Philosophical Analysis Through the Historical Case Study, Composing, 18/10/2013

So I finally finished that Bergson essay Thursday night, after taking slightly over a year from conception to completion of the first draft. I know that next comes the second draft and dealing with the vagaries of peer review. But I prefer not to think about that right now, because this project has taken long enough and I’m writing this post itself on Thursday night, a night on which I want to sleep. If anything has shown me how far I’ve fallen behind on where I want to be in my research, it’s this mess. 

However, one way the essay has benefited from the long delays in its composition is that I’ve reconceived its structure in what I think is a beneficial way. And this reconception really is a recent development, in the light of ideas I had over this past Canadian Thanksgiving weekend. I was thinking of ways to combine techniques of ethnography with moral philosophy as a way of prodding discussions and debates of moral philosophy out of the armchair, out of abstract universals (which are all inherently inadequate to the messiness of the actual practice of morality), and with a firm grip on the real world. I thought of describing the moral practices and beliefs of various communities and groups, systematizing them, and relating one morality to another. 

The Bergson essay works a little differently, less ethnography than a qualitative case study. In this case, it’s a case study from the history of philosophy that I’m using to learn about relations of philosophy and the physical sciences. I just finished my end of the edits on a collaborative project on this broader issue at the Social Epistemology Review and Reply Collective, which I’ll write about to publicize its coming publication. I hope to send it either to a journal of philosophy of science, science and technology studies, or continental philosophy. Because I talk about the relation of philosophy with science and mention the Sokal Hoax, it can work for the first two. Because I discuss Bergson, it can work for the latter.

Lately, I’ve started reading a report from back in 2004 from the National Science Foundation in the United States on the state of qualitative research in the social sciences, looking for ideas in disciplinary standards on these techniques in sociology to adapt them to philosophical problems and inquiries. I’ll get back to you as those ideas develop in my own thoughts.

You might also notice a new link on the side of the blog under "Interesting People." Steph Guthrie is a community organizer in the Toronto area who writes perceptively, intelligently, and reasonably about a variety of justice issues in the city and on the internet. I've followed her twitter feed and periodically checked in on her blog for a few months now, and I consider her one of the more admirable people I've recently come across making an actual material difference in the world. Too many so-called activists I've met on twitter are just self-righteous shut-ins who think they're improving people's lives by trolling other activists or sympathizers.

Online, Steph cuts through the bullshit, and in her real life, she helps people for a living. Here's a pretty solid talk she did this September. I don't agree with everything she says in the talk about how to deal with various types of trolling and online harassment, as I think this kind of mass-shaming tactic should only apply to the blatantly horrifying cases she cites in the talk. (After all, it's TED, and if you want subtlety and nuance, you don't go to TED.) But it's an intelligent assessment of the situation.

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