An open letter to the Board of Regents for the Nevada System of Higher Education

I just sent the following letter to the Regents of the Nevada System of Higher Education. If you'd like to do something too, Leiter has the emails you need; and there's also a conversation for those interested over at New APPS.


March 9, 2011

Dear Regent Leavitt,

I am deeply worried, saddened, and upset by the news that UNLV will eliminate the Social Work, Philosophy, and Women’s Studies departments if Governor Sandoval’s Budget passes.

UNLV will be completely unable to attract good faculty in the future, when future job candidates learn that tenured faculty can lose their jobs. This puts UNLV at an enormous disadvantage when trying to hire good professors: the only people who will accept a job offer from UNLV will be those who cannot get a job anywhere else—and even those people will try to find another job elsewhere as soon as they can. Furthermore, many faculty currently at UNLV who are good enough to land a job offer elsewhere will be applying for jobs next year: ‘if it can happen to Social Work, Women’s Studies, or Philosophy, then it can happen to me.’ So saving a few dollars by destroying the reasonable expectation of tenure will harm the entire university’s ability to attract and retain good faculty members.

I was an assistant professor in the Philosophy Department at UNLV from the Fall of 2006 through the Spring of 2009. I had other job offers in 2006, but I declined them, because I was very impressed with the quality of the philosophy faculty. They are smart, they are good teachers, and they put enormous amounts of time into their work and their students. (For example, many department members would often come to the undergraduate philosophy club meetings if invited by the students, taking time out of their lives to spend more time with students, for nothing in return other than the satisfaction of being a good teacher.) UNLV was getting their money’s worth, and then some. Furthermore, in the last 5 years, the department began to be impressive on a national scale: they hired newly minted Ph.D.’s graduating from the very best departments in the world, managed to hire a senior scholar away from a top 10 program, and the department members’ articles began appearing in the most elite journals. It makes me sick that this slow, steady climb is simply going to be destroyed.

So, for the sake of the entire University’s ability to attract and retain faculty, and because UNLV has successfully built up an impressive faculty, please do not eliminate the Philosophy, Social Work, and Women’s Studies departments.


Greg Frost-Arnold


A question about coherence

For the record, I am not sympathetic to the coherence theory of truth. But I would like to understand what it is, especially since some logical empiricists (Neurath in particular) entertained it. So here's the question.

The coherence theory of truth maintains:
p is true if and only if p coheres with S
where p is an arbitrary proposition, and S is a special set of propositions. Many people criticize the coherence theory on the grounds that there is no principled way to pick out this special set, but let's bracket that (very important) issue for the moment.

So the obvious question to ask about the above statement of the coherence theory is: What is coherence? There are a number of answers out there, but everyone agrees that logical consistency is a necessary condition for coherence (but insufficient*). In other words:
If p coheres with S, then the set of propositions {p∪S} is consistent.
And now it looks like we're making some progress in understanding what the coherence theory is committed to, because logical consistency is a notion that we have a clear and independently-motivated handle on.

But wait -- our 'clear and independently-motivated' notion of logical consistency depends, of course, on the notion of truth: a set of sentences is consistent iff it's possible that they all be true. But the coherentist's notion of truth is exactly what we were originally trying to explicate here. So it seems like we've got a circular definition.

(Note: one can characterize consistency in purely syntactic terms; for example, in logics where Ex Falso Quodlibet holds: A set of sentences is consistent iff there is a sentence that cannot be derived from that set. Perhaps that is what the coherentist might do?)

* Given certain reasonable instances of S, there will be two propositions q and not-q that are each individually consistent with S. But both can't be true.