Tag: Writing

A piece of thesis

By and large, whenever we hear that someone believes that an event came about due to a conspiracy we think that they are somewhat naively believing in a Conspiracy Theory and that they have made some ‘wrong move’ epistemically. We do, I think, treat the term ‘Conspiracy Theory’ in a pejorative sense. The Inference to Conspiracy, whereby we explain events with reference to a Conspiracy, underlies the intuition that Conspiracy Theories, per se, are bad. It is because we take the Inference to Conspiracy to be (usually) unwarranted that we treat the term Conspiracy Theory as a pejorative.The Inference to Conspiracy is a version of the Inference to Any Old Explanation, the so-called ‘Just So’ Fallacy. However, for a proper understanding of how and why the Inference to Conspiracy should be treated, prima facie, as a fallacy we should admit to two senses of the term ‘Conspiracy Theory.’The first is what I call the ‘General.’ The term `Conspiracy Theory’ is sometimes used in connection with any event with an associated Conspiracy. We can tell two different Conspiracy Theory stories about the assassination of JFK. One is the Official View which is that it was a conspiracy on the part of the KGB and Lee Harvey Oswald whilst the other is the Unofficial View, that the American Government and the CIA conspired to kill President Kennedy. Thus some Conspiracy Theories are warranted, and we recognise this fact by admitting to there being explanations of events in History that rest upon the fact that cabals conspired and that many of the theories about such conspiracies, such as those surrounding the Trotksy Trials of the 1930s, turned out to be good.In this version the pejorative form of ‘Conspiracy Theory’ is any explanation that makes reference to a Conspiracy that is not taken to be the best inference. If Lee Harvey Oswald and agents of the KGB conspired to kill President Kennedy, then surely this is an example of a conspiracy. However, this is not contentious; this is an accepted part of the historical record. It is the Official View; the view formed by the Warren Commission who investigated the assassination. The Unofficial View, the Conspiracy Theory in the pejorative sense, is that the American Government was somehow responsible for the death of JFK.Official and Unofficial are not the most helpful of terms here. The Official View here means literally that; it is the view held by the officials, the supposed experts or authorities invested by the Government of the United States of America, to investigate the assassination of President Kennedy. This Official View also happens to be the explanation accepted by most of the researchers and historians of the period. Sometimes, however, the Official View will not accord with the work of historians and researchers and the Official View may not be the consensus view at all. This leads me on to my second sense of the term ‘Conspiracy Theory,’ the Unofficial.Sometimes the term `Conspiracy Theory’ is only used in connection with an explanation that runs counter to the Official View [Needs a rewrite; really we should be talking about consensus views rather than in the terminology of the Official. This might just be because we need to have chapters 1 and 2 finished before this section can be truly tight]. The Official View is the explanation of the event that we take to be the best; it is the Inference to the Best Explanation. Sometimes we do not refer to such Official Views as Conspiracy Theories; the attacks of 9/11 were of a conspiratorial kind but the purported explanation which implicates Al Qaeda in the attack is not labeled a Conspiracy Theory. In this sense we reserve the label ‘Conspiracy Theory’ for the claim that the attacks were perpetrated by the American Government. This explanation, unwarrantedly referring as it does to conspiratorial activity is labeled a Conspiracy Theory as it goes against the Official View, which is to say that it flies against the best inference and is an example of an Inference to Any Old Explanation.Take the Trotsky Trials. In the 1930s the Russian State places Trotsky and his associates on trial for treason. Whilst the defendants protest their innocence the trials render guilty verdicts and they are sentenced to death. Some people are suspicious; the trials may well have been orchestrated show trials, rendering guilty verdicts because that is what Joseph Stalin wanted, but the Kremlin denies this and claims proper judicial procedure was adhered to. American and Britain agree but the Dewey Commission, who investigate the trials, comes to another verdict; the trials were for show after all and Trotsky and his comrades could never have had any other verdict than guilty. At this time, 1938, the proponents of the Dewey Commission are labelled ‘Conspiracy Theorists’ and yet, in 1952, they were vindicated. The trials had been for show, the Official View was a cover-up and what was taken to be a Conspiracy Theory was actually the explanation after all.

Kaikoura: The Dolphin Conspiracy #5

After several days of writing and rewriting I have a version of the paper that I’m not so worried about people reading.

Link removed; check here for the final version

Kaikoura: The Dolphin Conspiracy #4

Well, I have now completed the first draft of the Kaikoura Paper and my, it’s an interesting read. One that I shall be denying you at this stage because I prefer my first drafts to remain mysterious. Partly because of the insulting footnotes but mostly because you would be put off by the obvious and regrettable mistakes in reasoning that the first half of the paper is filled with.My first draft approach to academic writing is one of never going back. If I spot a mistake in my reasoning then I will lay down a quick footnote and then move on, making sure that the mistake will not occur again in the piece. It usually means that my conclusion is good but that the reasons for coming to it can look just a wee bit mysterious in the first draft; a good reason to not let people ever read it.

The rationale behind this method of writing seems fairly obvious to me. If I were to go back and rewrite sections that contained obvious mistakes it would take an age to get the first draft done. Whilst it might well produce a better first draft it also would produce a certain amount of despair in this writer. There is something about rushing towards the completion of a paper that makes the process, for me, of writing fun. Having to go back and rewrite parts of the paper drags this sensation out and is, at least for me, a primary motivator to not do any substantial work. Far better to complete the piece and do the fixing up in the editing session that will produce the second draft.

I am fairly harsh on myself when I discover I am making mistakes in a paper; my footnotes are condemning, condescending and generally insulting. I’m not going to print those, but here are two examples, with commentary, of things that annoyed me during the writing of the paper:

6. Damn stupid language with no proper future tense… I mean, really.

In my discussion of Conspiracies I wanted to speciate Conspiracies Then, Conspiracies Now and Conspiracies… Well, ‘Future’ just sounds silly, ‘Tomorrow’ sounds too immediate, et cetera. In Latin it would be much easier; in Ancient Greek even easier, but in English… This is a stupid language I am philosophising in (one day I may well get around to writing up something about how it is much easier to philosophise on certain topics in particular languages).

8. Surely a crime if ever I have heard one.

This refers to the discovery of the Ridolfi Plot, where Charles Baille was discovered carrying comprising letters in Dover. The term ‘carrying comprising letters in Dover’ actually sounds like a crime in itself, and I’m now annoyed that the Ridolfi Plot has been replaced by the Babington Plot in the latter half of the paper (I know more details about the Babington Plot, it seems).

Oh well, time to go and redraft.

Reading all over the land

So, with Christmas coming up I have begun to collect for myself a whole series of exciting books to tide me over the festive period. My current non-holiday reading is a set of Epistemology primers, which, whilst most educational (ask me about the difference between de re and de dicto beliefs; I can explain it with a joke about your Mother!), isn’t exactly the most thrilling material. (more…)

The Abstract

Once a PhD proposal has been accepted by a Department it then will need to go through the administrative processes of the University to be confirmed. Essentially, the proposal goes to Senate and is voted on. By and large the Senate will accept the proposal because it has Departmental approval; in theory the members of the Graduate Committee in any given Department are the real experts on what is worthy and what is not and thus the Senate’s approval is just a rubber stamp. Still, there is one thing the Senate looks for, and that’s a good abstract. (more…)

The Meeting

The period between submitting the literature review and the meeting that wouldd decide my academic fate was a long and stress-inducing two weeks. When the meeting was finally arranged it transpired that it would be with the Head of Department, the Graduate Advisor and my two supervisors. A crowded little office tête-à-tête with me being the meat in the academic sandwiche. (more…)