Colleges:

Similarly, seventeen of the twenty sampled "national liberal arts colleges" have standalone philosophy departments, and eighteen offer the philosophy major. Offering neither department nor major are Virginia Military Institute (#72) and the very small science/engineering college Harvey Mudd (#21) (circa 735 students, part of the Claremont consortium). Beloit College (#62, circa 1358 students) offers the philosophy major within a "Department of Philosophy and Religious Studies".

The seventeen sampled schools with both major and standalone department are: Swarthmore, Carleton, Hamilton, Wesleyan, Richmond, DePauw, Puget Sound, Westmont, Hollins, Lake Forest, Stonehill, Hanover, Guilford, Carthage, Oglethorpe, Franklin (not to be confused with Franklin & Marshall), and Georgetown College (not to be confused with Georgetown University).

Some of these colleges are very small. According to Wikipedia estimates, two have fewer than a thousand students: Hollins (639) and Georgetown (984). Another four are below 1300: Franklin (1087), Hanover (1133), Oglethorpe (1155), and Westmont (1298).

Regional Universities:

Nine of the twenty sampled regional universities have standalone philosophy departments, and another three have a combined department with philosophy in its name. Twelve offer the philosophy major (not exactly the same twelve). Seven offer neither major nor department: Ramapo College of New Jersey, Wentworth Institute of Technology, Delaware Valley University, Stephens College, Mount St Joseph, Elizabeth City State, and Robert Morris. Two of these are specialty schools: Wentworth is a technical institute, and Stephens specializes in arts and fashion.

Offering major and/or standalone or combined department: Simmons, Whitworth, Mansfield of Pennsylvania, Rosemont, U of Northwestern-St Paul, Central Washington, Towson, Ganon, North Park, Wisconsin-Oshkosh, Northern Michigan, Mount Mary, and Appalachian State.

Regional Colleges:

Seven of the twenty sampled regional colleges have a standalone philosophy department, and another four have a combined department with philosophy in its name. Seven offer a philosophy major, and one (Brevard) has a "Philosophy and Religion" major. Offering neither major nor department: California Maritime Academy, Marymount California U (not to be confused with Loyola Marymount), Paul Smith's College (not to be confused with Smith College), Alderson Broaddus, Dickinson State, North Carolina Wesleyan, Crown College, and Iowa Wesleyan. Four of these are specialty schools: California Maritime Academy and Marymount California each offer only six majors total, Paul Smith's focuses on tourism and service industries, and Iowa Wesleyan offers only three Humanities majors: Christian Studies, Digital Media Design, and Music.

Offering major and/or standalone or combined department: Carroll, Mount Union, Belmont Abbey, La Roche, St Joseph's, Blackburn, Messiah, Tabor, Ottawa University (not to be confused with University of Ottawa), Northwestern College (not to be confused with Northwestern University), and Cazenovia College.

Summary

In my sample of forty nationally ranked universities and liberal arts colleges, each one has a standalone philosophy department and offers a philosophy major, with the following exceptions: three science/engineering specialty schools, one military institute, and one school offering a philosophy major within a department of "Philosophy and Religious Studies".

Even among the smallest nationally ranked liberal arts colleges, with 1300 or fewer students, all have philosophy majors and standalone philosophy departments (or similar administrative units), with the exception of one science/engineering speciality college.

The schools that US News describes as "regional" are mixed. In this sample of forty, about half offer philosophy majors and about half have standalone philosophy departments. Among the fifteen with neither department nor major in philosophy, six are specialty schools.

I'll refrain from drawing causal or normative conclusions here.

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Update 8:53 a.m.: Expanding the Sample:

I'm tempted to conclude that, with the exception of specialty schools, almost every nationally ranked university and liberal arts college, no matter how small, has a philosophy major and a large majority have a standalone philosophy department. But maybe that's too strong a claim to draw from a sample of forty? So I've doubled the sample.

Doubling the sample supports this claim. Among the additional twenty universities sampled, nineteen offer the philosophy major, and the one that does not, UC Merced, is a new campus that plans to add the philosophy major soon. Sixteen have standalone Philosophy Departments, and three have combined departments: Philosophy and Religion at Northeastern and Tulsa, Politics and Philosophy at University of Idaho. The sampled universities with both standalone philosophy departments and the philosophy major are Tennessee, Nevada-Reno, Colorado State, South Dakota, New Mexico, Dartmouth, UC San Diego, U of Oregon, Columbia, Indiana-Bloomington, Kentucky, Alabama-Huntsville, Brandeis, George Washington, Azusa Pacific, and UC Riverside.

Adding twenty more nationally ranked liberal arts colleges also confirms my initial results. Nineteen offer the major, with the only exception being Thomas Aquinas College, which appears to offer only one major to all students (Liberal Arts). Three colleges have combined departments, all with religion: Washington College, Wartburg, and College of Idaho. Sixteen have both major and standalone department: Wooster, Wheaton, Hampton-Sydney, Muhlenberg, Houghton, Colgate, Middlebury, Washington & Lee, New College of Florida, Transylvania, Sweet Briar, Knox College, Colorado College, Oberlin, Luther, and Pomona.

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Note 1: Some schools don't appear to have "departments" or have very broad "departments" that encompass many majors. If a school had fewer than fifteen "departments" I attempted to assess whether it had a department-like administrative unit for philosophy, or if that assessment wasn't possible, whether it hosted a philosophy major apparently on administrative par with popular majors like psychology and biology.

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Thursday, March 16, 2017

My Defense of Anger and Empathy: Flanagan's, Bloom's, and Others' Responses

Last week I posted a defense of anger and empathy against recent critiques by Owen Flanagan and Paul Bloom. The post drew a range of lively responses in social media, including from Flanagan and Bloom themselves.

My main thought was just this: Empathy and anger are part of the rich complexity of our emotional lives, intrinsically valuable insofar as having rich emotional lives is intrinsically valuable.

We can, of course, also debate the consequences of empathy and anger, as Flanagan and Bloom do -- and if the consequences of one or the other are bad enough we might be better off in sum without them. But we shouldn't look only at consequences. There is also an intrinsic value in having a rich emotional life, including anger and empathy.


1. Adding Nuance.

I have presented Flanagan's and Bloom's views simply: Flanagan and Bloom argue against anger and empathy, respectively. Their detailed views are more nuanced, as one might expect. One interpretive question is whether it is fair to set aside this nuance in critiquing their views.

Well, how do they themselves summarize their views?

Flanagan argues in defense of the Stoic and Buddhist program of entirely "eliminating" or "extirpating" anger, against mainstream "containment" views which hold that anger is a virtue when it is moderate, appropriate to the situation, and properly contained (p. 160). Although this is where he puts his focus and energy, he adds a few qualifications like this: "I do not have a firm position [about the desirability of entirely extirpating anger]. I am trying to explore varieties of moral possibility that we rarely entertain, but which might be genuine possibilities for us" (p. 215).

Bloom titles his book Against Empathy. He says that "if we want to make the world a better place, then we are better off without empathy" (p. 3) and "On balance, empathy is a negative in human affairs" (p. 13). However, Bloom also allows that he wouldn't want to live in a world without empathy, anger, shame, or hate (p. 9). At several points, he accepts that empathy can be pleasurable and play a role in intimate relationships.

It's helpful to distinguish between the headline view and the nuanced view.

Here's what I think the typical reader -- including the typical academic reader -- recalls from their reading, two weeks later: one sentence. Maybe "Bloom is against empathy because it's so biased and short-sighted". Maybe "Flanagan thinks we should try to eliminate anger, like a Buddhist or Stoic sage". These are simplifications, but they come close enough to how Bloom and Flanagan summarize and introduce their positions that it's understandable if that's how readers remember their views. In writing academic work, especially academic work for a broad audience, it's crucial to keep our eye on the headline view -- the practical, memorable takeaway that is likely to be the main influence on readers' thoughts down the road.

As an author, you are responsible for both the headline view and the nuanced view. Likewise, as a critic, I believe it's fair to target the headline view as long as one also acknowledges the nuance beneath.

In their friendly replies on social media, both Bloom and Flanagan seemed to acknowledge the value of engaging first at the headline level; but they both also pushed me on the nuance.

Hey, before I go farther, let me not forget to be friendly too! I loved both these books. Of course I did. Otherwise, I wouldn't have spent my time reading them cover-to-cover and critiquing them. Bloom and Flanagan challenge my presuppositions in helpful ways, and my thinking has advanced in reacting to them.

For more on the downsides of nuance, see Kieran Healy.

2. Bloom's Response.

In this tweet, Bloom appears to be suggesting that empathy is fine as long as you don't use it to guide moral judgment. (He makes a similar claim in a couple of Facebook comments on my post.) Similarly, at the end of his book, he says he worries "that I have given the impression that I am against empathy" (p. 240). An understandable worry, given the title of his book! (I am sure he is aware of this and speaking partly tongue in cheek.) He clarifies that he is against empathy "only in the moral domain... but there is more to life than morality" (p. 240-241). Empathy, he says, can be an immense source of pleasure.

The picture seems to be that the world would be morally better without empathy, but that there can be excellent selfish reasons to want to experience empathy nonetheless.

If the picture here is that there are some decisions to which morality is irrelevant and that it's fine to be guided by empathy in those decisions, I would object as follows. Every decision is a moral decision. Every dollar you spend on yourself is a dollar that could instead be donated to a good cause. Every minute you spend is a minute you could have done something more kind or helpful than what you actually did. Every person you see, you could greet warmly or grumpily, give them a kind word or not bother. Of course, it's exhausting to think this way! But still, there is I believe no such thing as a morally innocent choice. If you purge empathy from moral decision-making you purge it from decision-making.

Here's what seems closer to right, to me -- and what I think is one of the great lessons of Bloom's book. Public policy decisions and private acts directed toward distant strangers (e.g., what charities to support) are perhaps, on average, better made in a mood of cool rationality, to the extent that is possible. But it's different for personal relationships. Bloom argues that empathy might make us "too-permissive parents and too-clingy friends" (p. 163). This is a possible risk, sure. Sometimes empathic feelings should be set aside or even suppressed. Of course, there are risks to attempting to set aside empathy in favor of cool rationality as well (see, e.g., Lifton on Nazi doctors). Let's not over-idealize either process! In some cases, it might be morally best to experience empathy and to be able to act otherwise if necessary, rather than not to feel empathy.

Furthermore, it might be partly constitutive of the syndrome of full-bodied friendship and loving-parenthood that one is prone to empathy. I am Aristotelian or Confucian enough to see the flourishing of such relationships as central to morality.


3. Flanagan's Response.

On Facebook, Flanagan also added nuance to his view, writing:

There are varieties of anger. 1. Payback anger - you hurt me, I hurt you; 2. Pain-passing -- I am hurting (not because of you) I pass pain to you. 3. Instrumental anger. I aim you to get you to do what is right (this might hurt your feelings etc. but that is not my aim; 4 Political anger. I am outraged at racist or sexist etc. practices and want them to end; 5. Impersonal anger. At the gods or heaven for awful states of affairs, the dying child. I am concerned about 1 & 2. I worry about 3-4 if and when the desire to pass pain or payback gets too much of a grip....

This is helpful -- and also not entirely Buddhist or Stoic (which of course is fine, especially since Flanagan presented his earlier arguments against anger as only something worth exploring rather than his final view).

In his thinking on this, Flanagan has partly been influenced by Myisha Cherry's and others' work on anger as a force for social change.

I appreciate the defense of anger as a path toward social justice. But I also want to defend anger's intrinsic value, not just its instrumental value; and specifically I want to defend the intrinsic value of payback anger.

The angry jerk is an ugly thing. Grumping around, feeling his time is being wasted by the incompetent fools around him, feeling he hasn't been properly respected, enraged when others' ends conflict with his own. He should settle down, maybe try some empathy! But consider, instead, the angry sweetheart.

I see the "sweetheart" as the opposite of the jerk -- someone who is spontaneously and deeply attuned to the interests, values, and attitudes of other people, full of appreciation, happy to help, quick to believe that he rather than the other might be in the wrong, quick to apologize and in extreme cases sometimes being so attuned to others' perspectives that he risks losing track of his own interests, values, and attitudes. Spongebob Squarepants, Forrest Gump, sweet subordinate sitcom mothers from the 1950s and 1960s. These people don't feel enough anger. We should, I think, cheer their anger when it finally rises. We should let them relish their anger, the sense that they have been harmed and that the wrongdoer should pay them back.

I don't want sweethearts always to be bodhisattvas toward those who wrong them. Anger manifests the self-respect that they should claim, and it's part of the emotional range of experience that they might have too little of.


4. More.

Shoot, I've already gone on longer than intended, and I haven't got to all the comments by others that I'd wanted to address! Just quickly:

Some people suggested that eliminating anger might result in opening up other different ranges of emotions, in the right kind of sage. Interesting thought! I'd also add that there's a kind of between-person richness that I'd celebrate. If sages can eliminate anger as a great personal and moral accomplishment, I think that's wonderful. My concern is more with the ideal of a blanket extirpation as general advice.

Some people pointed out that the anger of the oppressed is particularly worth cultivating -- and that there may even be whole communities of oppressed people who feel too little anger. Yes!

Others wondered about whether I would favor adding brand-new unheard-of negative emotions just to improve our emotional range. This would make a fascinating speculative fiction thought experiment.

More later, I hope. In addition to the comments section at The Splintered Mind, the public Facebook conversation was lively and fun.

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Friday, March 10, 2017

Empathy, Anger, and the Richness of Life

I've been reading books that advise us to try to eliminate whole classes of moral emotions.

In Against Empathy, Paul Bloom describes empathy as the unhealthy "sugary soda" of morality, best purged from our diets. He argues that as a moral motivator, empathy is much more biased than rational compassion, and it can also motivate excessive aggression in revenge against the harming party. (See also Prinz 2011.)

In The Geography of Morals, Owen Flanagan recommends that we try to entirely extirpate anger from our lives, as suggested by some of the great Buddhist and Stoic sages. (See also Nussbaum 2016.)

Flanagan's and Bloom's cases against empathy and anger are mainly practical or instrumental (and not quite as absolute as their summary statements might sound). The costs of these emotions, they suggest, outweigh the benefits. As responses to suffering and injustice, it's simply that other emotional reactions are preferable, both personally and socially. Rational compassion, serenity, hope, thoughtful intervention, reconciliation, cool-headed justice, a helping hand.

I want to push back against the idea that we should narrow the emotional range of our lives by rejecting empathy and anger. My thought is this: Having a rich emotional range is intrinsically valuable.

One way of thinking about intrinsic value is to consider what you would wish for, if you knew that there was a planet on the far side of the galaxy, beyond any hope of contact with us. (I discuss this thought experiment here and here.) Would you hope that it's a sterile rock? A planet with microbial life but not multi-cellular organisms? A planet with the equivalent of deer and cows but no creatures of human-like intelligence? Human-like intelligences, but all lying comatose, plugged into simple happiness stimulators?

Here's what I'd hope for: a rich, complex, multi-layered society of loves and hates, victories and losses, art and philosophy, history, athletics, science, music, literature, feats of engineering, great achievements and great failures. When I think about a flourishing world, I want all of that. And negative emotions, destructive emotions, useless bad stuff, those are part of it. If I imagine a society with rational compassion, but no empathy, no anger -- a serene world populated exclusively by Buddhist and Stoic sages -- I have imagined a lesser world. I have imagined a step away from all the wonderful complexity and richness of life.

I don't know how to argue for this idea. I can only invite you to consider whether you share it. There would be something flat about a world without empathy or anger.

Whether individual lives without empathy or anger would be similarly flat is a different question. Maybe they wouldn't be -- especially in a world where extirpating such emotions is a rare achievement, adding to, rather than subtracting from, the diversity and complexity of our human forms of life. But interpreted as general advice, applicable to everyone, the advice to eliminate whole species of emotion is advice to uncolor the world.

Flanagan comes close to addressing my point when he considers what he calls the "attachment" objection to the extirpation of anger (esp. p. 202-203). The objector says that part of loving someone is being disposed to respond with anger if they are unjustly harmed. Flanagan acknowledges that a readiness to feel some emotions -- sorrow, for example -- might be necessary for loving attachment. But he denies that anger is among those necessary emotions. A person who lacks any disposition to anger can still love. Bloom says something analogous about empathy.

I'm not sure whether I'd say that one's love is flatter if one would never feel anger or empathy on behalf of one's beloved, but in any case my objection is simpler. It is that part of the glorious richness of life on Earth is our range of intense and varied emotions. To be against a whole class of emotions is to be against part of what makes the world the great and amazing whirlwind it is.

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Wednesday, March 01, 2017

Why Wide Reflective Equilibrium in Ethics Might Fail

"Reflective equilibrium" is sometimes treated as the method of ethics (Rawls 1971 is the classic source). In reflective equilibrium, one considers one's judgments, beliefs, or intuitions about particular individual cases (e.g., in such-and-such an emergency would it be bad to push someone in front of an oncoming trolley?). One then compares these judgments about cases with one's judgments about general principles (e.g., act to maximize total human happiness) and one's judgments about other related cases (e.g., in such-and-such a slightly different emergency, should one push the person?). Balance them all together, revising the general principles when that seems best in light of what you regard as secure judgments about the cases, and revising one's judgments about specific cases when that seems best in light of one's judgments about general principles and related cases. Repeat the process, tweaking your judgments about cases and principles until you reach an "equilibrium" in which your judgments about principles and a broad range of cases all fit together neatly. In "wide" equilibrium, you get to toss all other sources of knowledge into the process too -- scientific knowledge, reports of other people's judgments, knowledge about history, etc.

How could anything be more sensible than that?

I am inclined to agree that no approach is more sensible. It's the best way to do ethics. But, still, our best way of doing ethics might be irredeemably flawed.

The crucial problem is this: The process won't bust you out of a bad enough starting point if you're deeply enough committed to that starting point. And we might have bad starting points to which we are deeply committed.

Consider the Knobheads. This is a species of linguistic, rational, intelligent beings much like us, who live on a planet around a distant star. Babies are born without knobs on their foreheads, but knobs slowly grow starting at age five, and adults are very proud of their knobs. The knobs are simply bony structures, with no function other than what the Knobheads give them in virtue of their prizing of them. Sadly, 5% of children fail to start growing the knobs on their foreheads, despite being otherwise normal. Knobheads are so committed to the importance of the knobs, and the knobs are so central to their social structures, that they euthanize those children. Some Knobhead philosophers ask: Is it right to kill these knobless five-year-olds? They are aware of various ethical principles that suggest that they should not kill those children. And let's suppose that those ethical principles are in fact correct. The Knobheads should, really, ethically, let the knobless children live. But Knobheads are deeply enough committed to the judgment that killing those children is morally required that they are willing to tweak their judgments about general principles and other related cases. "It's just the essence of life as a Knobhead that one has a knob," some say. "It's too disruptive of our social practices to let them live. And if they live, they will consume resources and parental energy that could instead be given to proper Knobhead children." Etc.

Also consider the Hedons. The Hedons also are much like us and live on a far-away planet. When they think about "experience machine" cases or "hedonium" cases -- cases in which one sacrifices "higher goods" such as knowledge, social interaction, accomplishment, and art for the sake of maximizing pleasure -- they initially react somewhat like most Earthly humans do. That is, their first reaction is that it's better for people to live real, rich lives with risk and suffering than to zap their brains into a constant state of dumb orgasmic pleasure. But unlike most of us, the Hedons give up that judgment after engaging in reflective equilibrium. After considerable reflection, they are captured by the theoretical elegance of simple hedonistic act utilitarianism. As a society, they arrive at the consensus that the best ethical goal would be to destroy themselves as a species in order to transform their planet into a paradise of happy cows. Let's assume that, like the Knobheads, they are in fact ethically wrong to reach this conclusion. (Yes, I am assuming moral realism.)

It seems possible that wide reflective equilibrium, even ideally practiced, could fail the Knobheads and Hedons. All that needs to be the case is that they are too implacably committed to some judgments that really ought to change (the Knobheads) or that they are insufficiently committed to judgments that ought not to change (the Hedons). To succeed as a method, reflective equilibrium requires that our reflective starting points be approximately well-ordered in the sense that our stronger commitments are normally our better commitments. Otherwise, reflective tweaking might tend to move practitioners away fromrather than toward the moral truth.

Biological and cultural evolution, it seems, could easily give rise to groups of intelligent beings whose starting points are not well-ordered in that way and for whom, therefore, reflective equilibrium fails.

Of course, the crucial question is whether we are such beings. I worry that we might be.

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Related:

How Robots and Monsters Might Break Human Moral Systems (Feb 3, 2015)

How Weird Minds Might Destabilize Human Ethics (Aug 15, 2015)

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