December 11, 2004

Shaggy Dog Post

via Brian Weatherson I discovered Dennis Des Chene's two weblogs. (User tip 1: On my browser, the title bar of Philosophical Fortnights shoves all the text to the right--you have to scroll to the right to find the actual blog.)

Des Chene comes down on the right side of the most crucial issue of our day, and has great taste in blog titles and URLs. He calls this blog "Etymologically dubious, but epistemologically sound." As a specialist in early modern philosophy, he knows better than me about the first part; so much better than me that I hereby ask him to let me know. (My explanation for the name of the blog is here and should really be in the sidebar; I am also trying to set a record for the blog name with the most variant spellings.)

He also gives us his interesting impressions of Pittsburgh (user tip 2: For the life of me I can't figure out the permalink; scroll down to "Impressions of Pittsburgh.") I have one tiny caveat to add to this:

The area around the Universities (Pitt and Carnegie-Mellon) is called Oakland. It was once the cultural center, built away from the congested, dirty downtown area in the twenties and thirties. Since then the symphony and the opera have moved downtown, but the buildings remain (the link is to an informative essay by Walter Kidney)

which is that the art and natural history museums remain in Oakland, along with the main library; the art museum is currently hosting the Carnegie International, one of the big international art contemporary art exhibitions; the curator's introduction quotes Kant (and doesn't seem to me to say very much), while the list of artists is shockingly skewed toward the beginning of the alphabet. I hate that. (I'll be seeing it in January, and I probably will not review the whole thing.)

Also, though Pitt and CMU are both generally referred to as being in Oakland, for the life of me I've never been able to figure out why they're thought to be in the same neighborhood. Their respective areas look very different (CMU is much greener, Pitt much more built up) and are separated by natural barriers (various hollows and parks)--to me they look like a paradigm case of contiguous areas in different neighborhoods. The territory across Forbes Ave. from CMU is called "Bellefield" on several maps that I've seen (look dead center here), but I've literally never heard anyone refer to that area as Bellefield. Yet is completely unclear what that neighborhood should be--it's not clearly Shadyside, Squirrel Hill, or Oakland either. I think people say "by CMU."

While we're on Pittsburgh: This ESPN page contains an example of the positive 'anymore' that so perplexed Brian: "I stopped reading at 'white-collar employees.' Anymore, those words just make me giggle." That translates into Standard American English as "Nowadays, those words just make me giggle." I suspect that the positive 'anymore' comes from the dialect of the anonymous Page 2 staffer who wrote that rather than Ken Jennings, into whose mouth the words are being put; I don't remember hearing that formulation in Utah. But maybe I'm just forgetting. I also hope that the question (sorry, 'answer') ESPN quotes is not the one Jeopardy actually asked Jennings, because to my eyes it's so ungrammatical its meaning isn't clear (I think "season" should be "seasoned"). And I take no responsibility for that photo caption.

Des Chene--remember him?--also makes an interesting point about this passage from Timothy Williamson:

“Would it be a good bargain to sacrifice depth for rigour? That bargain is not on offer in philosophy, any more than it is in mathematics. (p. 15 of "Must Do Better")

which is (roughly) that it is not obviously not on offer in mathematics. This reminded me of Mark Wilson's "Can We Trust Logical Form?" (JSTOR), which includes the story of Oliver Heaviside's operational calculus (p. 528ff.), which involved manipulating expressions in differential equations using techniques from numerical algebra, producing expressions such as '1/d/dt'. The operational calculus seems not to have been rigorous. Was it deep? Well, apparently it was fruitful. [Disclaimer: I claim no authority on the history of mathematics here.]

Of course Williamson's point about the methodology of philosophy doesn't stand or fall on the success of the analogy with mathematics. And it's the point about the methodology of philosophy that I should really be concerned with. But that's something to address another day, if at all. (I believe that ending lives up to the post's title.)

Posted by Matt Weiner at December 11, 2004 03:58 PM

this blog is fascinating.
by the way, can you send me your mailing address?

Posted by: aaron at December 12, 2004 08:41 PM