Nihilism can seem self-stultifying. That fancy word means, roughly, making yourself stupid, and it is used to describe theories that fail on their own terms. A famous example is relativism of any stripe: one asks the relativist whether it’s only relatively true (true with regards to a particular culture, ideology, set of beliefs, etc.) that relativism is true. If it is, then why should we care about relativism, if we don’t inhabit the particular culture it’s true with regards to ? If it isn’t, then there’s at least one non-relatively-true truth.

Nihilism faces the same sort of problem. Provisionally defined, nihilism is the philosophical position that denies everything. But a particular species of philosopher will then ask: well, do you deny that you deny everything? In the same sort of way as above, either a positive or negative answer is troublesome. …


(Note: I published, then deleted, this story realizing the data source was wrong. The nice folks at medium restored it for me after I thought I had resolved it, however I’m not entirely confident I have done so, so note well this might be wrong.)

If you follow the financial media, social, new, or legacy, you’ll probably have encountered stories about the influx of normal people into the stock market during the pandemic summer of 2020. …


Conceptual engineering is an approach to philosophy, which, according to one formulation, is founded on the ideas that: any language we care to imagine will be defective; that this defectiveness can be a source of epistemic, moral, and other sorts of harms; and that accordingly we should try to improve language to remove its defects. On of its recent popularizers, Herman Cappelen (whose master argument I have attempted to distill in my first sentence), nevertheless suggests reasons for pessimism about the prospects of conceptual engineering.

His pessimism is founded on the observation that changing language is hard, uncontrollable, and unpredictable. For any language, there are millions of speakers, but we can’t control their usage to make it align with our preferences. And while language does change, and change — sometimes — for the better, it does not seem to do so in accordance with easily intelligible rules that would give us a blueprint for introducing new improved languages. Why is it on the margins of acceptability to say [quasi-slur deleted] and not acceptable to say [similar quasi-slur deleted]? …


In some previous work (here, here) I’ve tried to think of ways of making peer review less reliant on editors, roughly because they are centralizing sources of slowness and ignorance. The following is another possible way of doing so, that in addition has the benefit of making peer review more transparent.

Introduction: The Slowness And Opacity of Academia

It takes a maximum of a day’s work (~7 or so hours) to review an academic paper, and often quite less. It takes upwards of 2000 hours (three months), on average, to assess an academic paper: to have it submitted, initially vetted, to find reviewers, for them to find time to review it, for the reviews to be consulted, for the editorial team to meet, and for the communication of the verdict. …


I made an app for (at present only) android phones, with the aim of helping people who lack the resources (time, money, institutions) to attend courses but who nevertheless want to learn about contemporary analytic philosophy.

It consists of an annotated version of Bertrand Russell’s 1912 classic introductory text Problems Of Philosophy, along with about 10,000 words of notes describing how Russell’s ideas have been developed or refuted in the course of the 20th century. …


How, if at all, does culture evolve? Why was Tarantino big in the 90s and Game Of Thrones big in the 2010s? What’s the difference between The Simpsons and The Good Place? Is pop culture just one damn thing after another or is there a pattern to its changes?

I aim to ask and propose an answer to these questions here. More specifically, I want to present a unified theory of (some) US pop culture from roughly the last thirty years, from 1990–2020. I will argue that despite the seeming difference between, say, the hip postmodernism of Pulp Fiction and the tits-and-blood high fantasy of Game Of Thrones, we can tell a unified story that explains how they came to be definitive of their eras, and how the latter can be seen to be continuous with the former despite their big differences in style. …


My aim here is to briefly present a way of organizing online academic conferences. I take it that, in 2020, I don’t need to say why this is so, and so I won’t, and will jump straight into logistics, presenting a way to organize asychronous, text-based conferences, using freely available and intuitive software.

I assume a principle of methodological conservatism: that, for the most part, we try to conserve features of the current conference system (gradually increasing, stuffy-room-induced hypoxia and over-caffeination aside) and translate them into an online format, rather than rethinking what a conference ought to be (I am not against such thinking, it’s just not the approach I’m taking here). …


Many disciplines in academia rely on mutually anonymous peer review to verify the quality of work and thereby to accredit the academics who produce that work. This is most notably evident in the journal system, which works as so. Authors write papers about their research which they send to journals, who consider it for publication. Journals are run by editors who have at least two main functions: to perform initial quality control, rejecting immediately clearly unsuitable papers, and to find qualified reviewers to assess the papers they don’t immediately reject.

There’s a third role that to some extent overlaps or enables the latter role: editors are a sort of middle person. By that I mean that they stand in between the author and the reviewer, enabling mutual anonymity and, hopefully, using their knowledge to match papers and reviewers in the best way possible. …


One of the most exciting technical and potentially socially transformative developments of recent years is the development of decentralized versions of formerly centralized institutions. The most obvious example is Bitcoin, which offers something like digital cash without a centralized trust-conferring party such as a central bank, enabling one to transact and store value without being subject to the whims of a third party whose incentives may not align with yours, or whose competence you may not trust.

Vast swathes of academia depend on such centralized parties, because in order to be a successful academic, one must publish peer-reviewed papers, and the responsibility for maintaining the peer review system is the responsibility of journal editors, who are centralized trust-conferring agents. …


Many people’s livelihood depends on publishing peer-reviewed papers in academic journals. Whether or not that’s a good state of affairs is another issue, but as a matter of fact, right now, there are many people out there anxiously waiting on long overdue decisions that may shape what their life will be like next year. It would be nice to make things easier for such people, as well as the reviewers and editors bound up in the current system.

One of the big problems with that system is finding reviewers. Editors are limited by their own knowledge and various publicly-available datasets (such as Google Scholar, Web of Science, and discipline-specific tools like philpapers.org or thephilosophypaperboy.com), …

About

Matthew McKeever

Novella "Coming From Nothing" at @zer0books (bitly.com/cfnextract). Academic philosophy at: http://mipmckeever.weebly.com/

Get the Medium app

A button that says 'Download on the App Store', and if clicked it will lead you to the iOS App store
A button that says 'Get it on, Google Play', and if clicked it will lead you to the Google Play store