Author Archives: Dave J. Allen

Unsugaring the pill

Looking forward to the fruits of Adam Briggle and Robert Frodeman’s research on the state and possible future of academic philosophy, announced in this blog post. Looks set to be a long overdue investigation of some of the worrying structural problems with the discipline.

It’ll presumably be primarily or wholly from a US perspective, but no doubt some conclusions can be extrapolated for those of us working in the UK and Europe. Apropos the latter, Schliesser is typically a source of useful insights…

Peter Woit on Richard Dawid on string theory

Some interesting comments from Columbia theoretical physicist Peter Woit on Richard Dawid’s new book on the significance of string theory for the development of a ‘post-empiricist’ account of scientific method.

What strikes me as a particularly interesting and difficult question, which we see in the background of the first ‘mistake’ Dawid’s takes string theory critics to make, is that of the interplay between the developing de facto epistemic norms of the (various) scientific community(/ies) and the (I suppose, realist) notion that the success of science demands that there be some objective epistemological standard that scientists are effectively meeting.  That is, in arguing that our ideas about what count as appropriate epistemic norms for the sciences (or at least for ‘fundamental physics’) should be driven primarily or indeed completely by actual scientific practice, Dawid* would seem to open up a hornets’ nest of difficult (post-Kuhnian) questions about the extent to which there are identifiable independent epistemic standard in terms of which actual scientific practice can be said (in the present, as opposed to in hindsight) to methodologically ‘go wrong’ in a serious manner. This is of course the crux of the Kuhn/Popper ‘struggle for the soul of science’ (as Steve Fuller has put it): can the philosophy of science legitimately engage in the normative activity of dictating epistemic constraints to the scientist, or must the philosopher (or philosopher-historian) be content to codify and render explicit epistemic norms embedded in the real (and evolving) practices of scientists?

The best answer is (hedging my bets rather tediously) no doubt somewhere in the middle. But I’m sympathetic to Fuller’s concerns about an overly ‘internalist’ (i.e., Kuhnian) understanding of the scientific community’s relationship with the epistemic norms of its own enterprise…at the same time as I’m sceptical about the possibilities of establishing community-independent epistemic norms for the sciences that would condemn seemingly ‘progressive’ research programmes (by the standards of the scientific community in question) on independent epistemological grounds…  A hard question to be given more thought another day, when I’m not procrastinating from other more pressing tasks!

* I should say that I haven’t yet read Dawid’s book, so I’m purely responding to the sorts of ideas that come to mind in relation to the presentation of Dawid’s views by Woit and others – I’m more interested at present in the general ideas than in a detailed assessment of the nuances of Dawid’s position! So apologies if I’ve misrepresented it… Here’s a review.

Some thoughts from Eric Schliesser on the Leiter report and the “Jennings rankings”


CRMEP event this weekend at the ICA

Info here.

In response to the exhibition Journal, this symposium considers art’s relation to events of social and political significance. The symposium aims to present and interrogate a range of different arguments, positions and interests related to the ways artists negotiate roles such as activist, organiser, witness, archivist and counsellor, as well as the role of architecture and urban space in art’s engagement with social practices

Patrice Maniglier is giving the keynote presentation, which tends to promise something interesting.

Kazimir Malevich exhibition at the Tate Modern…

… starts 16 July. :)

A couple of interesting phenomenology events coming up in Nijmegen…

Politics and Philosophy: The Heidegger Case – 17 September 2014

The Ideas of Phenomenology: Contemporary Varieties of Phenomenological Research – 19-20 March 2015

Some thoughts on Boudry on obscurity and obscurantism in (especially C20 French) philosophy

Those of us working in the history of philosophy who are interested in treating the stylistically experimental works of twentieth-century French Nietzscheans as the objects of serious scholarly study should be very attentive to the dangers flagged up in this great piece by Maarten Boudry.

This, in particular, rang true from my experiences with much of “Deleuze studies”:

Everyone ends up understanding The Master — but they all disagree about what is being said.

I of course understand the mechanism whereby those interested in doing scholarly, historical-philosophical work on such figures*, faced with the (at least perceived, but I fear often also real) hostility of their peers towards their work, feel the need to defend the philosophical fertility of French Nietzscheanism against such dismissiveness. And, given that an intertwining of the notions of philosophical fertility and a certain (fairly distinctive) conception of stylistic clarity would seem to be a pervasive (and I think ultimately largely productive) element of the “analytic” legacy, defending 20th-century French Nietzscheanism’s philosophical value often in practice (especially in more informal settings) takes the form of arguing for the ultimate clarity of these works – given the right “contextualisation”. But I think those of us working in this field need to acknowledge (as Gary Gutting has done in the conclusion to his Thinking the Impossible) that oftentimes such obscure passages cannot be “clarified”, however much context is supplied.

What’s more, this is all to the good:

  • Firstly, because if we are to properly understand the stylistic experimentation being undertaken, in Nietzschean spirit, by these philosophers, we need to confront the fact that we will on occasion meet passages that are attempts (sometimes failed attempts) at producing some literary or aesthetic effect (and indeed affect). Consequently, an attempt to mine such passages for submerged arguments that might be “rationally reconstructed” in a far more neutral register may well lead us to miss the philosophical significance of these passages, insofar as the enthusiasm for Nietzsche and for stylistic experimentation in postwar French philosophy cannot be separated from an engagement with fundamental metaphilosophical questions about the nature and limits of philosophy (including questions about the role of the non-cognitive in philosophical discourse);
  • But, secondly, a less defensive approach is to our benefit because in seeking the approval of our more “mainstream” colleagues by stressing the clarity of these works “once you understand the context” (rather than taking the harder road of trying to explain and justify that these philosophers often weren’t trying to be clear in this sense, but were attempting something else entirely), we in fact do the opposite of what we intend. That is, we make ourselves seem dogmatic, and prone to the fallacies outlined in Boudry’s piece. An actively critical approach to these historical figures, which does not feel the need to vindicate their every pronouncement but feels empowered by critical distance to call them out where their reasoning goes awry, and to flag up unclarity and even defend it as such, will do far more to endear these figures to non-specialists than defensive apologetics.

*My own doctoral research focuses on Gilles Deleuze, often one of the worst “offenders” by my estimation.

Lazari-Radek & Singer revamp Sidgwick’s utilitarianism

Check out Bart Schultz’s NDPR review of what looks like an extremely interesting new work by Katarzyna de Lazari-Radek and Peter Singer.

Conference on perfectionism after Kant @ Sheffield


Humanities Research Institute, University of Sheffield

5 – 6th June, 2014


The aim of the conference is to examine what happened to the perfectionist tradition in ethics subsequent to Kant’s critique of it, where this will include discussion of figures such as Schiller, Fichte, Hegel, Kierkegaard, Mill, Marx, Nietzsche and the British Idealists amongst others.


Confirmed Speakers:


Christopher Bennett (Sheffield)

David Brink (USCD)

Clare Carlisle (KCL)

David James (Warwick)

Douglas Moggach (Ottawa)

Simon Robertson (Cardiff)

John Skorupski (St Andrews)

Robert Stern (Sheffield)


More speakers to be confirmed.


Attendance is open to all, and free of charge. To register, or get further information on the conference, please email

Workshop on ‘acquaintance’ @ Trondheim

Location: NTNU, Trondheim, Dragvoll Campus, 24-25 April 2014


Thursday 24th April (DL145)

1015-1100 Thomas Raleigh (NTNU): Introduction to ‘Acquaintance’

1100-1115 Coffee/tea

1115-1245 John Campbell (UC Berkeley): TBA

1245-1400 Lunch

1400-1515 Anders Nes (CSMN, Oslo): ‘Conceptualism and the Explanatory Role             of Experience. Some Reflections on Campbell’s case for a Relational over a             Representational View’

1515-1530 Coffee/tea/fruit

1530-1645 Jessica Pepp (CSMN, Oslo): ‘Reference as a Form of Acquaintance’

1900 Workshop dinner

Friday 25th April (D106)

0915-1030 Solveig Aasen (CSMN, Oslo/UCL): ‘The Mechanism of Acquaintance’

1030-1045 Coffee/tea

1045-1215 Bill Brewer (King’s College London): ‘The Object View of Perception’

1215-1330 Lunch

1330-1445 Jonathan Knowles (NTNU/CSMN, Oslo): ‘Naïve Realism as Existential             Phenomenology’

1445-1500 Coffee/tea/fruit

1500-1615 Carsten Hansen (CSMN/IFIKK, Oslo): TBA

Room finder:

Organiser: Representationalism or Anti-representationalism? Perspectives on Intentionality from Philosophy and Cognitive Science, for more information and abstracts see

All are welcome to attend the talks!