Self-Indulgent Blog Post

I’ve been wondering for a while about what I should put as my AOS (Area(s) of Specialisation) on my CV. For a while I’d been playing with the idea of putting None, on the ground that there is no area in which I specialise. But that probably wouldn’t look too good. On the other hand, it seems a bit bizarre to claim I specialise in philosophy of probability and philosophy of language and philosophical logic and metaphysics and epistemology. So I’ve been a bit stuck about what to do about this. Until I saw a job ad the other day that may have resolved the problem for me.

The department in question was searching for someone with AOS ‘core analytic’. I’m not entirely sure that I could claim to be a specialist in all of ‘core analytic’, I don’t really know enough philosophy of mind for that, but it’s close. More generally, the idea that I should just create a new disjunctive category (for ‘core analytic’ surely is a disjunctive category) for whatever it is I do.

This all got me wondering about the provenance of the phrase ‘core analytic’. I had been under the impression that the contemporary use of the term ‘core’ to describe metaphysics and epistemology and related areas was due to Brian Leiter’s use of it that way in the Gourmet Reports.

If that’s true, it indicates that Prof Leiter really is quite powerful. He’s managed to have enough impact on the profession that people now create positions to fill his classifications. That’s quite an achievement. I should lobby him to create a new category for philosophy of probability and philosophy of language and philosophical logic and metaphysics and epistemology.

12 Replies to “Self-Indulgent Blog Post”

  1. for what little it’s worth I once described you to someone who asked as “specializing [AOS?] in language and metaphysics with competency in epistemology and logic among other things. I then separately noted the special emphasis on probability that seems to crosscut many of your interests.

    So what’s wrong with
    AOS – language, metaphysics, probability
    AOC – epistemology, philosophical logic

    If one wants to be more precise (as is sometimes a good idea if one is job seeking) one can add a “current research topics” list after the AOS/AOC. This allows for clarification of the AOS/AOC and also gives you a place to list, for example, a topic or two in ethics that you work on seriously.

    Example — current research topics: vagueness, contextualism, consequentialist moral theory, …

    If you prefer brevity and/or imprecision and/or being obnoxious in a CV, how about:

    AOS: Analytic Philosophy

    For some reason I’m reminded of a graduate student at ND who once listed his “Philosophical Interests” as “analytic philosophy” and his “non-Philosophical Interests” as “continental philosophy”.

  2. I first heard the terminology as a grad student at Michigan, and then started using it in the PGR.
    Feedback over time indicated that the terminology was not in regular usage elsewhere. It’s also clear that there are severe differences of opinion over whether “core analytic” includes or excludes ethics. I’ve dropped the phrase since (I think).

    I’ll work on your last proposal—or, more to the point, getting the AOS “Weathersonian Philosophy” in to wide circulation.

    The Almighty

  3. I’m all in favour of brevity and imprecision and obnoxiousness, though how anyone could tell that one of these is true from the blog is a bit of a mystery.

    I had never realised that ethics was meant to be part of ‘core’. I thought it wasn’t that helpful a characterisation in any case. If it’s just metaphysics and epistemology, we may as well say that.

    Metaphysics and epistemology isn’t really a natural kind in contemporary philosophy. There’s plenty of people who only work in one or the other of these, even at the very top of those fields (e.g. Ted Sider, Stewart Cohen) and not that many who work in those two fields to the exclusion of others (though maybe Mark Heller fits that description). So it’s probably a sign of your infinite wisdom that you discontinued the category, your almightiness!

  4. Note on Taxonomy

    Brian L. is right that ‘core’ is a Michigan term. I hadn’t heard it much before I came to Michigan, but it’s still used occasionally here. ‘Core’, as it is used by my colleagues here, basically means the disjunction of Philosophy of Language, Metaphysics, Epistemology, Philosophy of Mind, and general Philosophy of Science (causation, explanation, probability). It may also include metaethics. But, as it is used by my colleagues, it does not include normative ethics or history (not this latter disjunction is a natural kind!).
    I’ve been militating for restricting ‘core’ to mean just Philosophy of Language, though without much success.

  5. “Core” also seems to be in use at the University of Utah. I haven’t been around long enough to tell exactly what it means, except that it does not include ethics.

  6. Well, Jason, as you know, we’ve been working on establishing as a recognized AOS the category “Philosophy of Language and Linguistics,” which would be almost as good as your proposed definition of “core.”

    By the way, at Texas, “core” means the disjunction of formal semantics, ancient philosophy, and Nietzsche.

  7. If Jason’s attempt to change the (Michigan) meaning of “Core” to exclusively phil of language has been “without much success” I’d hate to see what a success would be! This observer thought that Michigan had instituted a “death to M&E – long live Phil of Language” departmental policy…

  8. Hey Fritz, that’s unfair! In many senses, the divisions between areas in ‘core’ are artificial. There are some purely philosophy of language internal questions (e.g. the correct semantics of propositional attitude ascriptions). But these are perhaps not the most interesting ones. In my view (I think Gibbard, Ludlow, Thomason and Tappenden are similar), the most interesting questions are those that intersect several different areas, and those are the ones we generally discuss.
    For example, the main objections to the metaphysical thesis of presentism are from the philosophy of language — there are intuitively true sentences that are inconsistent with presentism (e.g. “England has had three Kings named “George”). Ludlow uses his knowledge of linguistics to defend the metaphysical thesis against these objections. I’ve used resources in the philosophy of language to give an account of knowledge-how. All of us —Ludlow, Thomason, Tappenden, and myself— have substantial research projects ‘outside’ the philosophy of language —you and Ludlow both have written on similar issues concerning self-knowledge, and most of my recent work is in epistemology.
    It also goes in the other direction. Many interesting topics are not easily classifiable. Cohen, DeRose, and Lewis mix theses in epistemology and theses in philosophy of language to defend a certain response to skepticism. Is this “epistemology” or is this “philosophy of language”? Gibbard thinks that standard theories of content given by philosophers of language can’t account for certain features of normative discourse, so one needs to develop a new account of content. Is this “metaethics” or is this “philosophy of language”? Who really cares? The question should rather be — is it right or wrong?

  9. Of course you’re at least largely right Jason —so that there’s no confusion, I was joking. My being a large fan of the Michigan department is not widely known I suppose, so it’s good to clarify that it was only a good natured jab.

    What is striking, I hope we can agree, is that Michigan has succeeded in hiring a great group of people in some intuitive sense “centered” around philosophy of language. Without a doubt those you mention (and others too) are making real contributions to topics in metaphysics, epistemology, mind, and elsewhere. That these contributions are made (or seem to be made) from a home base in philosophy of language is, you rightly point out, not particularly important. Neither is it especially important that other departments (for example) my own contribute to these areas without any special focus on language.

    Let many flowers bloom, so long as the flowers do good work, right?

  10. Hmmm. Following one of Fritz’s earlier posts, I think I’ll have a list that includes ‘philosophical interests’ (like the apriori), ‘non-philosophical interests’ (like wine, gambling, etc), and ‘non-philosophical non-interests’; that way I can put continental philosophy in the latter.

  11. In my opinion, being too broad ranged in your philosophical logic could hinder how people perceive you for a specific quality required and they may acknowledge that your understanding of the situation isnot grasping the tediousness required to follow the situation to its successful completion.
    That is my thoughts
    Take care

  12. Gentlemen (and ladies if any are present),
    It warms my heart to discover that modern (small ‘m’) philosophers, including leaders in the field, actually speak in plain English. It encourages me to consider entering the field myself. My experience at a deconstructionist forum/conference/whatever in the mid-‘80s was rather discouraging because of its obscurity.

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