Thursday, March 13, 2008

Academic bitches.

Got a rejection from the Canadian Philosophical Association on my Harman paper today. I'm not particularly concerned about that in itself -- rejections happen, that's the way the game is played, and so on. What's annoying me, though, is that the referee's comments suggest he (and the tone, to me, reads "he") clearly didn't read the paper terribly carefully. I'm accused of not appropriately addressing why moral facts best explain anthropological data on the universality of the incest taboo. There's about two hundred words or so that account for why this is the best explanation. The referee claims I say nothing about this -- not that I don't say enough, but that I say nothing. Which, to me, suggests he didn't read the thing.

As far as I can tell, there are no avenues to protest this. But it does tend to put another notch in the "leave the academy after graduation" column.

8 comments:

undergroundman said...

My condolences. I'm glad you don't take it personally.

In this world of distractions, it's damn hard to read something carefully. It's always a trade-off. I haven't managed to give that paper a good read either. My problem with it is that the prohibition against incest is better explained as a scientific, biological phenomenon -- you actually don't feel attracted to people you grow up with. In fact, the incest taboo is rather unusual as a moral fact, as incest is a victimless crime. Without the biological basis (and adverse biological consequences for children), it wouldn't be prohibited.

What do you mean by leaving the academy after graduation?

ADHR said...

Could you imagine what it would be like if I did take it personally?

At the end of the day, referees for this kind of conference are volunteers. And if they can't be bothered to devote enough time to read the paper carefully, they shouldn't be reading them at all.

The question is whether the moral explanation or the biological explanation (a so-called "debunking" explanation) is the more explanatory of the two. Assuming that the debunking explanation is superior, and the moral explanation must be defended against this, is simply begging the question.

It's worth noting that, when the biological consequences for children are almost nil (e.g., because circumstances are such that most offspring are non-viable), we don't observe a clear loss of the incest taboo. So, the debunking explanation really needs to account for why there are no clear cases of incest being non-taboo.

By "leaving the academy", I mean just that. I'm not insane: I know that academic jobs are ridiculously hard to come by. Thus, I've been considering the options post-graduation. I'm not willing to move halfway around the world to pursue a poorly-paying job teaching five courses a semester. So, non-academic options need to be on the table.

undergroundman said...

Sounds great to me. Become a journalist, or apply to a think tanks, or something. Take some economics and math classes, maybe. ;)

I'm sure you can find a good job.

I actually don't think incest is a big deal. I'm not going to do it, mainly because, in order of significance: 1) there's a lot more attractive, interesting, non-related women around, and 2) the stigma is so great.

If you took away the biological consequence of incest (deformed babies), it could actually be universalized under Kant's CI.

ADHR said...

I'm pretty much done with math. I failed a math class in my first year (largely because I didn't pay all that much attention to when the tests were) and lost interest.

At the end of the day, there's lots of things to do to pay the mortgage and put food on the table. I'm not going to kill myself for a $30-40K job.

I agree it could be universalized, but I don't accept the CI as a moral imperative. ;) I suppose an interesting thought-experiment, though, is how you would react if you thought an attractive and interesting woman was unrelated, and yet it turned out that she was, say, your long-lost half-sister or some such. Does that make a moral difference?

undergroundman said...

Hmm. I'm not sure why it would -- I already said that the morality of incest doesn't really bother me. It's really the stigma combined with the fact that there's plenty of fish in the sea -- why choose one that's going to get you into trouble?

I suppose if I fell in love with some woman and found out that she was my long-lost sister (full-blooded, even) that would be an interesting situation. I still wouldn't do anything because of the stigma, but this seems to be a rather immoral consequence of the incest taboo - that it can prevent you from being with the person you really want to be with.

As far as math, I was similar, but you can get over it. It just takes willpower. All of the highest-paying jobs require some math skills. However, the accounting/economics/business math requirements are really pretty slim , depending on the program, and once you're in the workforce you don't necessarily need to do a lot of math -- certainly you aren't taking derivatives and such. What math class was it?

Precalc can be tough; I thought it was tougher than Calculus. You might like math a lot more at the higher levels -- there's a lot of logic.

What careers are you looking at? You should start looking at your long-term options.

ADHR said...

Why is it immoral to be prevented from being with who you want to be with? Wants are thwarted all the time with no clear immorality.

Oh, don't get me wrong. I can do math. And formal logic I can do. The class in question was integral calculus, and I just didn't care. For whatever it's worth, I pulled a C in a second-year math class on vector algebra. I didn't fully understand it, but apparently I could fake it well enough.

I'm not going to look until I'm about a year away from graduating, as I need to get a draft of the dissertation completed before I'll have the time. For right now, I'm doing all I reasonably can to pursue an academic career (might as well, right?). Beyond that, I'll have to sit down with some of the career advisors at York and see what they have to say for themselves.

undergroundman said...

Integral calculus is said to be one of the hardest undergraduate math classes. Way harder than differential calculus.

Vector algebra sounds like linear algebra, which is what I'm taking right now.

Why is it immoral to be prevented from being with who you want to be with? Wants are thwarted all the time with no clear immorality.

As long as your want is not infringing upon other people's rights, it seems immoral to hinder that want. You don't think that restricting someone from walking down the street is immoral, or restricting someone from eating Mexican food, or what have you? These are exactly analogous to the want in question: marrying your sister. How can you believe that the government should subsidize housing (a want which infringes upon hardworking people's housing wants) but at the same time prevent people from satisfying basic wants?

ADHR said...

Differential is a piece of piss. The rules are very straightforward. Integral gets nasty because so much of it is non-standard; the set of rules you need to know seems to keep growing.

AFAIK, vector and linear algebra are the same thing.

With regards to wants and rights.... Strictly, I don't think the concept of a moral right is coherent. Thus, I don't think moral rights exist. Legal rights, since they are constructed, aren't sufficiently stable to be of interest when we're talking about morality. But, the point can be recast in terms of duties, such as: one should not restrict someone from acting on their wants as long as this does not conflict with doing their duty. Not quite the same, but close enough.

Wants can only be exercised with impunity, though, if we were entirely separate creatures. But we're not. Everything we do has some effect on others, and that effect has to be taken into account when we're weighing options. If the effect is sufficiently great (that is, sufficiently high impact on a few people or sufficiently broad impact on many people), then that can, in principle, justify interfering with people acting on their wants.

So, take the eating Mexican food example. Suppose, for the sake of argument, that the production of a key ingredient in Mexican food -- let's say jalapenos -- is produced in a way that is, unavoidably, polluting the surrounding environment in the form of greenhouse gases. And forcing everyone else to bear the costs of your food choices seems to fail to treat others with respect.

Thus, if all that were the case, there seems to be good prima facie reason to restrict people in eating Mexican food, for more eating Mexican food = more jalapenos produced = more greenhouse gases = more damaging effects for the rest of us. Of course, this is a toy example and I sincerely doubt that any of the connections there actually exist. The point is that, if they did, then, regardless of the fact that this would be infringing on a want, there would be reason to restrict eating Mexican food.

Given that, wants have to be such that they are morally permissible prima facie -- that is, it has to be shown that the burden of proof is on those who are against exercising a want. At least, the want to mate with your sister has to be in that category. If neither of these goes through, then the general recognition of the wrongness of incest seems to be sufficient reason to prohibit mating with one's sister.

And, incidentally, subsidized housing doesn't necessarily infringe upon hardworking people's housing wants. For it to do so, you have to assume (1) that there is no greater infringement on other wants if the people who would qualify for subsidized housing were not subsidized; (2) that the subsidized and not are competing for the same housing; and (3) that the subsidies are available only to a subset of the population, not to all. I at least deny (2) and (3); I'm not sure about (1), but I suspect it's irrelevant if (2) and (3) fall.