Wednesday, March 14, 2007

Former McGill Political Theorist Watch

I don't intend for this blog to become all Taylor all the time. But this is noteworthy.

A Canadian philosopher has won a $1.5 million US prize for his theory that the world's problems can only be solved by considering both their secular and spiritual roots.

Charles Taylor was announced as the winner of the 2007 Templeton Prize Wednesday at a news conference in New York.[...]

Taylor, in an interview with the CBC's Alison Smith, described the essential idea behind his work.

"I think the thing that caught the attention of the people giving the prize is that I've always thought that we've had a social science and philosophy that were much too narrow … that hasn't recognized the importance of the religious and spiritual dimension in peoples' lives," he said.

"And the result is, it's not been good for understanding in the world."

See the official announcement here, and Taylor's interesting reflections on his own published works here.

Mazel tov.

Update And the next day it turns out to be more than 'noteworthy'-- it's the big news. Here's the Montreal Gazette on the news, and Taylor and Montreal; and Taylor's former student, the distinguished Universite de Montreal Canada Research Chair in Ethics and Political Philosophy Daniel Weinstock, on Taylor as a teacher. Here's the McGill press release. And here's the McGill page devoted to Taylor as an intellectual "pioneer."

The funny thing is that, when I was in grad school, the Oxford-Harvard-Princeton crowd treated Taylor's interest in religion as an odd quirk-- something between "interesting trivia you might not have known" [Nozick had a big rent control fight with the author of Love Story, Taylor seems to believe in God] and "interpretive key that will make his whole philosophy make sense at the cost of making it inaccessible and/or uninteresting to people like us." Neither seemed all fair as far as I was concerned, and I'm very glad to see Taylor honored because of rather than in spite of his attention to religious questions and to the relationship between philosophy and religion.

Tuesday, March 13, 2007

A swing and a miss...

or rather a Ms., from Ms. Mentor. (Sorry, that was weak, I know.) I've sometimes encouraged grad students to follow the advice of the Chronicle's Ms. Mentor, but not this time. A correspondent asks her "what counts as forthcoming?" and she responds with some wise and some less-wise words about the tenure process-- fine as far as they go. But this:
And yet, Ms. Mentor knows that the issue isn't really whether a book is a zygote, or gestating, or incubating. "Forthcoming" can mean "at the idea stage" or "inchoate." It can be a mote in the mind, a song on the wind, a glimpse of the ineffable not yet reduced to the dry mundanity of words.

is just not on, as they say, and would be highly hazardous advice to follow. Those might be 'work in progress' or 'future projects.' "Forthcoming" means has been accepted by a publisher, press, or editor in its final form. There are many gradations of other status: accepted pending final revisions, under contract, under review, in submission, in revision for resubmission, etc., etc. But "forthcoming" means something much more specific, and using it in other ways risks serious trouble or at least reputational harms.

The correct use of "forthcoming" might not be the issue she wanted to talk about, but that doesn't mean "isn't really the issue."

As far as I'm concerned, "in progress" means "I can show you a draft of this if you ask," but some people use "in progress" for their motes in the mind. That's OK, I guess. "Under review" and "in submission" are factual claims, though, not to be misrepresented. And "forthcoming" is an even stronger factual claim. Use it judiciously and accurately.

On another grad student note, see this instantly-classic statement of a core graduate student ambivalence...

updateSee a similar view expressed here.

Monday, March 12, 2007

Recent book purchases

Walter F. Murphy, Constitutional Democracy: Creating and Maintaining a Just Political Order (The Johns Hopkins Series in Constitutional Thought)

Eric Posner and Adrian Vermeule, Terror in the Balance: Security, Liberty, and the Courts

Morten E.J. Nielsen, ed., Political Questions: 5 Questions on Political Philosophy

Paul M. Sniderman and Louk Hagendoorn, When Ways of Life Collide: Multiculturalism and Its Discontents in the Netherlands

Will Kymlicka and Keith Banting, eds., Multiculturalism and the Welfare State: Recognition and Redistribution in Contemporary Democracies

Next to purchase:
Leonidas Montes & Eric Schliesser, eds., New Voices on Adam Smith

Brad De Long and I have an exchange over at his site. I'm not at all sure that I understand Brad's post, or what it has to do with my Wolfe-Berkowitz post at Open University which he takes as his point of departure.

Anyway, an extract form my side of our subsequent e-mail exchange, in case anyone cares:

'What conservatism is,' is as complex as what liberalism is, or what socialism (not communism, which aspires to simplicity) is. It's a multistranded set of particular policy commitments, normative principles, decision rules and guides for action, and sociological theories about the way the modern world works.

Finally-- and borrowing from Walzer-- even a traditionalist has to do just as much work as anyone else at figuring out levels of abstraction. Just like a Kantian has to figure out what counts as a maxim, a traditionalist has to figure out what counts as a tradition (what we did yesterday, or last year? The particular thing we've always done, or the reason we thought we had for doing it, or the rule under which we did it but which to which we now notice it was an exception?) Common law judges do that kind of work-- the body of precedent builds up rules and principles, not just holdings, and sometimes a holding gets overturned in light of the rules or principles. Burke did that kind of work too, and you rough him up for it, saying "but he didn't affirm X holding!"

Andrew Sullivan follows up.
Two nations warring

We've taken some shots at the New York Review of Books over at Open University, and justifiably so. The NYRoB's law and politics offerings are predictable at best, dreary at worst.

But it does do pretty well with history, quite often.

New in the NYRoB: a delightful Julian Barnes review of a delightful-sounding book on the English-French rivalry-- an object of special interest to those of us who live in an Anglo-French (Franco-Saxon?) city, in a province and country that have been given their shape by that rivalry.