Saturday, March 29, 2014

April fool's day

According to amazon, this is coming out on Tuesday. I'm sorry it's so expensive, but I guess this is the version for libraries. Hopefully a cheaper paperback will follow.

It's longer and more up-to-date (bibliography-wise) than the previous edition, and hopefully better too. (I'll post the acknowledgements here next week.) I like the cover.

Thursday, March 27, 2014

Is There a Text in This Class?

A little late, I finally read Stanley Fish's famous essay. I don't have a lot to say about it, but I think it's interesting as an example of what ideas like Wittgenstein's look like when carried over into another realm. For what it's worth, here's a kind of summary plus criticism.

Fish's main point, as I see it, is that meaning depends on context. I agree.

He also says that:
one hears an utterance within, and not as preliminary to determining, a knowledge of its purposes and concerns, and that to so hear it is already to have assigned it a shape and given it a meaning.
This seems unfortunate to me, and might be one source of the idea that individuals make meanings, an idea that I take it Fish would reject. [Update: It turns out I was quite wrong about this.] One thing that's unfortunate about it is that one surely does not in any clear sense hear an utterance within a knowledge of its purposes and concerns. I don't (necessarily) already know the purpose of your utterance before you have finished uttering it. A few pages later Fish goes so far as to say of someone that, "her words will only be intelligible if [her audience] already has the knowledge they are supposed to convey." It's pretty obvious that Fish does not mean what he is saying. That is, he does not mean that if I ask you what time it is then I cannot understand what you say unless I already know what time it is. What he means is that I will not understand what you say unless I understand the context well enough to know what kind of thing you are going to say. If you say "six thirty" then in certain circumstances I will know that you mean breakfast time, in others I will know that you are giving me the score in a football game, and so on. If I had no idea what the context was then I could not tell what you meant, if anything.

But in understanding the relevant context I am not assigning a shape to someone's utterance, nor giving it a meaning. As Fish himself says, "To be in a situation is to see the words, these or any other, as already meaningful." These words in this situation already mean whatever they mean. There is no assigning or shaping that I as the speaker or the listener can do to them. The relevant purposes and concerns, as Fish says, are already there.

So we don't (Fish says, and I agree) always interpret utterances. Sometimes we do and sometimes we don't:
I am not saying that one is never in the position of having to self-consciously figure out what an utterance means.
This self-conscious figuring out is, I take it, the normal sense of 'interpreting.' Fish does not deny that we sometimes have to interpret utterances, but he points this out because he is so far from saying that we always do. He explicitly rejects the assumption that there is always:
a distance between one's receiving of an utterance and the determination of its meaning -- a kind of dead space when one has only the words and then faces the task of construing them. 
I think that what Fish means is perfectly right, he just doesn't always express himself perfectly (who does?). This is a problem with his use of the word 'assumption.' Words that are uttered, he says, "are immediately heard within a set of assumptions about the direction from which they could possibly be coming." Assumption is an act, though, and assumptions are things that we make. The phenomenon that Fish is describing is more passive than that. There is no dead space in which one faces the task of making the necessary assumptions before trying to understand, or immediately--the assumptions having been made--understanding, someone else's words. There is something like assuming going on here, and we can call it assuming if we like, but it is not consciously chosen. Fish fairly clearly recognizes this. At one point he refers to one individual's assumption of what the concerns motivating someone's question could possibly be, but elsewhere he talks about "the understood practices and assumptions of the institution" (not of the individual) and of people's being possessed by "a structure of assumptions, of practices," which I think is closer to what he means and should mean.

In short, I think I agree with Fish.

UPDATE: For more on Fish see here (where I still think I agree with Fish but explain why I'm not entirely happy with some things he says) and here (where I finally lose patience). In other words, "I agree with Fish" is by no means my last word on the subject. And if you're interested in what I've written here then you'll probably be interested in what I've written in those other two posts.

Wednesday, March 26, 2014

Facebook failures

The line between what belongs on a blog and what belongs on Facebook can be hard to discern, but I've been neglecting this place a bit lately and some things I have posted to Facebook have been more or less ignored, so I'll try them here. One's an essay by Schopenhauer, one's a New York Times story that raises issues about politics, religion, and psychology, and one is just a cool video (but, as I recall, it is very cool).

Here's Schopenhauer, which I found via Brain Pickings, although now I suspect I have read it before. His views are similar to Orwell's, and I wonder whether Wittgenstein read this essay. Here's the bit that stood out to me:
[...] Goethe’s naïve poetry is incomparably greater than Schiller’s rhetoric. It is this, again, that makes many popular songs so affecting. As in architecture an excess of decoration is to be avoided, so in the art of literature a writer must guard against all rhetorical finery, all useless amplification, and all superfluity of expression in general; in a word, he must strive after chastity of style. Every word that can be spared is hurtful if it remains. The law of simplicity and naïveté holds good of all fine art; for it is quite possible to be at once simple and sublime.
Here's the Times story. Unfortunately it's presented as a story about those crazy foreigners, but there's far more to it than that. This will hopefully give a sense of what it's about:
These days, when neak ta [local guardian spirits] appear on the factory floor — inducing mass faintings among workers and shouting commands at managers — they are helping the cause of Cambodia’s largely young, female and rural factory workforce by registering a kind of bodily objection to the harsh daily regimen of industrial capitalism: few days off; a hard bed in a wooden barracks; meager meals of rice and a mystery curry, hastily scarfed down between shifts. These voices from beyond are speaking up for collective bargaining in the here and now, expressing grievances much like the workers’ own: a feeling that they are being exploited by forces beyond their control, that the terms of factory labor somehow violate an older, fairer moral economy.  
Finally, here's the time-lapse video of Earth as seen from space:

Tuesday, March 25, 2014


Via Reshef I see that someone I know (who appears to want to remain anonymous) has a blog.

Wednesday, March 19, 2014

Russian films

In case you care about this sort of thing but missed it, Dave Maier has a very useful-looking review of a bunch of Russian movies over at 3 Quarks Daily. And if you like that, see also his previous article on (mostly) Japanese movies.

Tuesday, March 18, 2014

Winch's 1990 preface

The second edition of The Idea of a Social Science has a preface in which Winch outlines what he did and did not mean to say, and gives some indication of how the book might be different if he were to re-write it. He acknowledges that "many things have changed both in philosophy and in the social sciences" (p. ix) between 1958 and 1990, but says also that, "It is not that I think the deep-seated errors and confusions which I tried to expose are no longer active" (p. ix). Helpfully, he also says that, "The central core of the argument is really stated in Chapter III, Sections 5 and 6." So, back to those sections.

What really seems crucial here is section 6, which begins with this paragraph:
On Mill's account, understanding a social institution consists in observing regularities in the behaviour of its participants and expressing these regularities in the form of generalizations. Now if the position of the sociological investigator (in a broad sense) can be regarded as comparable, in its main logical outlines, with that of the natural scientist, the following must be the case. The concepts and criteria according to which the sociologist judges that, in two situations, the same thing has happened, or the same action performed, must be understood in relation to the rules governing sociological investigation. But here we run against a difficulty; for whereas in the case of the natural scientist we have to deal with only one set of rules, namely those governing the scientist's investigation itself, here what the sociologist is studying, as well as his study of it, is a human activity and is therefore carried on according to rules. And it is these rules, rather than those which govern the sociologist's investigation, which specify what is to count as "doing the same kind of thing" in relation to that activity.
The last sentence need not be true. The sociologist can choose to count as the same thing any two things at all. Winch's point is that what actually interests us (presumably and for the most part) is activities as they are understood by those who engage in them. If we want to we can study mere hand-washing, but chances are if we are interested in "understanding human behavior" or "understanding a society" then what we mean is that we want to understand the rules that the people we study are following. And a Muslim who washes before prayer is not following the same rules as a surgeon who washes before getting to work. The criteria for performing the action correctly are (or at least may be) different. In a sense one must already understand what people are doing before one studies their behavior.

Is this a problem? I don't think it has to be. Understanding what something is need not answer all our questions about why it happens. For instance, we might want to know whether hooliganism increases or decreases when unemployment goes up. To answer a question like this we need to know what does and does not count as hooliganism, but then there is nothing to stop our counting instances and comparing them with unemployment rates. The main problem with an inquiry of this kind, I think, would be knowing whether any pattern discerned was a case of causation or mere correlation. Another problem would be knowing exactly what was meant by 'causation' in a case like this. Let's say unemployment tends to increase hooliganism. Still, not all hooligans are unemployed and not all unemployed people are hooligans. And unemployment is unlikely to cause hooliganism in the way that it might (be said to) cause attempts to get a job. A job applicant can explain that he is applying for a job because he is unemployed. A hooligan who sincerely blames his behavior on unemployment is (almost certainly) hypothesizing in a way that the job applicant is not.

I'm not sure what to say about this, but I think that correlations like this could be found and might be quite suggestive. The question that people like Winch and Read might ask is whether finding such patterns really counts as doing science. As long as we see the difference between this kind of case and what physicists do then it probably doesn't matter. But the difference is large. Big enough not only to leave room for doubt about the underlying or true cause, but big enough also for the related but not identical phenomenon of moral disagreement. The moral sciences are not the same as the natural sciences. If atoms or bodies in motion do this or that then there is no room for moral evaluation of their behaving in this way. If violent crime increases when income inequality increases (as I expect it does) this can be appealed to as an excuse or mitigating circumstance, but it does not remove the intelligibility, the possibility, of blaming the criminal. If there is causation here it is not of the same kind as the billiard ball kind. This itself is a fact about how we use the concepts relevant to making moral judgments, a fact about human behavior.

Although here things get complicated and/or confusingly meta. One person might insist that if there is enough evidence of a correlation between inequality and violence then we have no option but to accept that the former causes the latter, and that anyone who denies this is speaking nonsense, is simply unintelligible. Another person might disagree and say that there is room for reasonable people to take various views on the matter. In other words, simply describing uses of language without getting involved in the debate is not simple, and is perhaps not possible in every case. There is not always an undisputed fact about what makes sense and what does not. But often there is. And even when the space of possible meanings is disputed territory, diplomatic negotiations might still be possible. Not necessarily with a view to resolving the moral or political disagreement (although that might be possible too), but simply with a view to reaching agreement about who is saying something, however laughable or repugnant, and who is not. The possibility that attempts at description will get personal and/or evaluative does not rule out the possibility of (impersonal, neutral) description. This goes for both philosophy and social science. But it does mean that in an important sense we are not doing science in the way that physicists are doing science.

Thursday, March 13, 2014

There is no such thing as a social science

Phil Hutchinson, Rupert Read, and Wes Sharrock (HRS) offer a nice defence of Peter Winch in their provocatively titled book. A lot of the book is aimed at critics of Winch, arguing that he is not a relativist, not an idealist, not conservative, and so on. There's also a chapter on the strengths and weaknesses of ethnography and ethnomethodology. I'm more interested in their reconstruction of Winch's argument.

On page one they make the point that they do not oppose either analytical rigour or "a programme of social inquiry which accords a deal of importance to the revision of its claims in light of further (relevant) observations". What they oppose is two things: methodological reductionism and substantive reductionism. The former is the claim that (p. 2):
There is an identifiable scientific method and this ought to be employed if one intends to make a claim to do something scientific.
The latter is the claim that (p. 2):
Social scientific findings are reducible to the findings of the natural sciences.
This second claim strikes me as obviously false. If there are laws about the relation between inflation and unemployment, for instance, then these are not going to be about atoms or chemicals in the brain. Indeed if there is to be a social science then such reduction surely has to be impossible, otherwise the alleged social science will really be just one or more of the natural sciences after all. The idea of a social science is that there is something distinct at the social level to be studied. Or so I would have thought.

Methodological reductionism is much more plausible.
The Oxford English Dictionary defines the scientific method as: "a method or procedure that has characterized natural science since the 17th century, consisting in systematic observation, measurement, and experiment, and the formulation, testing, and modification of hypotheses." 
Why couldn't psychologists and economists, for instance, observe, measure, experiment, and hypothesize in this way? HRS grant that social scientists can observe and revise their claims in the light of observations. If they can observe they can presumably measure. (Perhaps it's dangerous to presume too much, but I don't think anyone would deny that psychologists could, say, count the number of people who cheat or lie or help someone in such-and-such circumstances, and that is surely a kind of measurement.)

One problem is with the idea of experimenting in social studies. There are many problems with this. There is, for instance, the ethical aspect. We can't just play around with an economy or culture the way we might with inanimate objects or mice in labs to see what happens. Another issue is the problem of ecological validity, discussed by McManus. How can we be sure that what happens in a controlled, laboratory environment also applies in the real world? And if we don't control the environment but just study the real world itself, how can we be sure that the results we observe are caused by the factors we hypothesize as the cause and not others? The obvious thing to do would be to repeat the 'experiment' as many times as possible, but in the real world we cannot make this happen and there are always going to be potentially complicating factors. So we can hypothesize, observe, measure, and modify our hypotheses, but it is doubtful that we can really experiment in a useful way, i.e. a way that will tell us anything we really want to know.

Another problem is that the OED model of the scientific method is not very specific. What counts as systematic? What should be measured? How? What kinds of hypotheses should we be formulating? We can't just take what physicists do and then "do the same" with human beings. Or rather we could, but if we really do the same then we will just be doing physics with a foolish and probably unethical choice of equipment. If we decide to do the same thing but different, then the same how? and different how? These questions require decisions about what we want to do and how we choose to do it. The answers are not given by the scientific method or by the phenomena to be studied. We don't yet know, have not yet decided, what these are. It is not the case that there is an identifiable scientific method that can simply, without doing anything else significant, be employed or applied.

Two other points that HRS emphasize are the question of the identity of action and the nature of understanding. If we want to find laws of human behavior then we need to identify cases of the same thing being done. As Anscombe has pointed out, a man who is moving his arm up and down while holding a pump might be described as doing several different things: playing a tune with some squeaky machinery, exercising his arm, pumping water, poisoning people (if the water supply is poisoned), and so on. If we want to understand him then we need to know what he takes himself to be doing. He isn't murdering anybody if he doesn't know there is poison in the water. We could, I suppose, study his movements just as physical movements, but a) it will make a difference whether we study the movements of, say, atoms, muscles, or the air around his body (which science we are engaged in depends on this kind of thing), and b) we won't be doing social science in that case. If we care about his behavior as action then we need to know his intention. This is a complicated matter, as Anscombe's work shows, but it has to do with the man's conception of his action (what he takes himself to be doing, which depends on the concepts he has) and his reasons for acting in this way (why he is doing--or at least takes himself to be doing--what he is doing). We can think of reasons as a kind of causes, but they are very different from paradigmatic causes. Reasons can be good or bad, for instance. The same wind that causes me to lose my footing can similarly cause leaves to fly around, but nothing like my reason for taking a walk will ever move the leaves. Reasons only ever motivate rational beings (this is not a matter of chance) and can be evaluated. They belong to a different domain, as Paul Johnston puts it, from that of causes. If scientific explanation is causal (in the billiard ball sense of causal) then human action, qua human action, cannot be understood scientifically.

This brings us to the last point, the nature of understanding. To say that human action cannot be understood scientifically is not to say that it cannot be understood. We understand it (and fail to do so) all the time. It is usually obvious what someone is doing. If it isn't, we can ask them. And they usually tell the truth intelligibly. If we still don't understand then we might need to look around more. What is the context in which this behavior is taking place? Is it part of a game, or a religious ritual, or a play, or a way to frighten animals away, or what? It helps, as HRS point out, if we can relate the behavior to something similar that we do. If we can't then it might remain somewhat mysterious: Well, it's music of some kind, but what they see in it I'll never understand. There is no guarantee that we will always be able to make full sense of other people's behavior, but there's no guarantee either that they are bound to be and remain closed books to us. We have to look and see. That's something that of course we can do, but it isn't science in any significant sense of the word.

Tuesday, March 11, 2014

Methodological fetishism

Taking a break from the idea of social science I read a bit more of McManus's Heidegger and the Measure of Truth only to find him talking about social science too. On pp. 156-158 McManus talks about "methodological fetishism" in connection with psychology. (The idea is similar to what Jon Cogburn calls the quantitative fallacy.) Such fetishism involves imposing a model, perhaps a mathematical one, on factors "not obviously capturable in those terms" (p. 157). The result is that what most lends itself to enumeration (in the case of a mathematical model) is then treated as being of greatest importance just because it lends itself to the model being insisted upon. McManus then voices a "routine worry" (p. 157) about whether personality traits as measured by numerical scales of introversion/extroversion, etc. actually tell us anything useful about people in the real world. He connects this general problem also with behaviorism:
In one sense, behaviourism succeeded in describing human conduct using variables that could be handled mathematically. The sense in which it failed was that the variables it used captured aspects of conduct in which no one was interested: what we could measure quantitatively repeatedly turned out to be nothing more than weakly associated with what we wanted to have measured. This realization took a long time to emerge, and its precise significance is still disputed. (p. 158)
There is nothing inevitable about this, as McManus and McManus's Heidegger agree. There is no reason a priori why mathematics and science cannot be used to discover truths about reality. But there is equally no guarantee that they will prove useful every time we try to apply them. They are tools that might not be useful for every job. And human behavior looks like being something they are not all that well cut out for.

Wittgenstein among the Sciences

Although Margaret Thatcher claimed that there is no such thing as society I don't think anyone denies that there can be such things as social studies. The question is whether there can be a social science and, if so, what form this ought to take. In Matters of the Mind (pp. 220-230) William Lyons argues for replacing the conception of science that regards physics as the paradigm with the older idea of scientia. Lyons follows Samuel Johnson's 1755 definition of the word 'science' to come up with this:
any rigorous method which produce[s] certainty via demonstration (p. 226),
which means that you arrive at
exact knowledge simply by employing valid deductive reasoning on given premises or axioms [...] or [...] via both observation and reasoning on the basis of the observation (p. 227)
If this is our idea of social science then there can (it seems to be universally agreed) be a social science. What Rupert Read denies is that there can be a social science if we take the narrower notion of science instead. Like Lyons, Rupert recognizes that "our paradigms of science" (p. ix) are the natural sciences.

I should note that Rupert intends his book to be therapeutic, to be used by the reader to help clarify his/her own thoughts, not dogmatic. His opinions, he says, are irrelevant (see pp. xi-xii). I think it is pretty clear, though, what his opinions are, and it is these that I will tend to focus on. This is somewhat unfair, but I think it will be more productive than proceeding otherwise. And I won't attribute any opinion to him without good reason to do so.

The part of Rupert's book that most interests me is the second one (the first is about Kuhn), in which he goes through a set of cases, starting with schizophrenia. It seems to me at least possible in principle that conditions like schizophrenia might have a biological cause or, at least, be susceptible to biological treatment. We might find, for instance, that electric shock treatment or some pill improves the lives of people with the condition. Such improvement is surely a noble goal for psychology or psychiatry to have, and seems like just the kind of thing that science is good for. On the other hand, schizophrenia is not just a natural phenomenon. It is something from which people suffer. And these people can talk. Their speech and behavior is, at least in principle, intelligible, and it is as it affects their speech and behavior that schizophrenia shows up as a problem. So a purely physical response is not necessarily best. Perhaps therapy might help in some cases. This takes us away from the physics paradigm and into the arena of understanding other people, which is closer to philosophy. In some cases, Rupert suggests, a schizophrenic person will not be intelligible at all. Recognizing this means telling sense from nonsense, and this is a philosophical, conceptual task, not a scientific, empirical one.

In the next chapter, similarly, he takes on extreme aversive emotions, such as dread. A scientific approach might help us to treat such emotions, but if we want to understand them then we need to get to grips with what people mean when they describe the reality of their surroundings fading, or the feeling of being walled off from other people, or feeling unable to believe that the world is real. This involves understanding ideas (or perhaps seeing them to be nonsense, not ideas at all), which again is not in the province of science but of the humanities and, arguably, philosophy in particular.

He turns to economics next. One model of economics involves making predictions about human behavior on the basis of game theory or rational choice theory plus the assumption that people tend to maximize their utility. Rupert (p. 148 note 6) suggests that this assumption is pseudo-scientific and/or morally corrupting. Another problem, though, is that predictions reached in this way might turn out to be false. If they turn out to be true then I don't see anything very pseudo-scientific about the approach. If they turn out to be false and the approach is not altered or abandoned then that looks like pseudo-science. As for the idea of people as utility-maximizers as corrupting, I don't know. If the idea is actually useful then it seems dishonest to refuse to use it because of moral concerns. It's only meant to be an approximation, after all, and if it does approximate to how we behave then why deny this? It if doesn't, of course, then it would be perverse to persist. The relevant questions seem to be about what works. Very sensibly, Rupert recommends that we study economic history and the actual practices of businesses and the people who work in them. I suppose, though, that economists are interested in the economic behavior of everyone, not just those who work for private corporations, and this might be too large a field for anyone to study. One way to break down the field of human behavior into more manageable chunks would be to generate hypotheses first and then find out whether they are true. This is roughly what economists do, I take it, although it's not clear how responsive they all are to empirical findings. Some, I suspect, cling to their favored models, assumptions, and hypotheses. Nor is it clear what to do with such findings given the complexity of real life and the seeming impossibility of conducting controlled experiments in economics. Behavior in the lab might well differ from behavior in the real world, and any real world finding that deviates from the hypothesis can be attributed to irrelevant factors. "True, increasing the minimum wage in this case did not lead to more unemployment, but that's because...", etc. Which allows people to keep clinging to their pet theories. Does this actually happen? I need to look into that.

I have only summarized a few points from the book, but I think they are good points.

Monday, March 10, 2014

Winch on social science again

After last time I think I should probably not focus too much on The Idea of a Social Science when talking about whether there can really be a social science (I'm going to be giving a lecture on this). I will talk about that book but also some of Winch's later work, maybe Colin Lyas' book on Winch (which I see Berel Dov Lerner recommends highly), and certainly Rupert Read's Wittgenstein Among the Sciences, and There is No Such Thing as a Social Science by Phil Hutchinson, Rupert Read, and Wes Sharrock. (Is there anything else that I shouldn't miss?)

To start with, here are some of the main points I take Winch to be making:
  • he attacks the idea that social studies should "follow the methods of natural science rather than those of philosophy" (p. 1)
  • "social relations are expressions of ideas about reality" (p. 23)
  • the aim of epistemology is to understand "the nature of social phenomena in general," i.e. to understand what is involved in a "form of life" (p. 42)
  • this, though, is the central aim of sociology (p. 43), a subject with a special place in social studies
  • "I want to say that the test of whether a man's actions are the application of a rule is not whether he can formulate it but whether it makes sense to distinguish between a right and a wrong way of doing things in connection with what he does.Where that makes sense, then it must also make sense to say that he is applying a criterion in what he does even though he does not, and perhaps cannot, formulate that criterion." (p. 58)
  • human behavior is not only different in degree (more complex) than other kinds of events in the world, it is different in kind (p. 73), even if this difference arises from what appear to be differences in degree
  • scientists seek regularities, but "criteria of identity are necessarily relative to some rule" (p. 83) (and on this point see also this and this)
  • the relevant rules in question are those of the scientist in the natural sciences but those of the people being studied in the social sciences (p. 87)
  • to understand what people do with regard to art or religion we must understand what art or religion is (pp. 88-89)
  • historical development is like the development of a conversation (in part it literally is just this, it seems to me), and such things cannot be predicted (pp. 93-94): to predict the future of a poem is to write the poem, to predict the future of music is to intervene in the process by which this future is determined (is that right?)
  • "the social relations between men and the ideas which men's actions embody are really the same thing considered from different points of view" (p. 121)
  • "To give an account of the meaning of a word is to describe how it is used; and to describe how it is used is to describe the social intercourse into which it enters." (p. 123)
This all sounds about right to me. The main point I might disagree with concerns the goal of sociology, which I think these days is more like describing and elucidating inequalities. 


I'm on spring break this week, so I should have time to blog a bit more than I have lately. Mostly this blogging should be about the possibility of a social science, but first something else.

It is unsettling and depressing not to see as good what others apparently see as good, and to see as good things that others do not regard as good. If the administration does something that seems boneheaded or unethical there is not only the apparent badness of the action itself to deal with but the mentally unhealthy feeling that the world is out of joint. Finding that you have colleagues who see things as you do is cheering in a way that combines pleasure with a feeling of improved mental health. This is part of what it means to be a social animal, I suppose. We want, and perhaps need, to be in sync with others. We don't need everyone to agree on everything, but finding at least one like-minded person can make a difference, and on some matters I think we would be disconcerted to find anyone who disagreed. It would be disturbing (not just interesting, or amusing for Wittgenstein scholars) to find someone who continued the series 'add 2' by going from 1000 to 1004, for instance. I'm not sure what the role of philosophy is in all this though. On the one hand philosophers challenge conventional thinking (perhaps as not really being thinking at all), but on the other hand the goal is not disruption. (I don't think that can be a rational goal despite the way management-speak types like to talk.) Is the goal to head off possible threats to group cohesion? Not consciously. The goal is to solve problems. Why we want to do that I don't know. I don't really do it to achieve some other goal, perhaps others do.

Anyway, all this started as a response to my recent experience of trying to find new music that I liked. It's weird to hear sounds that you feel you ought to like but don't. I expected to like Savages but they just sound deliberately unpleasant to me. I thought I'd like "6th best album of 2013" '...Like Clockwork' but it sounds like Metallica trying to be David Bowie, or some B-list grunge band pointlessly 'unplugged'.

Mercifully there is some good stuff out there, some of which j. pointed me towards. Uncle Acid & the Deadbeats' "Mind Crawler" is great: Zodiac Mindwarp and the Love Reaction meets True Detective.

I also found my taste generally defined by this ("amazing songwriting lurking under rudimentary musicianship, razor-sharp lyrics sung in disinterested voices, and a sense of inescapable sadness lurking beneath the perpetually-upbeat music") and this ("obsessed with a girl who doesn’t know you exist, walking through the rain feeling melancholy but strangely uplifted, and writing excruciating love poetry well into your twenties"). Thankfully that isn't me exactly but it does capture the spirit of what I mostly listen to. Thanks to the first of those articles I discovered this fantastic album by The Pastels:


And I just saw The Pains of Being Pure at Heart, who I can't believe are not huge stars. Oh well. At least they exist.

If you like things rockier, I recommend my other recent find, Giuda. They're an Italian glam rock band from the Oi! end of the spectrum:


Thursday, March 6, 2014

De Gruyter Open

I just got an email from these people and I'm tempted to see whether they might publish my Tractatus book. Here's what they say:
De Gruyter Open is part of De Gruyter ( an established scholarly publisher with more than 260 years of distinguished history. With our Open Access Books program we aim to offer unrestricted access to high quality, innovative and peer-reviewed research to all readers, as well as to help scholars reach audiences on a global scale.

We seek submissions for monographs, edited volumes and reference works. If you are interested, please fill in our book proposal form ( and send it back to me by email to

De Gruyter Open cares about the quality of its publications, therefore all books are subject to scrupulous peer-review as well as language and copy editing. Our Open Access Books are available through De Gruyter's publishing platform, libraries, full text repositories and distributors such as Amazon. Each title is also offered as a print version, and authors receive complimentary copies and royalties from print sales. For details on what professional assistance we offer our authors, please visit
As I understand it, they make books freely available online in a professional-looking format while also paying authors royalties on any copies sold (to people or libraries that want a hard copy) and peer-reviewing the work so that you can put it on your CV in a way that you can't when you just post a pdf of something online. It sounds great.

Is there a downside that I'm overlooking?