Friday, December 08, 2006

All the cool blogkids

... are playing with the new LibraryThing toy, Unsuggester

Unsuggester takes "people who like this also like that" and turns it on its head. It analyzes the seven million books LibraryThing members have recorded as owned or read, and comes back with books least likely to share a library with the book you suggest.

But unlike them, I can't get any really funny results. Indeed, I can barely get different results from book to book. Every book I enter yields a whole string of Christian self-help books ['how to accept that Jesus died a purpose-driven death so you can lead a prayerful life'], plus sometimes Eragon and Confessions of a Shopaholic. The fun thing about the toy is the ability to say, "aha! I defy your automated predictability, because I read both X and Y!" But I failed to find anything like that; I really don't own all of the books that Unsuggester predicts I won't own...

Thursday, December 07, 2006

In the news

I'm in The McGill Reporter's "Ask An Expert" section today.

Wednesday, December 06, 2006

The greats

From this very smart Will Wilkinson post about Rawls (Will has a real habit of being right about important stuff), the following odd judgments.

Who are the greatest political philosophers of the past few centuries, according to my idiosyncratic judgment? 19th C.: Herbert Spencer (maybe the most unjustly maligned thinker ever) by a hair over J.S. Mill and Henry Sidgwick. 18th C.: David Hume over Adam Smith by a nose. 17th C.: Thomas Hobbes by a nose over John Locke, for reasons similar to Rawls vs. Nozick.

Well, Hobbes, certainly. I understand the appeal of Spencer but can't share in that judgment-- and for Sidgwick to be even a close third reflects an unacceptable deviationism brought on by Will's training as a political philosopher rather than a political theorist. (Is Sidgwick meaningfully political at all? Can he rival Constant, Tocqueville, Hegel, or Marx?)

But-- Hume?

The second half of the 18th century saw breakthrough after breakthrough in the human sciences-- political theory, political philosophy, political economy, and political science, but also moral philosophy, moral psychology, epistemology, and also historical sociology, jurisprudence, etc., etc. In the human sciences taken in aggregrate, four of the greatest thinkers in western history wrote their major works in something like a forty-year timespan: Hume, Rousseau, Smith, and Kant. I submit that there hadn't been anything quite like that concentration of intellectual greatness in these fields since Plato and Aristotle. And qua philosophers, Hume and Kant tower over even Rousseau and Smith.

But as political philosophers? No. Smith and Rousseau tower over Hume and Kant, as important as the work of the latter two was. Please, Will, an explanation and defense...

Tuesday, December 05, 2006

I can't say...

that I always agree with the Chronicle's "Ms. mentor" column. But ABDs, get ye hence. And remember: writing's just like that.

Monday, December 04, 2006


I've uploaded into SSRN the final revised version of "Federalism, Liberalism, and the Separation of Loyalties," forthcoming, American Political Science Review, c. August 2007.

Sunday, December 03, 2006

I haven't seen it yet...

but my former teacher Roderick Long alerts me to the following:

The Journal of Libertarian Studies continues to bring you exciting cutting-edge scholarship in libertarian theory. Here’s what you’ll find in issue 20.3: [...]
Jacob T. Levy has maintained that the primary case for multiculturalist legislation lies in its potential to block the oppression of some cultures by others. In a review of Levy’s book The Multiculturalism of Fear, Marcus Verhaegh worries that Levy’s approach manifests an uneasy tension between suspicion of particularist identities on the one hand and suspicion of attempts to suppress such identities on the other; Verhaegh suggests that a more positive appreciation for particularist identities can be reconciled with the kind of protection from oppression that Levy seeks by embracing a more decentralist, libertarian vision.

Sounds like a fair characterization of my view; "uneasy tensions" are a specialty of my work in political theory, I think. I'm of course skeptical of the proffered altenative, but look forward to reading the argument for it.
Oddly enough, no one's covering the story in just this way

Montreal political scientist beats out Toronto philosopher for some non-academic post.

(Yes, I know that the bilingual Professor Iggyhas strong sentimental and family ties with Montreal:
Though born in Toronto, Ignatieff has always identified with Quebec. He says the prospect of the province's separation fills him "with something like physical pain, anguish, tears. I can't think about it. My parents are buried there. It's very emotional."

but Toronto is where he was a student and is an affiliated professor. Don't spoil the joke.)