Sunday, August 31, 2008


From last week's Observer:
Bad news for social and political science students at King's College, Cambridge, who were expecting supermodel Lily Cole to join their number when the new academic year starts in October. Although Lily is going to be taking up her place this year, she has decided to switch courses, according to sources at her Storm modelling agency, to history of art. Says a Cambridge politics don: 'I'd never want to belittle another academic discipline, but it's possible she'll find it easier to balance an art history degree with her other commitments.'
I'm trying to find online the excellent Armstrong and Miller Show sketch about 'The origins of art history', but with no luck. Has anyone found it?

Friday, August 29, 2008


I'm currently one of the editors of The Cambridge Classical Journal, the journal of the Cambridge Philological Society. We get a steady stream of correspondence concerning various rankings of journals, usually with the aim of producing a simple method of comparing the value of academic published research output. Journals are assessed in various ways according to their submissions to acceptances ratio, international standing, and the like. (See, for example, the European Reference Index for the Humanities, ERIH, and their initial listings here.)

It's not something I find particularly helpful and there is a significant danger that such rankings will do damage to any journal that for whatever reason finds itself ranked anything below the top because that will merely discourage submissions. Anyway, it's a tricky issue that is unlikely to be resolved any time soon and keys into a general set of concerns a lot of us are having about the application of anything like quantitative assessment of the value of research output in the arts and humanities. For signs that similar things are going on elsewhere, you might like to read this brief but very clear letter expressing concerns about the ERA (Excellence in Reseach for Australia) and its accompanying press release. (There is also the longer document from the British Academy on peer review.)

Tuesday, August 26, 2008

Cultural duty are selling seasons 1-4 of The Wire for stupidly cheap prices. It is your duty to buy them. Now. Click here, here, here, and here. It will cost about £70 for the lot and will give you something like 50 solid hours of the best TV ever. Under £1.50 and hour.

Sunday, August 24, 2008


Boris mourns the passing of the pankration from the Olympic Games.... Watch and weep, just a little, here.


I had two parcels waiting for me when I got back from holiday, both books. First, I had treated myself to Giannantoni's Socratis et Socraticorum reliquiae, promising myself that it was essential for some work on the Cyrenaics I have to do. It's pretty expensive, though, at €155, but I consoled myself that it's beautifully cased and produced and will be a resource I'll use time and time again. The other parcel was OUP's new Oxford Handbook of Plato. (Is Handbook 'of' quite right? It sounds a bit weird to me...) I would not have bought this myself since it comes in at a whopping £85 for the hardback (no paperback as yet...) , but I had some credit with OUP for some refereeing work I did for them recently. It's full of the great and the good, of course, so the content will be interesting and the sort of things the students will be reading. But it's incredibly pricey. Made me feel rather better about buying the Giannantoni.

Thursday, August 14, 2008

Ends in themselves

I'm enjoying watching the Olympics, particularly the sports that don't get so much TV time otherwise.  (Why bother watching Olympic football when you can get into the judo?)  And I think there's something rather admirable about these people who have dedicated a great deal of time and effort to doing their best at these various sports.  True, I don't think I personally would find a great deal of satisfaction in hour after hour of weight training in preparation for 22 seconds of a 50m freestyle swim.  And true, some of these people have been using a relatively large amount of state subsidy (though less than many other countries, I suspect) in order to come relatively low down the eventual list in the Olympic competition.

But good for them all the same.  I reckon few people share my personal priorities and might (indeed do) occasionally object to state funding of someone to spend a large proportion of time researching ancient philosophy.  'What good is that?', a hard-nosed (hard-headed?) politician might ask.  No more and no less good, I suspect, than someone being given assistance by the state to try to be the best they can be at, say, diving.  Perhaps it will inspire some more people to take up sport.  No doubt it will entertain and excite a few people this summer.  Both good things.

There are doubtless limits to the kinds of ends to which people might dedicate themselves and the pursuit of which they take to be constituent of a good and fulfilled life which the state might be obliged to fund.  (There certainly are limits to the kinds of ends which some people take to be constituent of a good life which we ought as a society to agree even to tolerate, let alone promote.)  On the other hand, I think we should recognise a plurality of things people might take to be ends in themselves and worth pursuing.  (Winning, at least attempting to win is clearly part of the goal of athletic competition, but is surely not all there is to it, so just becauce people might lose we ought not to discount this as a reasonably attainable goal.)  So, softie that I am, despite the evident professionalism (which seems to me to be a curious thing to object to...), commercialism (which is probably instrumentally necessary these days to some extent at least), and nationalistic posturing, I think these sorts of sporting events are overall a good thing.  That's why I find something admirable in the focus and drive of these people.  It doesn't matter that I don't share their priorities; I'm pretty sure they don't share mine.  Yet I am prepared to think that their choice is neither crazy and nor overly damaging to others' choices.  I hope they would think the same about mine.

And I am genuinely excited about London 2012...  Provided we don't cock it up, of course.  Not sure what I'll go and watch, though.  Rowing, perhaps...

Sunday, August 10, 2008

2 films

1. We went to see Wall-E today and we all loved it. For my money, it's not so good as soon as the two robots end up back on the ship full of fatty humans, but it's still a lot of fun. Good for Pixar. And they even give you a little short cartoon to start with like in the olden days you'd get a short film before the main feature.

2. I'm reading Watchmen for the first time and loving it. I know it's probably a bit geeky and the superhero thing is not usually my cup of tea, - even if very few of these guys are heroic or super, for that matter, but the story is good and fits perfectly with the medium. It is evidently the source of all the good stuff in this genre in the last 20 years and shows Heroes, for example, to be the mere derivative frothy soap opera it surely is. And, what's very exciting, the film (due next year) looks like it is going to capture the feel and look of the book very nicely.

Monday, August 04, 2008

Deep summer

Sorry not to have posted for a bit (though, come to think of it, I wonder if anyone really minds). I will get back to Aristotle NE 10.4 and Plato Philebus soon, at least when I have something constructive worked out to say. But for now I thought it might be interesting (for me, at least) to catalogue what I'm up to at the moment.

Big job #1 is putting together the Cambridge Companion to Epicureanism. At the moment I'm putting together the big bibliography at the end and being surprised by how tricky it is to get the formatting right and how common it is to get two contributors citing the same thing but assigning different years of publication or some such. It's boring stuff but the end is in sight. Then I have to go back through the chapters and make sure the 'Bloggs (2001a)'s are right and the 'Bloggs (2001b)'s are right. And then it's on to getting the references to papyri all sorted... I think it will be a good volume when it's done.

Big job #2 is examining a PhD. I end up writing long reports - perhaps too long - but I find that the best way to make sure I'm thinking properly about what I'm reading.

Then, not yet underway, big job #3 is writing new lectures for next academic year. The major set that's new next year will be 4 lectures on Plato's Crito. I read this as a starting Greek text in my first year as an undergraduate and it's good to look back at it. I'm also going to try to introduce some more general philosophical questions about disobedience, the extent to which people are obliged to obey the law, and what the obligations are if a citizen objects to a law.

Smaller jobs include #4 finishing a paper on Cicero's first Tusculan disputation and #5 polishing my paper on Plutarch's Non posse after I gave it in Oxford. The first of these is, I hope, going to appear in a collection of interesting things on the philosophy of death. Not sure what will happen to the second, but while I still have some thoughts about it I had better get them incorporated.

A-level results are out soon so I will start to think about organising college teaching next year, and I in any case had better get going with arranging teaching for my returning students. Then there are always graduate students around and interesting books to read and thoughts buzzing about other things. These are not so much jobs, though, so I had better list them differently:

Indulgence #6 is a developing paper on Sextus M 10 and an argument about why god cannot be wise and yet not feel pain (and therefore be perishable). This is tricky and has got me reading round other arguments over the necessity of first-person experience for certain kinds of knowledge, particularly what it is like to experience pain. The indulgence #7 is my very early-days thoughts about NE 10.4 and the Philebus.

Now I think about it, putting this list together is a useful way of working out what to do first... And then again, there is always failblog to waste my time for me. This is my recent favourite (click for a clearer image):