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Cultural knowledge and personal responsibility

[ 150 ] January 9, 2013 |

Somebody — I think it may have been the most overrated philosopher of all time, J.S. Mill — said that truth goes through three stages. First it’s mocked as absurd. Then it’s declared to be against religion. Finally, it’s said to be what everyone has believed all along.

I think we’re getting to stage three in regard to the proposition that law school has turned out to be somewhere between a very risky proposition and a flat-out ripoff for the vast majority of people who are attending today, and who have graduated in recent years.

This statement, which as little as three years ago would have been treated as either “crazy” or at the least a gross exaggeration by almost everybody in legal academia, is rapidly heading toward the status of conventional wisdom. One sign of this is that a National Jurist poll of the most influential people in legal academia, which was conducted by surveying a group made up in large part of law school deans, has selected Brian Tamanaha as #1 on this list, with Bill Henderson as the first runner-up, should Brian for any reason not be able to fulfill his duties at some point during his reign. (Modesty forbids me from pointing out that I won Mr. Congeniality).

Think about that: law school deans — probably the single most status-quo regarding group within legal academia — selected somebody who wrote a book arguing that the current model of legal education in America simply doesn’t work any more, and is in need of radical reform, as the most influential person in the business.

In other words, the conventional wisdom about law school, both within higher education and in the culture at large, has been changing with lightening speed. This is important to remember when people start reflexively victim-blaming recent grads and even current law students for not being more reasonably prudent rational maximizers of their own utility when they signed up for this thing of ours.

Consider, for example, the class that will be graduating this spring. The class of 2013 applied to law school in the fall of 2009, which means that it is mostly made up of people who got serious about going to law school no later than 2008 or so, if not much earlier (it takes most people awhile to study for the LSAT, pull together letters of recommendation, etc.).

Think about what information was available to prospective law students five years ago about immediate outcomes for law graduates, let alone the long term career trajectories of aspiring lawyers. Compared to today, there were almost no warnings about the fact that, because of the rising cost of law degrees and long-term trends in the market for attorneys, the net present value of a legal education had been declining for at least two decades, and was likely to continue to do so. Bill Henderson made his very first public observations about the bimodal salary distribution around this time. (This Tamanaha post at Balkinization, which is barely two and a half years old, indicates implicitly how little these trends had been recognized outside the still very underground world of scamblogging).

All of which is to say the extent to which responsibility for acting on what has suddenly become the “obvious” truth that law school is a high risk enterprise can be imputed to law graduates and even current law students is very limited. Indeed the cultural lag time involved pushes me, at least, toward the conclusion that only people who enrolled in law school this year can be reasonably held responsible for having some realistic sense of what they are getting themselves into.

Comments (150)

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  1. John says:

    Why the gratuitous knock against Mill?

    • Malaclypse says:

      Seriously, Plato was way more overrated. Not to mention the whole “Objectivism” school of bullshit. And don’t even get me started on that bastard Étienne Tempier…

      • Bijan Parsia says:

        Or poor Plato!

        Overrated by whom? I kinda doubt Mill or Plato are overrated in a general way in philosophy departments. Mill might be somewhat underrated, at least, in the attention he receives.

        Dunno how either of them fare in polysci departments…

    • Chris says:

      The quote isn’t even from Mill. I suppose someone’s been waiting for the opportunity…

    • Aaron B. says:

      Mill is absolutely not overrated, and that knock was unnecessary and ridiculous.

      • John says:

        My sense, indeed, is that Mill is, if anything, underrated, because it’s always more fashionable to write about incomprehensible German reactionaries than about English liberals who write reasonably well.

  2. Scott Lemieux says:

    most overrated philosopher of all time, J.S. Mill

    Martin Heidegger says hello, and resents being denied the title he clearly earned.

  3. Linnaeus says:

    I think it may have been the most overrated philosopher of all time, J.S. Mill

    That distinction goes to Friedrich Nietzsche.

  4. The Dark Avenger says:

    No, the prize goes to Aristotle, who stated that women have a different number of teeth then men do.

    I can see why you don’t like Mill, Prof. Campos:

    I never meant to say that the Conservatives are generally stupid. I meant to say that stupid people are generally Conservative. I believe that is so obviously and universally admitted a principle that I hardly think any gentleman will deny it.

    • Scott de B. says:

      Aristotle was probably the most intelligent man ever to have lived, and certainly one of the top five in total influence.

      • Linnaeus says:

        It’s true that Aristotle certainly came up with some headscratchers, but given the breadth of his work and how influential it was for so long (and to some degree continues to be today), I wouldn’t put him among the “most overrated”.

        • The Dark Avenger says:

          Bertrand Russell on Aristotle

          Then Russell gets to Aristotle’s logic and the gloves come off.

          “Even at the present day, all Catholic teachers of philosophy and many others still obstinately reject the discoveries of modern logic, and adhere with a strange tenacity to a system which is as definitely antiquated as Ptolemaic astronomy. This makes it difficult to do historical justice to Aristotle. His present-day influence is so inimical to clear thinking that it is hard to remember how great an advance he made upon all his predecessors… Aristotle … is still especially in logic, a battle-ground, and cannot be treated in a purely historical spirit” (195).

          “I conclude that the Aristotelian doctrines with which we have been concerned in this chapter are wholly false, with the exception of the formal theory of the syllogism, which is unimportant. Any person in the present day who wishes to learn logic will be wasting his time if he reads Aristotle or any of his disciples” (202, italics mine!).

          Finally, with regard to Aristotle’s physics, Russell concludes with a number of observations:

          “This theory provided many difficulties for later ages… Galileo’s discovery that a projectile moves in a parabola shocked his Aristotelian colleagues. Copernicus, Kepler, and Galileo had to combat Aristotle as well as the Bible in establishing the view that the earth is not the centre of the universe, but rotates once a day and goes round the sun once a year” (207).

          “Aristotelian physics is incompatible with Newton’s “First Law of Motion,” originally enunciated by Galileo.”

          “Finally: The view that the heavenly bodies are eternal and incorruptible has had to be abandoned. The sun and stars have long lives, but do not live forever. They are born from nebula, and in the end they either explode or die of cold… the Aristotelian belief to the contrary, though accepted by medieval Christians, is a product of the pagan worship of sun and moon and planets.”

          • Linnaeus says:

            I’m quite aware of all that, but I take a different view on Aristotle probably because I’m a historian and not a philosopher, and I find Russell’s perspective to be a bit Whiggish.

          • Bijan Parsia says:

            Russell on the history of philosophy is not remotely reliable. Really.

            There’s a hell of a lot in Aristotle and a hell of lot that is still worth reading.

            • Craig Burley says:

              Russell’s reliability on the history of philosophy is spotty, but there is one subdiscipline on whose history he is absolute hell on wheels, and that is logic.

              • The Dark Avenger says:

                Yes, his only peer in that area was Wittgenstein.

                I doubt that Aristotle was the most intelligent man who ever lived, it’s probably the most intelligent man who ever wrote stuff that survived over the course of 25 centuries.

                • Bijan Parsia says:

                  Hmm. Wittgenstien is no where near as important a logician as Russell and wrote, IIRC, no significant history of either logic or philosophy.

                  (Russell’s work on logic affected many areas of mathematics, computer science, and philosophy. Truth tables are obviously important and Wittgenstein was clearly involved with them (see this for a discussion), but if you consider Principia + theory of types + Russell’s paradox I think that Russell’s logical work, per se, was more significant. If we’re talking philosophy of logic, then the case is way more complex.)

              • Bijan Parsia says:

                Actually, while Russell is a world-historical figure in the history of logic, his status as a historian of logic is not particularly high.

                (This isn’t too surprising. Russell’s “histories” were polemical. Nothing wrong with that! It’s a great mode of philosophy, but it doesn’t make them accurate from a scholarly perspective. It might surprise you as well that Kant isn’t the best Hume scholar, but there you go.)

                • Bijan Parsia says:

                  To be perfectly cleare, Russell made logic history. His writing of the history of logic was not nearly as significant (as history) nor so very superior to his history of philosophy.

                • The Dark Avenger says:

                  Wrong again:

                  The Tractatus Logico-Philosophicus (Latin for “Logical-Philosophical Treatise”) is the only book-length philosophical work published by the Austrian philosopher Ludwig Wittgenstein in his lifetime. It was an ambitious project: to identify the relationship between language and reality and to define the limits of science.[1] It is recognized as a significant philosophical work of the twentieth century.

                  G. E. Moore originally suggested the work’s Latin title as homage to Tractatus Theologico-Politicus by Baruch Spinoza.[2]

                  http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Tractatus_Logico-Philosophicus

                  Only someone in academia could produce as much mis-information as you’ve done on this thread.

                • Bijan Parsia says:

                  I presume you meant to reply to the other comment. Again, you refute nothing of what I wrote nor are you even on topic.

                  Of course the Tractatus is one of the most significant texts in philosophy. But it’s not primarily a logical treatise. It contains a lot of philosophy *of* logic but develops relatively little logic itself. If we are correct to attribute truth tables to the Tractatus, then it is a very significant bit of logic. But it still pales next to Principia or Frege.

                  This doesn’t put a knock on Wittgenstien. His influence was more on philosophy than logic per se.

                  I don’t know why you feel the need to cackle and condescend as if you were scoring points, but it might behoove you to understand the comments you are attacking before hitting the Web.

              • Anonymous says:

                It is not Aristotle’s fault that so little was done to build on his work for the next 2000 years.

                • The Dark Avenger says:

                  I don’t understand why you feel my responses are so poorly reasoned and lacking in fact that you have to point it out time and again.

    • LeeEsq says:

      I think this is decently unfair to Aristotle. Yes, he got a lot of his biology wrong but he was one of the first humans to start thinking about natural phenomena in non-religious terms and theorize about it. He got the ball rolling on the scienses. He was also the first to serious think about what makes art good or bad in quality and why we have art in the first place, the first critic and scholar of art.

      Plus his politics were much more practical and less dangerous than Plato’s politics.

      • The Dark Avenger says:

        He didn’t bother to test his assertion that objects of different weight fall at different speeds to the ground, and so retarded physics until Galileo came along and demonstrated otherwise.

        • LeeEsq says:

          Er, how many of the proto-scientists of Antiquity were really into practical experimentation outside the mathmaticians? Not many, most of them prefered practical experimentation.

        • Bijan Parsia says:

          He didn’t bother to test his assertion that objects of different weight fall at different speeds to the ground

          Drop a feather and a big rock and see what happens.

          Getting the right setup to show how free fall works is actually pretty tricky.

          • Malaclypse says:

            Drop a feather and a big rock and see what happens.

            Okay, but is it a giant leap to drop a big rock and a bigger rock?

            • The Dark Avenger says:

              SIMP. So far as I remember, Aristotle inveighs against the ancient view that a vacuum is a necessary prerequisite for motion and that the latter could not occur without the former. In opposition to this view Aristotle shows that it is precisely the phenomenon of motion, as we shall see, which renders untenable the idea of a vacuum. His method is to divide the argument into two parts. He first supposes bodies of different weights to move in the same medium; then supposes, one and the same body to move in different media. In the first case, he supposes bodies of different weight to move in one and the same medium with different speeds which stand to one another in the same ratio as the weights; so that, for example, a body which is ten times as heavy as another will move ten times as rapidly as the other. In the second case he assumes that the speeds of one and the same body moving in different media are in inverse ratio to the densities of these media; thus, for instance, if the density of water were ten times that of air, the speed in air would be ten times greater than in water. From this second supposition, he shows that, since the tenuity of a vacuum differs infinitely from that of any medium filled with matter however rare, any body which moves in a plenum through a certain space in a certain time ought to move through a vacuum instantaneously; but instantaneous motion is an impossibility; it is therefore impossible that a vacuum should be produced by motion.

              SALV. The argument is, as you see, ad hominem, that is, it is directed against those who thought the vacuum a prerequisite for motion. Now if I admit the argument to be conclusive and concede also that motion cannot take place in a vacuum, the assumption of a vacuum considered absolutely and not with reference to motion, is not thereby invalidated. But to tell you what the ancients might possibly have replied and in order to better understand just how conclusive Aristotle’s demonstration is, we may, in my opinion, deny both of his assumptions. And as to the first, I greatly doubt that Aristotle ever tested by experiment whether it be true that two stones, one weighing ten times as much as the other, if allowed to fall, at the same instant, from a height of, say, 100 cubits, would so differ in speed that when the heavier had reached the ground, the other would not have fallen more than 10 cubits.

              SIMP. His language would seem to indicate that he had tried the experiment, because he says: We see the heavier; now the word see shows that he had made the experiment.

              SAGR. But I, Simplicio, who have made the test can assure you that a cannon ball weighing one or two hundred pounds, or even more, will not reach the ground by as much as a span ahead of a musket ball weighing only half a pound, provided both are dropped from a height of 200 cubits.

              SALV. But, even without further experiment, it is possible to prove clearly, by means of a short and conclusive argument, that a heavier body does not move more rapidly than a lighter one provided both bodies are of the same material and in short such as those mentioned by Aristotle. But tell me, Simplicio, whether you admit that each falling body acquires a definite speed fixed by nature, a velocity which cannot be increased or diminished except by the use of force [violenza] or resistance.

              SIMP. There can be no doubt but that one and the same body moving in a single medium has a fixed velocity which is determined by nature and which cannot be increased except by the addition of momentum [impeto] or diminished except by some resistance which retards it.

              SALV. If then we take two bodies whose natural speeds are different, it is clear that on uniting the two, the more rapid one will be partly retarded by the slower, and the slower will be somewhat hastened by the swifter. Do you not agree with me in this opinion?

              SIMP. You are unquestionably right.

              SALV. But if this is true, and if a large stone moves with a speed of, say, eight while a smaller moves with a speed of four, then when they are united, the system will move with a speed less than eight; but the two stones when tied together make a stone larger than that which before moved with a speed of eight. Hence the heavier body moves with less speed than the lighter; an effect which is contrary to your supposition. Thus you see how, from your assumption that the heavier body moves more rapidly than ‘ the lighter one, I infer that the heavier body moves more slowly.

              SIMP. I am all at sea because it appears to me that the smaller stone when added to the larger increases its weight and by adding weight I do not see how it can fail to increase its speed or, at least, not to diminish it.

              SALV. Here again you are in error, Simplicio, because it is not true that the smaller stone adds weight to the larger.

              SIMP. This is, indeed, quite beyond my comprehension.

              SALV. It will not be beyond you when I have once shown you the mistake under which you are laboring. Note that it is necessary to distinguish between heavy bodies in motion and the same bodies at rest. A large stone placed in a balance not only acquires additional weight by having another stone placed upon it, but even by the addition of a handful of hemp its weight is augmented six to ten ounces according to the quantity of hemp. But if you tie the hemp to the stone and allow them to fall freely from some height, do you believe that the hemp will press down upon the stone and thus accelerate its motion or do you think the motion will be retarded by a partial upward pressure? One always feels the pressure upon his shoulders when he prevents the motion of a load resting upon him; but if one descends just as rapidly as the load would fall how can it gravitate or press upon him? Do you not see that this would be the same as trying to strike a man with a lance when he is running away from you with a speed which is equal to, or even greater, than that with which you are following him? You must therefore conclude that, during free and natural fall, the small stone does not press upon the larger and consequently does not increase its weight as it does when at rest.

              SIMP. But what if we should place the larger stone upon the smaller?

              SALV. Its weight would be increased if the larger stone moved more rapidly; but we have already concluded that when the small stone moves more slowly it retards to some extent the speed of the larger, so that the combination of the two, which is a heavier body than the larger of the two stones, would move less rapidly, a conclusion which is contrary to your hypothesis. We infer therefore that large and small bodies move with the same speed provided they are of the same specific gravity.

              SIMP. Your discussion is really admirable; yet I do not find it easy to believe that a bird-shot falls as swiftly as a cannon ball.

              SALV. Why not say a grain of sand as rapidly as a grindstone? But, Simplicio, I trust you will not follow the example of many others who divert the discussion from its main intent and fasten upon some statement of mine which lacks a hairsbreadth of the truth and, under this hair, hide the fault of another which is as big as a ship’s cable. Aristotle says that “an iron ball of one hundred pounds falling from a height of one hundred cubits reaches the ground before a one-pound ball has fallen a single cubit.” I say that they arrive at the same time. You find, on making the experiment, that the larger outstrips the smaller by two finger-breadths, that is, when the larger has reached the ground, the other is short of it by two finger-breadths; now you would not hide behind these two fingers the ninety-nine cubits of Aristotle, nor would you mention my small error and at the same time pass over in silence his very large one. Aristotle declares that bodies of different weights, in the same medium, travel (in so far as their motion depends upon gravity) with speeds which are proportional to their weights; this he illustrates by use of bodies in which it is possible to perceive the pure and unadulterated effect of gravity, eliminating other considerations, for example, figure as being of small importance, influences which are greatly dependent upon the medium which modifies the single effect of gravity alone. Thus we observe that gold, the densest of all substances, when beaten out into a very thin leaf, goes floating through the air; the same thing happens with stone when ground into a very fine powder. But if you wish to maintain the general proposition you will have to show that the same ratio of speeds is preserved in the case of all heavy bodies, and that a stone of twenty pounds moves ten times as rapidly as one of two; but I claim that this is false and that, if they fall from a height of fifty or a hundred cubits, they will reach the earth at the same moment.

              SIMP. Perhaps the result would be different if the fall took place not from a few cubits but from some thousands of cubits.

              SALV. If this were what Aristotle meant you would burden him with another error which would amount to a falsehood; because, since there is no such sheer height available on earth, it is clear that Aristotle could not have made the experiment; yet he wishes to give us the impression of his having performed it when he speaks of such an effect as one which we see.

              SIMP. In fact, Aristotle does not employ this principle, but uses the other one which is not, I believe, subject to these same difficulties.

              SALV. But the one is as false as the other; and I am surprised that you yourself do not see the fallacy and that you do not perceive that if it were true that, in media of different densities and different resistances, such as water and air, one and the same body moved in air more rapidly than in water, in proportion as the density of water is greater than that of air, then it would follow that any body which falls through air ought also to fall through water. But this conclusion is false inasmuch as many bodies which descend in air not only do not descend in water, but actually rise.

              SIMP. I do not understand the necessity of your inference; and in addition I will say that Aristotle discusses only those bodies which fall in both media, not those which fall in air but rise in water.

              SALV. The arguments which you advance for the Philosopher are such as he himself would have certainly avoided so as not to aggravate his first mistake. But tell me now whether the density [corpulenza] of the water, or whatever it may be that retards the motion, bears a definite ratio to the density of air which is less retardative; and if so fix a value for it at your pleasure.

              SIMP. Such a ratio does exist; let us assume it to be ten; then, for a body which falls in both these media, the speed in water will be ten times slower than in air.

              SALV. I shall now take one of those bodies which fall in air but not in water, say a wooden ball, and I shall ask you to assign to it any speed you please for its descent through air.

              SIMP. Let us suppose it moves with a speed of twenty.

              SALV. Very well. Then it is clear that this speed bears to some smaller speed the same ratio as the density of water bears to that of air; and the value of this smaller speed is two. So that really if we follow exactly the assumption of Aristotle we ought to infer that the wooden ball which falls in air, a substance ten times less-resisting than water, with a speed of twenty would fall in water with a speed of two, instead of coming to the surface from the bottom as it does; unless perhaps you wish to reply, which I do not believe you will, that the rising of the wood through the water is the same as its falling with a speed of two. But since the wooden ball does not go to the bottom, I think you will agree with me that we can find a ball of another material, not wood, which does fall in water with a speed of two.

              http://galileo.phys.virginia.edu/classes/109N/tns61.htm

              • Bijan Parsia says:

                And? I’ve no idea what you think you are showing by all this.

                Aristotle was unambiguously, hugely wrong on this point (and many others). Descartes was wrong about lots of things. Galileo was wrong about lots of things.

                I’m not sure what Galileo’s speculation about what Aristotle did or didn’t do (included, I’m sure, for the nice rhetorical effect) has to do with anything, really.

              • Linnaeus says:

                Interestingly, the reductio ad absurdum technique that Galileo uses in this passage from the Dialogue emulates what Aristotle himself often did when he refuted arguments.

                But, as Bijan points out, a lot of natural philosophers were wrong about a lot of things. That doesn’t necessarily detract from their overall importance. Aristotle’s work is foundational in terms of establishing organized scientific inquiry (at least in the West), even if he turned out to be wrong about things like falling bodies.

                (As an aside, Aristotle’s work in biology was much stronger; he was, for example, pretty much the creator of comparative anatomy that was a vital component in the development of natural history and modern biology in the West.)

                • The Dark Avenger says:

                  Actually, Galen contributed more to the study of anatomy than Aristotle:

                  Galen’s understanding of anatomy and medicine was principally influenced by the then-current theory of humorism, as advanced by many ancient Greek physicians such as Hippocrates. His theories dominated and influenced Western medical science for nearly two millennia. His anatomical reports, based mainly on dissection of monkeys, especially the Barbary Macaque, and pigs, remained uncontested until 1543, when printed descriptions and illustrations of human dissections were published in the seminal work De humani corporis fabrica by Andreas Vesalius[8][9] where Galen’s physiological theory was accommodated to these new observations.[10] Galen’s theory of the physiology of the circulatory system endured until 1628, when William Harvey published his treatise entitled De motu cordis, in which he established that blood circulates, with the heart acting as a pump.[11][12] Medical students continued to study Galen’s writings until well into the 19th century. Galen conducted many nerve ligation experiments that supported the theory, which is still accepted today, that the brain controls all the motions of the muscles by means of the cranial and peripheral nervous systems.[13]

                  Your desperate sweat is as myrrh unto me.

                • Bijan Parsia says:

                  Galen contributed more to the study of anatomy than Aristotle

                  And? This refutes nothing that Linnaeus wrote.

                • Linnaeus says:

                  Actually, Galen contributed more to the study of anatomy than Aristotle:

                  Galen was the authority on medical anatomy, but note that he employed a comparative anatomy approach, given that he didn’t dissect human body. That comes to us from Aristotle.

                  Interestingly, Vesalius’s struggle against the authority of Galen (though he demurs somewhat on this issue in De fabrica) can be considered analogous to what Galileo faced with respect to Aristotelianism. Yet I don’t think that detracts from the overall importance of Galen in Western medicine.

                  William Harvey published his treatise entitled De motu cordis, in which he established that blood circulates, with the heart acting as a pump.

                  There’s recent scholarship that argues that Harvey was himself an Aristotelian.

                  Your desperate sweat is as myrrh unto me.

                  No need to talk smack; I’m perfectly comfortable with the fact that our interpretations of the importance of Aristotle differ.

                • The Dark Avenger says:

                  William Harvey didn’t discover the circulation of the blood first:

                  In Europe, Harvey was anticipated by Michael Servetus (1546), Realdo Colombo (1559), Andrea Cesalpino (1571) and Giordano Bruno (1590). These men had read of the circulation of the blood in the writings of an Arab of Damascus, al-Nafis (died 1288), who himself seems to have obtained the idea from China. The writings of al-Nafis translated into Latin were lost, and rediscovered by a scholar as recently as 1956, establishing the source for Europe.

                  In China, indisputable and voluminous textual evidence exists to prove that the circulation of the blood was an established doctrine by the second century BC at the latest. For the idea to have become elaborated by this time, however, into the full and complex doctrine that appears in The Yellow Emperor’s Manual of Corporeal Medicine (China’s equivalent of the Hippocratic writings of Greece), the original notion must have appeared a very long time previously. It is safe to say that the idea occurred in China about two thousand years before it found acceptance in the West.

                  The ancient Chinese conceived of two separate circulations of fluids in the body. Blood, pumped by the heart, flowed through the arteries, veins and capillaries. Ch’i, an ethereal, rarefied form of energy, was pumped by the lungs to circulate through the body in invisible tracts. The concept of this dual circulation of fluids was central to the practice of acupuncture.

                  http://library.thinkquest.org/23062/blood.html

                • Linnaeus says:

                  William Harvey didn’t discover the circulation of the blood first

                  I can’t speak to Chinese investigations into the circulation of the blood, but as to Harvey’s predecessors in the West, it’s true that Harvey did build on the work of others. He does, for example, mention Colombo near the beginning of De motu cordis. Harvey’s achievement was a much more complete and systematic establishment of the circulation of the blood (throughout the entire body – Servetus and Colombo focused on pulmonary circulation) and the methods by which he did so.

            • Bijan Parsia says:

              Maybe? At least so that you’d be convinced.

              Flip it around…why did it take until Galileo? Why wasn’t it established before Aristotle? People already found anomalies quite early on (what makes an arrow go?). Galileo had some theory and though experiments to guide him.

              • The Dark Avenger says:

                He takes Aristotles’ assertions about the behavior of dropped objects and demonstrates that it couldn’t have been arrived at by observation, and therefore is worthless as a theory about the physics of falling objects

                • Bijan Parsia says:

                  You seem to be confusing observation and experimentation. Aristotle’s theory were almost certainly derived from observation, just not systematic enough and not coupled with the right experiments.

                  And as to the first, I greatly doubt that Aristotle ever tested by experiment whether it be true that two stones, one weighing ten times as much as the other, if allowed to fall, at the same instant, from a height of, say, 100 cubits, would so differ in speed that when the heavier had reached the ground, the other would not have fallen more than 10 cubits.

                  Yes, I greatly doubt that too. So?

                  Actually, even if Aristotle did do that, he’d have lots of leeway based on composition. Remember that the element in question is “earth” which he had no pure samples of. Now, the 10 times heavier move is a good one to try to overwhelm possible differences in composition. But none of this was trivial. Galileo was a really smart guy.

                  (If you look around you see a lot more immediate problems with Aristotle’s theory, esp. with projectiles. People put a lot of work in trying to make it work out.)

                  Again, if it’s so easy, why did it wait until Galileo?

              • The Dark Avenger says:

                Nope, he demonstrates that there is no observational data for the specific assertion that Aristotle makes.

                Again, if it’s so easy, why did it wait until Galileo?

                Because Aristotle’s reputation was such that mere empiric testing of his assertions was unthinkable until Galileo got around to it.

                • Malaclypse says:

                  Because Aristotle’s reputation was such that mere empiric testing of his assertions was unthinkable until Galileo got around to it.

                  Not true. Aristotle was largely forgotten in the west until Averroes’ influence in the 1100s, and Étienne Tempier condemned much of Aristotle as heretical in 1277. The condemnation only lasted 50 years, but Aristotle was seen as controversial by most non-Thomists.

                • Bijan Parsia says:

                  Dude, that’s clearly now what he’s doing. There is observational data. Feather and rock. Done. You can even do an experiment with it! Repeat as often as you like!

                  That doesn’t make it a good experiment, of course. Nor does it mean that the right theory to draw from such observations is Aristotle’s.

                  You are aware that there were challenges and modifications to Aristotelean physics before Galileo? You’re also aware that there’s considerable controversy as to whether Galileo actually did the experiment? Or that he mobilzed a set of thought experiments?

                  I think you overestimate the blight of Aristotle and underestimate the significance of Galileo’s achievement. Understanding motion is hard.

                • The Dark Avenger says:

                  It certainly was unthinkable in between the date you cite and Galileo’s time.

                • Malaclypse says:

                  It certainly was unthinkable in between the date you cite and Galileo’s time.

                  Again, not true. Ballistics began in earnest with the development of cannon in the late 1200s. As soon as you have cannon-fire, and the need to HIT THE WALL RIGHT HERE, you have people paying attention to non-linear motion.

                • The Dark Avenger says:

                  Then, by your own logic, the Chinese should’ve developed and theorized about non-linear motion, being the first people to invent and utilize artillery before the Europeans did.

                • Malaclypse says:

                  Then, by your own logic, the Chinese should’ve developed and theorized about non-linear motion, being the first people to invent and utilize artillery before the Europeans did.

                  But this is not “my own logic,” it is what actually happened. Ballistics in Europe in the 1300s actually did discuss non-linear motion. Really, they did. Albert of Saxony left real writings behind, that you could read.

                • The Dark Avenger says:

                  Yes, I can see how it helped artillery in the 13 Century:

                  Nevertheless, he formulates the idea of impetus in more classical terms as a virtus impressa (impressed force) and virtus motiva (motive force). Albert makes no pronouncements about the nature of this force, claiming that this is a question for the metaphysician. His work also mentions the mean speed theorem, a method of finding the total velocity of a uniformly accelerated (or decelerated) body, which had been stated (though without being demonstrated) in Heytesbury’s Tractatus de motu, and also adopted by Nicole Oresme. Albert was part of a general scientific trend which sought the first formulations of the principles of dynamics. He explained a number of curious natural phenomena, taking particular interest in earthquakes, tidal phenomena, and geology.

                  http://plato.stanford.edu/entries/albert-saxony/

                • Malaclypse says:

                  Glad to see you admit Aristotle did not actually go unquestioned, like you first claimed.

                • The Dark Avenger says:

                  Nevertheless, he formulates the idea of impetus in more classical terms(i. e., Aristotelian) as a virtus impressa (impressed force) and virtus motiva (motive force)

                • Malaclypse says:

                  Nevertheless, he formulates the idea of impetus in more classical terms(i. e., Aristotelian) as a virtus impressa (impressed force) and virtus motiva (motive force)

                  That blur you see? Goalposts, moving in non-linear motion.

                • The Dark Avenger says:

                  Any sort of intellectual motion on your part would be surprising.

        • Felix Gilman says:

          “In the everyday world, as Aristotle saw, heavy bodies do fall faster than light ones. . . . Galileo himself got the law not from observation, or at least not from new observation, but by a chain of logical arguments. . . Probably he did not perform the experiment at the tower of Pisa. That was performed by one of his critics, and the result supported Aristotle.”

          http://books.google.com/books?id=sWScX_aduGMC&printsec=frontcover#v=onepage&q=galileo&f=false

          • Linnaeus says:

            Kuhn had reason to question whether Galileo did the experiment, although Stillman Drake later argued that Galileo did do the experiment.

        • Lurker says:

          Aristotle made a very important step: he accepted observations as valid evidence for natural law. His influential predecessor and teacher Plato did not. In Plato’s thought, it was possible to deduce the laws of nature from the inborn a priori knowledge. Thus, only logical (and rhetorical) arguments were allowable in the discussion of physics and biology.

          The Aristotelian approach, although clearly wrong in actual particulars, allowed, at least in theory, falsification by experiment. (The medieval Aristotelians were not big on this, however.)

          And please note that for “the ancients”, the existence of vacuum was by no means clear. On Earth, there are no natural vacuums, and the ancient Greeks could not create artificial vacuums. Thus, for them, any argument that started from the nonexistence of vacuum was observationally valid and even more probable than arguments postulating a non-observable vacuum.

          Likewise, the concepts of “weight”, “density” and “viscosity” are by no means clear unless you have a well-developed mathematical machinery of physics available.

          • The Dark Avenger says:

            As Bertrand Russell noted, Aristotle couldn’t be bothered to count the teeth in his wife’s mouth to determine by observation, if, in fact, women and men didn’t have the same number of teeth, as he asserted.

            • Lurker says:

              Considering the state of dental hygiene in ancient Greece, I would not be surprised if this had been his source of information. As far as I understand, Greeks had somewhat oriental tastes, and they ate very sugary sweets when possible. I would imagine that Aristotle’s wife might well have had less teeth than her husband.

              • The Dark Avenger says:

                You mean, he’d overlook the empty sockets caused by teeth missing due to the ‘sugary diet’ of the ancient Greeks?

                It’s somewhat amusing the lengths and contortions some folks go through to make a point.

            • MH says:

              Bertrand Russell does use that as an example of how Aristotle did not understand the value of observation in reasoning about the world. However, Russell is referring to a passage in which Aristotle is listing observations made about the teeth of various animals, a fact that Russell would have been aware of had he bothered to observe the actual passage he was referring to instead of just spouting off about it.

              It isn’t entirely clear why Aristotle observed this (or why someone else observed it), but it’s hard to see how it counts against Aristotle in any serious way.

              • MH says:

                The actual quote is from History of Animals, book 2 pt 3. It reads:

                Males have more teeth than females in the case of men, sheep, goats, and swine; in the case of other animals observations have not yet been made: but the more teeth they have the more long-lived are they, as a rule, while those are short-lived in proportion that have teeth fewer in number and thinly set.

                • The Dark Avenger says:

                  Saying that men have more teeth than women isn’t an observation, it’s just simply not true.

                  He also didn’t do much better when it came to women:

                  He wrote that only fair skinned women, not darker skinned women, had a sexual discharge and climaxed. He also believed this discharge could be increased by eating of pungent foods. Aristotle thought a woman’s sexual discharge was akin to that of an infertile or amputated male’s.[2] .[3] He concluded that both sexes contributed to the material of generation, but that the female’s contribution was in her discharge (as in a male’s) rather than within the ovary.[4]

                  http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Aristotle%27s_views_on_women

                • Anonymous says:

                  He obviously assigned his graduate assistant, I mean slave, to go count some teeth. Aristotle was a busy man.

                • The Dark Avenger says:

                  “The observation was the earlier thing that he was reporting. The evidence that there was one is that he explicitly says that the observations were made (and that they haven’t been made for other species, and so we don’t have knowledge about them). ”

                  For the record, nobody could’ve ever ‘observed’ that men and women have different numbers of teeth unless there has been some sort of weird genetic change between his time and ours in H. sapiens.

                  Period. He was perpetuating a classical version of an old wife’s tale.

                • MH says:

                  That or there were dietary differences between men and women at the time which affected their teeth. Or he had a non-representative sample. Or it was related to wisdom teeth (which tend to come in later in women than men, and which he goes on to talk about immediately afterwards). Huh, turns out there are a lot of possible reasons here aside from “he was lying about making observations for no discernable reason”.

              • MH says:

                Saying anything isn’t an observation. The observation was the earlier thing that he was reporting. The evidence that there was one is that he explicitly says that the observations were made (and that they haven’t been made for other species, and so we don’t have knowledge about them).

                I really don’t see how the confusion enters into this: “in the case of other animals observations have not yet been made” seems like a pretty straightforward thing to say.

                As far as the other stuff goes, this is Aristotle being wrong. So, congratulations? What was the point of that, since it’s clearly not about the value of observation anymore.

                Also, come on, Wikipedia? You can do better than that for citation – that page manages to cite (for that passage): Generation of Animals I, 728a; Generation of Animals II, 728a; and Generation of Animals VI, 728a. While the substance is probably right, it’s difficult to check something cited in such a transparently inconsistent way. (Especially since 728a occurs in book IV.)

    • Manju says:

      I can see why you don’t like Mill, Prof. Campos:

      Because Campos is a conservative?

  5. J. Otto Pohl says:

    The most overrated philosopher of all times is not J.S. Mills it is John Rawls by a very large margin. Mills does not have a cult of personality around him rivaling Kim Il-Sung like Rawls does. He also unlike Rawls wrote more substance than can be fitted in small pamphlet.

    • jdkbrown says:

      It’s true. In my grad program we had pictures of Rawls in every classroom, and all department meetings began with songs praising his kindness, foresight, and virile masculinity. I’m ashamed to admit, though, that I found the required first-year seminar on Rawls kind of boring–we just read his little red pamphlet over and over, so we could recite it from memory while indoctrinating undergrads. (Please don’t tell anybody about my weakness, or I’ll be sent to re-education summer camp at the Harvard Philosophy Department–I just don’t think I could take walking the same halls as that running-dog Nozick.)

      • LFC says:

        “…as that running-dog Nozick.”

        Esp. since Nozick is no longer alive and the encounters wd thus necessarily take place in the realm of the supernatural.

        • jdkbrown says:

          Are we really to the point where we can’t even read an obviously satirical blog comment charitably enough to conclude that the sentence elides a “did” rather than a “does”?

          • LFC says:

            Was trying to be mildly funny. Obviously I failed!

            • jdkbrown says:

              Oh, heck–now I feel like a jerk. You did manage to be mildly funny; I just took it the wrong way. Perhaps I was too primed to see an accusation of ignorance, since I was tweaking JOP for his obvious silliness.

    • Scott Lemieux says:

      Mills does not have a cult of personality around him rivaling Kim Il-Sung like Rawls does.

      That is just so awesomely wrong.

    • LFC says:

      J. Otto,
      This is complete and utter bullshit. I doubt you have ever read more than a page or two of Rawls.
      I suggest you stick to Soviet nationalities policies, African history, and other subjects you know something about rather than spreading libelous idiocies on high-traffic blogs.

      • J. Otto Pohl says:

        I read about 50 pages of a Theory of Justice , but I kept falling asleep. So I won’t pretend to be an expert on what he actually wrote. But, I will take the compliment about knowing something about African history. Two years ago I knew nothing about Africa.

        • Bijan Parsia says:

          I read about 50 pages of a Theory of Justice, but I kept falling asleep. So I won’t pretend to be an expert on what he actually wrote.

          It’s this sort of comment that totally convinces me of your intellectual prowess.

  6. TribalistMeathead says:

    I have a number of friends who were all part of the same law school class, and the most miserable by far are the ones who began law school immediately after they completed their undergrad degrees. Personally, I don’t think real change will come until undergrad advisers stop telling English and poli sci majors that law school is a quick and easy way to get a cush job that pays $150K/year on graduation.

    • Linnaeus says:

      Personally, I don’t think real change will come until undergrad advisers stop telling English and poli sci majors that law school is a quick and easy way to get a cush job that pays $150K/year on graduation.

      Maybe the real change will come when those majors get eliminated entirely because they aren’t “useful”.

      • TribalistMeathead says:

        That’s not at all what I was suggesting. I knew from the start that I was studying poli sci because it’s what I was interested in, not because it was preparing me for a career. But I’m also glad I wasn’t steered towards law school with false promises.

      • spencer says:

        Rick Scott is already working on that, but he wants to start with Anthropology.

      • Bloix says:

        I don’t know about eliminating them. But what has to stop is the charging of parents of young people $50,000 a year in order to fund “research” that does nothing to educate their children and that no one reads anyway. Used to be that professors could tell their students, don’t worry, we’re preparing you to be lawyers and you’ll all make more money than we do. That’s not working any more.

        • Linnaeus says:

          Well, I’m supportive of the notion that something needs to be done about rising higher ed costs; far too many people are priced out and that will just get worse. As for this:

          But what has to stop is the charging of parents of young people $50,000 a year in order to fund “research” that does nothing to educate their children and that no one reads anyway.

          …I have a couple of responses.

          Given the growth in the use of part-time/contingent academic labor in teaching and research, I’m skeptical that the bulk of the cost growth is going to lavish faculty salaries. I suspect it’s going more to the administrative layers of colleges and universities. What’s more (though maybe it’s just a minor factor), colleges and universities are providing a lot more in terms of services and infrastructure than they did in years past.

          Regarding research, I am of the view that research is an intrinsic good in any field of intellectual endeavor and it ought to be encouraged, even if a particular research program is not something I find interesting or would read myself. Research can certainly help educate students; a reading list in any course in my field today would be different than such a list, say, 30 years ago, and that’s because of scholarly research in finding new sources, offering new perspectives, etc.

          But if we as a society decide that some kinds of research aren’t worth doing, or that we don’t have the resources to support it, then let’s have a conversation about that and be open and honest about the decisions that follow.

      • Davis X. Machina says:

        First they came for the classicists, but I was silent, because I was not a classicist.

  7. AcademicLurker says:

    Scott Lemieux gets it right. Heidegger belongs on the short list at least.

  8. Anon21 says:

    You know, as a 2012 grad (so, matriculated in ’09), I feel like I had a pretty decent sense when applying in mid-late 2008 that the legal job market was in bad shape and getting worse. Wasn’t ATL running frequent posts around that time talking about mass layoffs and big firms in danger of going under?

    Not that lower-information applicants who were sold a bill of goods by law schools should be blamed, but just that I don’t think the notion that law school might not be a good career move was as underground as Campos seems to suggest in 2008 and 2009.

    • Vance Maverick says:

      I believe you have just illustrated the terminal phase of the progression Paul cites (Wikiquote has that saying under Gandhi, as contested, with a link to someone else saying it.)

      • Mohandas Gandhi says:

        Most of the quotes attributed to me were actually something Abraham Lincoln said.

      • Anon21 says:

        Maybe, but am I wrong on the facts here? Obviously law school deans weren’t lining up to warn about the risks of legal employment in 2008, but despite this not-particularly-important poll, I don’t think they’re doing that now, either.

        • brewmn says:

          Um, “This is important to remember when people start reflexively victim-blaming recent grads and even current law students for not being more reasonably prudent rational maximizers of their own utility when they signed up…”

          And:

          “…lower-information applicants…”

          Condescend much, do we?

          • Anon21 says:

            Condescend much, do we?

            It’s just a fact. What do you want me to say, here? A lot of people go to law school without knowing much about it or the legal profession; that’s the fault of law school admissions departments and probably undergrad career counselors. I knew a fair amount about both.

            Which again, goes to the point that applicants shouldn’t be blamed for making what turned out to be a bad choice in the face of a lot of misinformation. My point was just to correct Campos on the idea from his penultimate paragraph that this information was underground.

            • djw says:

              Yeah, I have “the talk” with a few undergraduates every year who ask about a letter of recommendation for law school, and most of them are pretty shocked by a rudimentary sketch of the range of employment outcomes for JDs. I believe the culture change is starting to happen, but it has definitely not reached a lot of intelligent college students.

            • brewmn says:

              If nobody knows about “this information” except for a genius like you, then, yes, it’s “underground.” Thanks for making Campos’ point for him.

              • Anon21 says:

                Above the Law is and was in no way underground. I’m not the only pre-law student who ever read it. And past that, some of the law discussion boards where applicants sometimes show up were sounding the same warnings when I was applying.

                • brewmn says:

                  “Above the Law is and was in no way underground.”

                  It’s not a pamphlet handed out on street corners, no. But it’s not exactly the editorial page of the New York Times, either.

                  You come off like all of the overprivileged, third-generation-lawyer douchebags I had to deal with in law school (incidentally, even though I have practiced law for fifteen years, I had never heard of ATL until this discussion). No matter how much you want to claim otherwise, you are blaming the victims’ of a huge, affluent institutional structure for their victimization.

                  A fair reading of Campos’ point is unassailable: job prospects for graduating law students have been steadily diminishing for at least a decade. Not only have law schools not informed prospective students of those trends, they have actively deceived those prospective students about their career oppotunities during that time.

                  Also during that time, no mainstream media outlet picked up on any of these facts in a way likely to reach the typical law school applicant. And now that these facts can no longer be denied, everybody knew or should have known of them before enrolling in law school.

                  Again, thanks for making Campos’ case for him.

                • Anon21 says:

                  And now that these facts can no longer be denied, everybody knew or should have known of them before enrolling in law school.

                  Again and again, you’re putting words in my mouth. Applicants aren’t to blame; this is at least the third time I’ve said that.

                  It is possible to correct someone on a misstated fact without disagreeing with their conclusions. See here for a recent example.

    • TribalistMeathead says:

      “Wasn’t ATL running frequent posts around that time talking about mass layoffs and big firms in danger of going under?”

      Yes.

      How many undergrads do you think regularly read ATL?

  9. RhZ says:

    Modesty forbids me from pointing out that I won Mr. Congeniality

    Campos, you are a bullshitter sometimes, but you are def fun to read.

  10. CaitieCat says:

    this thing of ours.

    Badabing! Nice one, Don Campos (Paulie “BigBooks” Campos, that’d be).

  11. Jonathan says:

    Is there even such a thing as an underrated philosopher? Aren’t they pretty much all overrated is they have even the slightest notoriety?

  12. spencer says:

    The most overrated philosopher is clearly Jesus.

    • LFC says:

      That was indeed a memorable moment in the history of presidential debates. Give GWB a sliver of credit though for coming up w an answer without much hesitation at all.

  13. Andre says:

    No mention of Slavoj Zizek? For shame!

  14. Aaron B. says:

    Oh, I know. Derrida.

    • Bijan Parsia says:

      Not next to Bernard-Henri Lévy.

      Derrida is overrated in some places and underrated in others.

      • Malaclypse says:

        Not next to Bernard-Henri Lévy.

        You win.

      • Aaron B. says:

        The problem is I don’t feel like anybody takes BHL seriously. He’s awful, to be sure, but also the butt of a lot of jokes. Especially since he got caught citing fake philosophy books.

      • gmack says:

        Derrida is overrated in some places and underrated in others.

        I think this is exactly right. It would be almost impossible to say that Derrida is the most overrated, given how much he is maligned in loathed in many circles (and I would add that I find much of this dislike of him to be unfair). On the other hand, his supporters are legion and often annoying too. My own pet theory is that, in many philosophers who are difficult to read (e.g., Hegel, Heidegger, Derrida, among many others), there is a tendency to mistake understanding the philosopher’s point with agreeing with it. As in: “it has taken me many hours to discern what this passage means; I now understand it! What a profound point!”. I hasten to add that this pet theory occurs to me because I have had this experience and often have to be on guard against it.

  15. curiouscliche says:

    I have a pretty simple solution to the legal employment crisis. We need people to run for leadership positions in their state bar associations, and seize power. Once in power, we should reduce state bar pro bono requirements, and replace them with a progressive fee indexed to legal employment income that will be used to provide extra funding to legal aid organizations, and other community legal groups like immigrant rights networks and domestic violence legal clinics. These organizations can then hire more lawyers. This will neatly solve the dual problem of our country being over-lawyered, yet under-served in the courts.

    Far be it from me to suggest that I was the first person to come up with this idea, but I haven’t actually seen it mentioned anywhere else. There are plenty of statistics about the dual-problem out there, so I think every legal blogger can and should be making this case, or at least engaging with it. Charismatic, underemployed, and progressive lawyers should start preparing campaigns.

    • L2P says:

      Hi there.

      I’m a tax lawyer. (Kinda.) (Mostly.)

      Are you trying to tell me that you think you can have any significant part of my “fees” indexed to my bar dues and have my “fees” by anything other than minimal the second you pass that regulation? I can make a looooooooot of money on $20 photocopies. From my separately-owned and operated LLC. That bills out to my law firm at cost.

      But more importantly, there’s zero interest in this outside of the professariat. If the state bar is collecting the money, do you think that a conservative government is going to let the money go to the ACLU and Public Counsel? Not a chance. It’s going to anti-tax, pro-business, pro-religion groups. I guess if the goal is to create huge fights over funding of non-profit groups, awesome. I’d skip it.

      If there’s a stupider idea out there for reforming the legal business, I can’t think of it. But there’s never a floor for stupidity, so I’m sure it’s out there somewhere.

      • curiouscliche says:

        Well, as an expert in stupidity, perhaps I should clarify for you. I want the state bar associations to increase annual fees/dues required for membership, and I want that increase to be progressively structured to account for the variation in lawyer incomes. To make it very simple, I want to force people like you to pay more money to retain their legal license, and I want to use that money to pay people like me to work for non-profit legal organizations. Trust me, there is plenty of interest in this among the millions of unemployed and underemployed lawyers in this country. Start preparing the end of your legal career, or the end of your greed.

        State legislatures don’t get to have a say in how professional organizations spend their licensing fees. Not without a huge legal fight anyway.

  16. Timb says:

    when Eugene Volokh or Orin Kerr (I can’t remember which one, actually writes a post on a discussion at a conference and the author chooses not to fellate the status quo ante, I think Paul is right.

  17. Craig Burley says:

    For an overrated philosopher, J.S. Mill certainly was pretty good at getting in right from the start on truths where he was in his stage one and we are all now in stage three. It’s always seemed to me that he was right, or speaking truths, a hell of a lot. True, there is no philosophical batting title, but hitting 200 points better than almost any other historical philosopher is impressive to those (those few?), like me, who value the notion of truth in philosophy…

  18. Dave says:

    Nuthin like philosophy fanbois for an interestingly pointless ‘discussion’…

  19. chris y says:

    And here’s me having seen that quote attributed to Haldane. My guess is it was made up by some journalist who thought it would circulate better if attached to a famous name.

  20. gmack says:

    I really cannot believe this discussion of overrated philosophers has gone on this long without a mention of John Locke, who for my money is the most muddy-headed philosopher to have made it into the canon.

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