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Showing posts from March, 2014

Living Philosophy

Over the last year, my professional life has undergone a number of major changes. Obviously, moving to the Netherlands is on the list, but I have in mind more differences in how I view myself and my work. While finishing my dissertation gave me a sense of completion, it took a while to find a well-developed sense of myself as a philosopher. In particular, I have a very different relationship to my research today than I had when I defended my dissertation.

The dissertation stage is filled with lots of uncertainties and fear along with the other challenges of actually writing the thing. For one thing, I had never written anything that long or unified. I had to design and execute a book-length argument on one topic, and I had to say something relatively novel. Thankfully, my supervisor Bruce Brower was an excellent mentor. He helped me identify the topic very early in my doctoral studies, so I spent two years or so thinking about it before I began principal writing. We worked the topic i…

Pedagogy of Prestidigitation

I put what might be too much thought into presentation when I teach. I say it's too much because I don't know how much of it comes across to my students, but insofar as a teacher must entertain, it seems appropriate to work on one's showmanship. Over time, I've developed some particular aesthetics of teaching that both keep me motivated and focused in the task, and hopefully contribute something unique to my students' experience.

My basic model is jazz improvisation, for reasons perhaps best understood by fellow initiates of Robert Anton Wilson. The presentation slides give me an overall structure and contain the essential information. For the most part, the slides are supposed to be springboards for verbal improvisation. I like the idea of running discussion sessions, and when it happens I enjoy it, but I find it hard to get the students going. In introductory ethics courses, when I include assignments that require them to read before coming to class, it's eas…

Flipped Off Pedagogy

Everyone who works in education is trying to figure out what to do with the new capabilities afforded by IT. The most prominent example is the move toward MOOCs, the massively-open online courses made visible by the efforts of EdX, Coursera, and associated institutional partners. For those of us in the trenches, MOOCs represent the least imaginative application of information tech to the classical challenge of enlightening young minds. Think about it this way: you have any and all documented facts at your fingertips, and the ability to connect with experts anywhere in the world, and you use it to turn university lectures into a Netflix product? Michael Sandel is a talented lecturer, but I don't see philosophers binging on his Justice course the way we all do with Orange is the New Black.

So, if MOOCs aren't the big challenge, what is? As far as I can tell, educators (self included) have the most trouble coping with the "flipped classroom." A "flipped classroom&q…

Ambivalence on Ethically Challenging Research

I'm the middle of one of those research projects I feel obligated to do, but at the time can't bring myself to feel entirely passionate about. There really is nothing that brings out ambivalence in me like ethics and cyber-warfare. First and foremost, I am no big fan of war, warfare, or the military broadly construed. For that reason alone, the ethics of war should be a topic of great interest. If it's the case that person most fit for office is the one who wants it least, then the best war ethicist should be an absolute pacifist. Think about it this way: what would war ethics look like according to Genghis Khan or Napoleon? I think Atlanta still wakes up in hots sweats over Sherman's ideas about conducting a just war.

Of course, when you actually have to think about the ethics of just war, you have to confront the realist/idealist problem. War is awful and nothing good comes of it (anyone who says otherwise has way too much invested to be unbiased), so the most just w…

Surveillance and Servitude

A response to Kevin Kelly’s “Why You Should Embrace Surveillance, Not Fight It” in Wired
In “Why You Should Embrace Surveillance, Not Fight It” Kevin Kelly offers some possibilities for a positive view of ubiquitous surveillance. The solution to our concerns about privacy, according to Kelly, is more, rather than less surveillance. By embracing “coveillance,” collective monitoring of one another, we can recapture some of the influence and transparency currently lost to surveillance, top-down monitoring of citizens by an authority. While Kelly is right that coveillance gives us transparency, he may be wrong about freedom. Let’s begin with the idea that Big Data firms will pay coveillers for self-monitoring and reporting. The idea that we could make our data more valuable by invoking a sense of entitlement and demanding direct compensation misunderstands the “big” in “Big Data.” The personal data of one citizen is really not all that valuable to data analysis. You can’t create gene…