In light of some recent discussion over at New Apps, I bring you Clark Glymour’s manifesto …

Recent posts like this and like this over at the excellent New Apps blog have generated some intense discussion and have prompted Clark Glymour to write the statement that follows. Clark asked me to post the statement on Choice and Inference, and I’m happy to do so because I think Clark keeps it real.

[Note: I went to Carnegie Mellon and believe that it is a really fantastic, cutting-edge place.].

[Update: The previous version attributed a remark of Dick Rorty’s to Brian Leiter. The corrected version follows below. See [1] as well as the corresponding note at the end of this version.]

%%%%% begin Clark’s statement %%%%%

I am sometimes credited with the remark, due to Nelson Goodman, that “there are two kinds of people in the world: the logical positivists and the god-damned English professors.” While it’s a cute summary, I don’t agree. Departments of English provide sinecures for good authors who lack a mass audience and would otherwise go hungry or not write; they contain people who know a lot about the history of literature, and someone ought to know that. Similar plaudits apply to some faculty in history and in modern languages. Humanities departments also house faculty whose principal work is a great deal of foolishness, garbed in neolexia, who spread it to undergraduates. Nothing would be lost and something would be gained if these people were pruned from universities and offered work with brooms.

Neither do I agree about the logical positivists. Carnap’s work, and that of his disciples, such as Hempel, is largely a history of missed opportunities. Except for Godel’s theorems, the philosophical implications of the mathematical, statistical and empirical sciences developing all around him were essentially ignored, and Carnap’s “principle of tolerance” was an invitation to triviality. As Russell put it, “God exists,” “God doesn’t exist”—no problem for Carnap, just different languages. And as Dana Scott once said, “Carnap was great at defining, but he never proved a damned thing.” Actually he did, but almost entirely elementary things, or as Awodey and Carus say of his work on categoricity, “trivial proofs.” Reichenbach, who was more closely engaged with the sciences, was ever a day late and a dollar short. His work on special relativity was unsound, and inferior to previous work in English; his quantum logic was a mess and ignored the previous good work by Birkhoff; his confused theory of probability was justly eclipsed by Kolmogoroff’s.

Richard Rorty[1] has written that contemporary philosophers are largely embarrassed by the positivists. I am not. For all I find them wanting in retrospect, Carnap was the grandfather of artificial intelligence: his students, Walter Pitts and Herbert Simon, were among the fathers. The echo of the Aufbau must have been heard in Carnap’s teaching. Reichenbach’s student, Hilary Putnam, combined computation theory, logic, and Reichenbach’s central idea about inductive inference to create the subject of computational learning theory. Reichenbach’s Elements of Symbolic Logic was the most serious attempt to formalize substantial parts of ordinary language, and for some while it had an influence in linguistics.

There is a larger reason I do not find the positivists embarrassing: the contrast case on the continent. The positivists, not just those two I have emphasized, wrote with scientific and liberal ambitions, and at least with a passing connection with mathematics and science; in a time in which philosophy on the continent was embracing obscurantism and vicious, totalitarian politics they stood for liberal politics. When National Socialism came, they left home and country, but not in some cases, as with Hempel, before helping to ferry Jews out of Germany. Compare Heidegger, whose defenses of National Socialism echo some of his philosophical views (the German language is, next to Greek, closest to “Being”) or Merleau-Ponty (Stalin’s mass murders were regrettable, but necessary to the advance of socialism.) Sartre sat out much of World War II as a Vichy professor, replacing a Jew who had been dismissed. There is no thinking in these people worthy of the title; Sartre’s work varies from sophomoric (Les Mouches) to a series of puns passing as profound (L’Etre et le Ne’ant). The heirs of their remoteness from analytic thought were LeCans and Derrida and Pol Pot. Their political heirs are English professors who remonstrate about sexual oppression, but have never guided a frightened woman through a mindless, aggressive crowd to a clinic. That’s embarrassing.

Contemporary “formal philosophers” have two ancestors: Carnap, who promoted the linguistic mode they practice (logify everything) and the English mathematical philosophers, Russell and Ramsey (probabilify everything). Much as I approve of Ramsey and Russell, I do not wholly approve of either legacy. Much of the work in formal philosophy is ill-motivated technicalia, much of it is ritualized (yet another soundness and completeness theorem for yet another system of modal logic, etc.), much of it (for example, the ever growing work on singular causation) is in Carnap’s faulty spirit: definitions without proofs or algorithms and neglect of the relevant work in computer science.

Contemporary philosophy of science has another ancestor, Thomas Kuhn. He is the unwitting grandfather of the incessant summaries of scientific work, supplemented with comments vague or vapid, now passing as philosophy in many departments. Such work is more often welcome there than is “formal philosophy” perhaps because it takes less effort to understand, or perhaps not: not much is illuminated when some simple principle about explanation is illustrated by a recapitualation of string theory.

I advocate material philosophy, and I will try to explain what I mean, which is actually rather broad, and of course rather vague. In The Dynamics of Reason, Michael Friedman wrote that the service of philosophy is to provide “new frameworks, new possibilities for science that are in some sense outside of science.” I paraphrase, and I agree. Friedman gives no examples from 20th century philosophy but there are many. I have already mentioned two, Carnap’s Aufbau and Putnam’s creation of computational learning theory, which had anticipations in other philosophical work, for example John Kemeny’s. Ramsey’s work in mathematics and in the foundations of subjective probability is another case. Each of these efforts had enormous ramifications, but I do not expect or demand that all of the work in the spirit of Friedman’s vision be so consequential. I could give a very long list of examples. I will give a few.

Patrick Suppes was among the first to realize the implications for education of the digital computer, and he inaugurated a broad project on computer instruction combined with empirical research on learning. Along the way he won the National Medal of Science. His very idea has been wonderfully continued by two of my colleagues, Wilfried Sieg and Richard Scheines. David Lewis rose to a challenge about how meanings could arise without a pre-established understanding between communicators, and in Convention he answered it. Brian Skyrms and his students have extended the basic ideas to a variety of settings, and Skyrms has used related techniques (evolutionary game theory) to speculate on the evolution of norms. Lewis contributed a logical theory where one was really needed, for counterfactuals. In the 1960s there was a lot of writing about relativity and conventionality; David Malament really understood the theory, and cleared matters up. He went on to investigate ways in which features of gravitational models are in principle underdetermined, and, perhaps as an amusement, to compute lower bounds on the energy required to execute a causal circle. Philosophers and others learned from him. From John Earman we learned how various pieces of modern cosmology do not fit together, where the holes are, and much else. From Eliot Sober we got a new take on evolution. Philosophers and statisticians alike want to posit probabilities over sentences, but how would that work with a language adequate to science and mathematics, say first order logic? Haim Gaifman told us, and worked out the implications for what is and what is not learnable. Putnam’s innovation opened the way to generalization to many epistemological and methodological issues. Gaifman, Kevin Kelly and Scott Weinstein seized the opportunity. Bayesian statisticians overlooked many fundamental issues: decisions among multiple agents, resolution of incoherence, etc. Teddy Seidenfeld and his collaborators addressed them. Peter Spirtes and Richard Scheines combined work in statistics and computer science to produce the graphical representation of causal relations, the fundamental result on the implications of such representations for experimental prediction, and the first feasible procedures for searching for such models from data. Their work is used now in many places; the website with software deriving from their ideas receives a hundred hits a week. Recently, collaborating with a computer scientist, Patrick Hoyer, Frederick Eberhardt broke outside of traditional experimental design to give almost complete procedures for learning linear structures from experiments. And so on. (My apologies to the many contributors my brief summary omits, especially to those using philosophical background to write insightfully and importantly about public policy.)

Why should this work be done in philosophy departments? At least for two reasons. Because philosophy teaches an eye for hidden presuppositions, equivocations, bad arguments generally; and because philosophy departments can be homes to brilliant people who are, at least initially, outsiders to the science of the day, people who will take up questions that may have been made invisible to scientists because of disciplinary blinkers, people who look at issues, in small ways or large, just as Friedman’s vision proposes. A real use of philosophy departments is to provide shelter for such thinkers, and in the long run they may be the salvation of philosophy as an academic discipline.

One might think this work, and much else like it, that realizes Friedman’s vision in various ways, would be an inspiration to philosophers. Not so. It is largely regarded as marginal or idiosyncratic, “not philosophy.” Philosophy, while it can be combined with empirical work, is an a priori effort, and the tools of the a priori are opinion, logic, mathematics and the theory and practice of computation. To use them, Friedman’s vision requires as well a knowledge of the sciences. Learning logic and mathematics, learning to prove and to program, or at least how to write a decent algorithm, requires some sustained effort that philosophers have largely foresworn not only for themselves but also in the instruction they give to their graduate students. The run of philosophers use, and even acknowledge as philosophical tools, only the first, called “intuition.” (I am reminded of a remark by a philosopher, Laurie Paul in fact, who complained when I used a bit of elementary Boolean algebra in a lecture that philosophers should not be expected to know such things. In one sense of “expected” she was, alas, right.) I do not think philosophical work based only on intuition is always worthless, but it is a little bit like refusing to learn to walk on perfectly good legs and instead walking on your fingertips. It is obtuse.

Of late it has been remarked that there is a sociological break in philosophy. More a fragmentation, I should say. Conventional analytic philosophy–analytic metaphysics, theoretical ethics, traditional epistemology, philosophy of mind—has become cramped and parochial, a subject on the verge of swallowing itself. The same could be said for a good deal of formal philosophy. As Tim Maudlin put it to me once, normal science may be boring but it produces something, normal philosophy is boring and produces nothing. (Again, I paraphrase.)

Salvation? Were I a university administrator facing a contracting budget, I would not look to eliminate biosciences or computer engineering. I would notice that the philosophers seem smart, but their writings are tediously incestuous and of no influence except among themselves, and I would conclude that my academy could do without such a department. (Phi Beta Kappa would protest, of course.) But not if I found that my philosophy department retrieved a million dollars a year in grants and fellowships, and contained members whose work is cited and used in multiple subjects, and whose faculty taught the traditional subject well to the university’s undergraduates. I am in such a department, and I will never again be a university administrator, but the time is here when many university administrators are in fact in the situation I imagine, and some of them may come to conclusions like mine.

Clark Glymour

[1] In a previous post this was misattributed to Brian Leiter. My apologies to Professor Leiter.

36 Responses to In light of some recent discussion over at New Apps, I bring you Clark Glymour’s manifesto …

  1. L.A. Paul says:

    I do not recall making the remark Prof. Glymour attributes to me, nor do I remember the details of the lecture he gave where I might have said such a thing. But, in case there is any confusion, it is absolutely not true that I believe philosophers should not be expected to know basic Boolean logic.

    My general view of the methodology of metaphysics and its relationship to science is set out in a forthcoming article.

    • Gregory Wheeler says:

      Glymour’s remark concerns Boolean algebra, not Boolean logic per se.

      The issue is whether philosophers should be expected to know basic things about Boolean lattices.

      • L.A. Paul says:

        As I said originally, my comment was meant to forestall any confusion about my own views, as I have no desire to be anyone’s straw man. Prof. Glymour’s remark did not specify Boolean lattices, and the term “Boolean algebra” can informally connote more than one topic. Since I do not recall the discussion I would prefer that discussion of Prof. Glymour’s post proceed without easily misinterpreted, out-of-context paraphrases of what I might or might not have said.

        • Jeff Helzner says:

          I suspect that Greg’s point was precisely that Boolean algebras, and related structures, suggest a wide variety of interpretations beyond those that are emphasized in basic Boolean logic.

  2. Aldo Antonelli says:

    While I might disagree with Clark here and there (his take on the principle of tolerance, for instance), I do agree with the overall thrust of his manifesto. It’s about time someone said it.

  3. Taylor Carman says:

    A priori opinion-mongering certainly can be obtuse. I’ll drink to that.

  4. Wait … are philosophers supposed to be outsiders or grant-winners? Maybe I’m missing something obvious, but I have a hard time seeing how they can be both.

  5. Clark, as someone with great respect for your work, I think your opinion here is mistaken – and perhaps dangerously mistaken, if administrators read it without hearing some evidence from the other side. Here I’ll give a bit of that evidence.

    You suggest that we eliminate conventional philosophy programs on the grounds that they are “tediously incestuous” and of “no influence” outside themselves. But in fact, conventional philosophy is neither of these things. Witness the following. (1) Analytic ethics has policy impacts. Rawls influenced Bill Clinton. John Broome has consulted extensively with the World Health Organization. (2) Analytic ethics has impacts on how people act. Judy Thomson’s paper has no doubt influenced many decisions about abortion, and Peter Singer’s work has no doubt converted many folks to vegetarianism. (3) Conventional philosophy, instead of being incestuous, drives important work in formal philosophy. For example, Lewis’ work on the logic of counterfactuals was driven by precisely the sort of conventional philosophy you claim to be incestuous: puzzles about the semantics of counterfactuals, themselves driven by a wide array of intuitive puzzles connecting counterfactuals to many other topics such as those Goodman discusses in FFF. (4) Conventional philosophy, instead of being incestuous, is driven by important work in formal philosophy. For example, Tim Williamson and many others have applied modal and epistemic logic to various issues in “traditional” epistemology, for instance to the “KK” principle that whenever we know something, we are in a position to know that we know it. This work constitutes a case where important work in formal philosophy has impacted traditional philosophy. There are many other examples here, just as there are many examples beyond yours of important impacts by the positivists and their direct descendants.

    And of course, not all work in conventional philosophy is important or of any outside impact. But that is the nature of academic disciplines: in no discipline is all work important, and in no discipline does all work have an outside impact. But conventional philosophy, like many other lines of work, has enough importance and impact to be well worth keeping around. If you are an administrator, then please carefully look at some of this work before you decide that standard philosophy should be dropped.

  6. My rule on internecine machete wielding has been, at least up to this point, to shake my head, sigh, and move on to the heart of the argument, or its historical framing that means to motivate a particular set of points, as in this case.

    I would like to say a few words about the opening remarks of your piece, though. The first part of my comments is an agreement. I do find myself with a question in the end.

    I second (or third) the the quotidian assertion that there is a lot of nonsense or hollow repetitiveness in academic scholarship, and especially the humanities. At my own university, the department of philosophy is considered part of the humanities, no matter how formal the tools that are offered–and that only a foolish, corpus-based linguist would shun. Perhaps we’re a bit backwoods in our rubrics.

    Be that as it may, I read a large amount of academic philosophy in a handful of subspecialties. Its repetitions, minor results, nonsense? It makes me, at times, despair. The stuff lards the pages of too many journals, and the stuff gets fattier the further one goes down the academic journal food chain.

    In other parts of the university it is otherwise. It is my understanding, because I am repeatedly told, that in the sciences only the best scholarship makes it to the top journals. Falsifications, fabrications, minor results are excluded. (It is true, though, that the name Marc Hauser leaves me feeling ill. It may simply be the presentation of his data. And as a side note to your swipe at English Departments, like you, I reject neolexia. Well, except for injection [c. 1950] and bijection [1963], and all of their cognates–and, well, let’s just leave the good English of mathematics out of this for now.)

    I find myself reading your manifesto and asking myself, what is to be done? I don’t mean about solving a global problem like the quality of research in the modern university. That would take an intervention in tenure at a systemic level well beyond the walls of the university. It simply won’t happen until the entire economic system fails.

    I guess I am asking myself, what *I* do. In the case of your piece, I printed out the “manifesto,” highlighted the references / names that I didn’t know or didn’t know well enough to call to mind to make the connections you mean to make, or the logic that you mean to follow. I will look them up and think about the historical argument.

    First thing I will do is try not to call attention to the point that sorting departments, and then practitioners, into goats and sheep, like so many saved and unsaved, is an uninteresting exercise, except for those who are chosen and those cast out. I will instead follow what for me would be a more interesting account of how one particular argument, line of thinking, or field of knowledge came to be produced, and in some cases continues to be reproduced, institutionally, socially, culturally–and on what grounds stands truth? Surely the foundations of mathematics has taught us that there is solid ground, yes?

    But uninteresting does not mean harmless. Harm, you might object, is a baggy, ill-defined word. So I will just ask a question. If I were a sheep, why would I offer to guide the butcher’s knife? The sheep that guides the hand is spared longer than the others, of course. But the abattoir is large. Sheep and goats, we’ll meet the knife in turn.

  7. Glymour’s claims about Merleau-Ponty are at best only a part—a one-sided part—of the story. The 1947 book Humanism and terreur does defend the Soviet regime. But in 1950 he publicly expressed doubts, and later broke with Sartre. In Les aventures de la dialectique (1955) he repudiated his earlier view. See Taylor Carman’s book on Merleau-Ponty for the full story. These debates would be improved considerably if standards of evidence were maintained by participants even when discussing their opponents.

  8. Claudio says:

    (I’m pasting my Certain Doubts reply to Professor Glymour’s manifesto here.)

    Dear Professor Glymour,

    Despite the fact that I highly admire portions of your “manifesto”, I can’t help thinking that it is, on the whole, an instance of well-meaning but misguided zeal. There is much in it that calls for very long discussion. If time permitted, I’d question the metaphilosophical assumptions underpinning your contempt for “normal philosophy”, your view that it is – or at any rate, looks – useless (and how it coheres with the implication that even the philosophy departments which are not doing what you think they should be doing still manage to “[teach] an eye for hidden presuppositions, equivocations, bad arguments generally; and […] can be homes to brilliant people”). I’d ask if the frustration to which those metaphilosophical assumptions have led you is very different from the kind of frustration that we routinely find, and routinely address, in some of our first-year undergraduate students, who are understandably eager to find “real-life”, technological application for philosophy and feel they have to make apologies for the kind of highly abstract conceptual inquiry they find in the classroom. (I’m sure you know the kind of impatience I’m talking about. I’m talking about the student who’s very excited when he’s studying the methods of logic but can’t quite see why we should spend all that classroom time discussing the concept of validity, or the problems of conditionals. And I’m sure you know how philosophy can test one’s patience. One really needs the vocation. But the philosophical market is permissive, as you know. There’s philosophy for the impatient out there too.)

    Those very large metaphilosophical issues are prominent in your manifesto. Unfortunately, the available time does not allow me to bite the very large hook now. (I can only hope that those like-minded philosophers who can address the very large issues raised by the manifesto will do so.) But I thought I’d be remiss if I didn’t express my opposition to your contempt for “normal philosophy”. (I understand that the kind of philosophy that you find “boring” includes the kind of epistemology I unapologetically do: Socratic, normative, Chisholmian, armchair conceptual analysis, the kind that, roughly speaking, only knows reliance on logic, mathematics, and, yes, intuitions. You might be amazed by how easily it commands excited attention from hordes of young, unbiased minds year after year after year.) So, I’ll respectfully make this minuscule point, hoping to contribute to the debate: Your contempt for mainstream, “conventional analytic philosophy” reminds me of the kind of attitude we find among some of the so-called “formal epistemologists” and also among some of the “naturalists” and “experimental philosophers” in epistemology: when discussing epistemic rationality or knowledge, be careful not to overdo it. You’ll be overdoing it if your discussion of epistemic rationality or knowledge leads you to spend any significant amount of time on, say, skeptical arguments. That’s too much philosophy. It may become inapplicable to “real-life concerns”. It may become “tediously incestuous”. You may even be asked to provide a *refutation* of those skeptical arguments. You may have to deal with the hellishly complex arguments of those who claim to have produced such refutations. It’s as bad as having to come up with a theory of conditionals, for crying out loud! What next? Vagueness? Epistemic paradoxes? The Gettier Problem? How bad will all that embarrassment get?! (By contrast, some of us don’t know that cut-off point when thinking about knowledge or rationality, the point where you can reasonably dismiss skeptical arguments as unworthy of attention.)

    I’m afraid that’s the kind of attitude your manifesto encourages. (Of course, many will agree with you that that’s exactly what we need: “salvation” for philosophy.) And I can only hope you will reconsider your endorsement of what some of us think is a simple-minded metaphilosophy. In any case, impressionable minds out there really should know that there is this kind of opposition to the manifesto.

    With best regards,
    Claudio de Almeida

  9. Michael Kremer says:

    I am employed at a department which is quite different from CMU — the University of Chicago. We actually have significant strength in areas of formal philosophy (especially with recent hires), but also in other areas that Prof. Glymour disparages, including continental philosophy.

    In the past two years, members of my department:
    have received a 1.5 million dollar grant from the Mellon Foundation,had work praised in Time (“a work that applies to literally every person on the planet”), been interviewed in, and published in the New Republic (Jonathan Lear);
    have been discussed in Downbeat magazine (Arnold Davidson);
    have been inducted into the Academie Francaise (Jean-Luc Marion);
    have been interviewed in The Australian, and been discussed in the New York Times and Harper’s Magazine (Martha Nussbaum);
    have published in the Washington Post (Robert Pippin); and
    have been interviewed in the New York Times (Candace Vogler).

    I don’t know whether Prof. Glymour thinks the work of these philosophers is “tediously incestuous and of no influence except among themselves.” What is true is that none of them practices the kind of philosophy that is predominant at CMU.

    • Aldo Antonelli says:

      Michael, as someone who has expressed agreement with the main thrust of Clark’s post, it seems to me some clarifications are in order. I never took Clark to be saying that anything that is not in the CMU style of doing philosophy is not worth pursuing. Obviously many kinds of philosophical inquiry not represented in Baker Hall are worthwhile, including those not directly derived from the Vienna Circle. I rather took him to arguing against a style of philosophy that is unrelated to other areas of human intellectual endeavor. Irrelevant philosophy is just that — irrelevant. I don’t know that Clark and I would agree on the details. It seems to me for instance that certain areas of purely formal inquiry justify themselves just fine based on the intrinsic interest of the development (if at least some proofs are not “trivial” in Clark’s characterization). But again, anyways, that was my take on Clark’s manifesto.

      • Mark Lance says:

        Aldo, please. He called for philosophy departments not doing what CMU is doing to be closed. ” Conventional analytic philosophy–analytic metaphysics, theoretical ethics, traditional epistemology, philosophy of mind—has become cramped and parochial, a subject on the verge of swallowing itself.” – which is positively polite compared to his dismissal of everything “continental”.
        Please don’t try to whitewash this vulgar display of mean-spirited name calling.

        • Aldo Antonelli says:

          Alright, Mark, I concede that on a second reading Clark’s piece is quite a bit more dogmatic than I thought after a first hurried reading. I don’t have a problem with any of the fields you list (well, with the exception of metaphysics, but that’s the positivist in me speaking).

  10. Mark Lance says:

    Hey Aldo:
    Clark’s list, not mine, but thanks for that. fwiw, I am no fan of analytic metaphysics either, but I don’t think the Rutgers department should be shut down.

  11. It is truly disheartening to see that someone in Prof. Glymour’s position would feel the need to dismiss so contemptuously whole areas of philosophy he happens not to be interested in (and presumably knows little about) as worthless and dispensable (especially considering how what he writes so nonchalantly could be (mis)used if it were to fall in the wrong hands).

    What I would find ironic if I didn’t find this so depressing is that, as far as I can see, the “philosophy [that] teaches an eye for hidden presuppositions, equivocations, bad arguments generally” would seem to be exactly the kind of philosophy that Prof. Glymour castigates as “normal philosophy.”

  12. rodney says:

    Just thought I would pop by to post super winey comments because someone challenged my delusions about being relevant.

    Personally, I find the suggestion that philosopers should start getting more fellowships and research grants, or being cited in multiple subjects, or working with other disciplines, or what the heck, publishing in journals with impact factors >1–or you know, being overall better public academics–an indecent insult to the very practice of rational discourse.

    If any powerful forces in edu or gov that are looking to eliminate philosophy are reading this, please disregard the way people are responding Glymour’s post as even more reason to proceed.

  13. candid_observer says:

    The irony of Glymour’s view is that it is largely only philosophers who have such a high regard for their supposed contributions to scientific fields. Those contributions are, I think, with pretty rare exception, ignored by those actually fully trained in the discipline in question, and typically regarded as quite amateurish and of small consequence. (For example, Glymour himself chides social scientists for not adopting his particular formal apparatus for determining causal relationships among data; they cheerfully ignore him.)

    At least this can be said of pure philosophy: no one is as competent to deal with its issues as are philosophers themselves. In that domain, everyone else is the interloping amateur.

    • candid_practitioner says:

      While true not all social scientists use the mathematical theory for modelling causal relationships developed at UCLA and CMU, it is not true to suggest that, with rare exceptions, no one in the social sciences is doing so.

      What is true is that these methods for modelling and learning about causal relationships are relatively new but the social sciences as a whole are conservative about methodology. This is particularly true of cognitive psychology. In this field, more so than others, new and better statistical methods are adopted slowly, when they are adopted at all.

      But where new methods are adopted it is because they address a problem that existing methods cannot. Glymour’s case to cognitive scientists, presented in The Minds Arrow and elsewhere, introduced causal modelling to us with familiar examples that were readily accessible. Prior to this book, the study of how people learn about simple causal relationships focused on learning the relationship between a single cue and effect, with the body of work by Anderson (1990), Buehner, Clifford and Cheng (2002, J. Exp Psych), Griffiths and Tenenbaum (2005, Cog Sci), Jenkins and Ward (1965, Psych Monographs), Lober & Shanks (2000, Psych Rev), Shanks (1995, Q J. Exp Psych), Tenenbaum & Griffiths (2001, Adv in Neural Inf Proc Sys). The question of multiple cause-effect relationships received almost no attention in psychology until Steyvers, Tenebaum, Wagenmakers, and Blum (2003, Cog Sci), and the reason was that there was no mathematical framework to do so until the development of causal Bayesnets, which includes the specific learning and search algorithms developed at CMU by Spirtes, Scheines, and Glymour (2000) and also Glymour & Cooper, (1999).

      The development in this literature has slowed in recent years, mainly because the view that causal Bayesnets are an accurate process model has come under criticism. One of those critics was Clark Glymour (2007).

  14. Glymour first conflates philosophers of a certain type with literature professors and then literature professors with writers. He attacks the moral cowardice of those associated with literary philosophical academy, but few writers are academic. Proust was not a college professor; neither was Faulkner, Hemingway, Orwell or Beckett. It should concern all academics perhaps that so few linger to describe the aftermath of war, and if I’m going to choose among analogists of science I’ll choose Primo Levi over Carnap. In formal logic out of M.C. Escher Glymour manages to attack the foundations of feminism and then accuse feminists of having no concern for rape victims. There’s nothing else to say to that. It’s too confused even to be offensive.

    To stay within his limits: who’s more responsible for the machineries of mass destruction in the 20th century, literary philosophers or Glymour’s preferred, physicists and engineers? Levi after all isn’t famous for his day job, except for how it served him as a writer. And if you like NASA, you can thank Werner von Braun. Ford invented Fordism; Gramsci only bought in.

    The strength and weakness of science is in its amorality. The urge to unify science and morals is one of the moral disasters of the age. It calls us back to the 12th century, to pre-Renaissance anti-humanism. It would help us greatly if logicians stopped calling themselves philosophers. Democracy is a formal process but relativist as to truth. There are all sorts of philosophical and moral reasons for government to be designed this way, but logicians have never been happy about it. They should be honest enough with themselves and the rest of us to admit that it’s democracy that bothers them.

    Mathematics, computer science and logic are not philosophy, because engineering is not architecture.

    Engineering is not architecture Try disagreeing and arguing the point. See where it gets you.

    • Anon K says:

      I will take a stab at this. How could one not given the obvious challenge.

      I won’t say that one is the other but I will say that one ignores the other at the peril of being superfluous. I believe that is what is intended. This is a bidirectional relationship. An architect that ignores the required engineering will inevitably design a structure that is dangerous or cannot be built.

      I cannot comment further on the above because I’m actually not certain as to the overall point. “Mathematics, computer science and logic are not philosophy, because engineering is not architecture.” I assume the intention is to equate mathematics with engineering and philosophy with architecture. Well, mathematics, computer science and logic aren’t engineering nor do they exhibit similarities of a kind that are also shared by philosophy and architecture. It would actually strengthen Glymour’s position if one were to equate philosophy with architecture.

  15. candid_observer says:

    I should think that if there were any field in the social sciences in which the formal apparatus Glymour favors might succeed, it would be cognitive psychology. Certainly its interconnection with artificial intelligence grounded much of its original development by Judea Pearl. If, by your own sympathetic account, it isn’t getting much traction there, that can’t be a good sign for its overall influence in the social sciences.

    And I think it’s pretty obvious why, even after knocking around in one form or another for decades, it hasn’t exactly taken over the social sciences: it doesn’t seem to solve any problem the vast majority of practitioners in the social sciences care about. It appears to be just way too much formalism to provide any real help on the issues uppermost in their minds. One infers that, from their point of view, their time is better spent devising and conducting new experiments to generate better, more revealing data than it is in pulling out some tenuous causal connections employing this new and rather cumbersome apparatus from existing data. No doubt they feel they have a better grasp of the actual causal components of interest than anything this formal apparatus might tell them.

    In the end philosophers should, I think, respect what the practitioners in a field choose to do; it is they, not we, who have the strong instinct as to what is important in their discipline; if they go down a certain path, and can’t really be pushed off it, there is likely a very good reason for them to do so.

    For philosophers who focus on a given science, I think the best ambition is to pursue the distinctively philosophical questions that that science poses. In such a domain, only a philosophical training can prepare one to know the right questions to ask, and to know what counts as a sensible answer. There, philosophers can make a genuine contribution to human knowledge. Likely that contribution mostly will be ignored by practitioners in the field, because it little impinges on what they do. But it adds to the overall understanding nonetheless.

    • candid_practitioner says:

      Causal Bayenets have neither caught on as process models for how humans learn about causal relationships nor as process models for how they reason with causal information. I understand Glymour’s reply to (Steyvers et. al. 2003) to clearly signal that he thinks that there are very good reasons why causal Bayesnets are not good psychological process models for either mechanism, broadly construed. So, you and Glymour appear to agree that causal Bayesnets are too cumbersome to offer a plausible psychological model. I would anticipate Glymour to disagree with you over the theory’s use to learn possible causal relationships from data, if you allowed one to include magnetic imaging data from cognitive neuroscience under the canopy of cognitive psychology. In any event, I do think it is too hasty to conclude that causal Bayesnets are of no use to cognitive psychology, much less to conclude that they are of no use to the social sciences more generally.

      I am sure you will readily agree that cognitive psychology cannot progress on experiments alone. We need theory, too, and I can only submit to you that, within my current group of collaborators, which includes a mathematically inclined philosopher, we use the theory of causal Bayesnets (among other methods).

    • In the end philosophers should, I think, respect what the practitioners in a field choose to do; it is they, not we, who have the strong instinct as to what is important in their discipline; if they go down a certain path, and can’t really be pushed off it, there is likely a very good reason for them to do so.

      This sentiment is very seriously wrong. The contributions made by philosophers like Glymour are methodological, not positive. Whereas, a specialist in a scientific field is likely to have a better idea of the positive content of the science, the specialist is rather unlikely to be better at thinking about methods than is the philosopher. And method is a very traditionally philosophical area of investigation: Aristotle, Descartes, Bacon, Leibniz, Whewell, Mill, Peirce, and many others made serious contributions to method. Not only that, many of these figures bucked against the methods used by their contemporaries. Why should now be any different in this regard?

      Worse, the very same sentiment could be expressed with respect to the work of statisticians — most of whom are not content specialists but students of method. But we have very good reason to think that statistical innovations should be taken seriously. Linear regression was a new idea once, as were t-tests and p-values. They replaced inferior methodological tools, and they are themselves being replaced with better tools today. Maybe Glymour’s contribution won’t end up being very significant. But to say that philosophers should just sit back and let the scientists take care of their own methodological concerns is a large error.

  16. Bjorn says:

    Here is a link to some reactions to Glymour’s manifesto from the AI community.

  17. anonymous grad says:

    There are a couple of comments in the New Apps threads that are interesting to me. One is a comment about Glymour’s intentions.

    i agree with others that glymour’s incendiary rhetoric cannot be dismissed as merely a device to draw attention. but, one might view the main point of his rhetoric (there, and elsewhere) to be a parody of the style of criticism and engagement that one can find here and elsewhere. the ready willingness to engage glymour directly on those terms, if you happen to hold this view of his intentions, has unwittingly given devastating support to his underlying point behind that rhetoric.

    The other is a request for Brian Leiter to make available the data he uses for the Philosophical Gourmet Report. There were a couple of people who supported this idea. There seem to have been others who supported it too, but the moderators stopped comments from appearing.


  18. Anon A says:

    I thought asking that the source data be put online was a reasonable request, too. Even the New APPS guys were starting to catch on to some of the arbitrary choices involved in trying to make sense of the general rankings in terms of the limited data available online for the specialty rankings, (, and this assumes that those data are sound.

    So, why not let the community have a look at the (anonymized, of course) source data for this project?

    We could even start with a core area that had a lot of evaluators and therefore would seem to be on very good footing—like the metaphysics ranking, for instance.

  19. John says:

    Anon A,

    Can you say more? Do you think Leiter’s data are fraudulent? If so, what makes you think so? It seems far-fetched.

    But the New Apps analysis you linked to is surprising. I didn’t know that the rankings could change that much by making small changes in how the specialty scores are added together. Is your point that there might be even larger differences if similar things are done to the raw data?

  20. […] Clark Glymour, a professor of philosophy at Carnegie Mellon University, has advocated in his “Manifesto” that philosophers should be working more closely on issues in the philosophy of science and […]

  21. […] Clark Glymour, a professor of philosophy at Carnegie Mellon University, has advocated in his “Manifesto” that philosophers should be working more closely on issues in the philosophy of science and […]

  22. jenann ismael says:

    This is the first time I’ve read this, and I think it’s mostly right on the money. Contrary to some of the comments, I don’t see anything whiney or mean-spirited about it. I add my support to what he says about the current state of philosophy and the fruitfulness of engagement with science.

  23. […] more crosstalk between disciplines about philosophical issues? Do you think that, as Clark Glymour suggested, philosophy departments should be defunded unless they produce work that is directly useful to […]

  24. […] more crosstalk between disciplines about philosophical issues? Do you think that, as Clark Glymour suggested, philosophy departments should be defunded unless they produce work that is directly useful to […]

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