Life: April 2008 Archives

I wrote before that my proposal for a chapter on mutants and the nature of race was accepted to The X-Men and Philosophy volume and that I'd submitted three other proposals for two other volumes. I haven't heard anything one way or the other about my submission about The Hobbit, but I found out today that one of the two proposals I wrote for Harry Potter and Philosophy was accepted. They liked what I submitted about the limits of authorial intent, but they had a number of good submissions on that topic, and they decided they'd rather go with my proposal on destiny in Rowling's series, so they accepted that one. You can see the blog version of my initial thoughts on the matter here.

Before I even started graduate school, I hoped to be able to write popular-level philosophical discussions about questions that I thought needed serious philosophical reflection that science fiction and fantasy often raise, and I guess now I get to write about two topics I care a lot about in two fictional worlds that I've spent a lot of time in. These will be my first publications besides a book review (although it was a book review that made several substantive points, some of which I thought were genuine contributions to how to think about the issues). That means I need to work hard to submit some parts of my dissertation to journals pretty quickly to avoid giving the impression that I'm a lightweight when it comes to publication. Still, I'm glad to have the chance to contribute to these volumes.

Little People

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We were out for a walk today, and Sophia and Ethan had gotten ahead of the rest of us. As they approached a road, we called them back. Ethan stopped, and Sophia kept going. So Ethan went over to Sophia, picked her up, and carried her back toward us. Sophia protested in a way that imitated Ethan's usual protesting (which in turn imitates what his teachers say to him when telling him a general rule about not saying no to teachers or some such thing. Here is the exchange that began with that. The first line itself would have been funny enough, but she doesn't stop there.

Sophia: It's not ok to bring little people back to their moms and dads.
Me: Are you a little person?
Sophia: Yeah.
Me: Is Ethan a little person?
Sophia: Yeah.
Me: Is Bear-Bear a little person?
Sophia: Yeah, and so is Isaiah.
Me: Is the baby a little person?
Sophia: Yes, they are.

So she assumes a fetus is a person (whereas some philosophers I know might wonder if Isaiah is a person on their account of personhood, or perhaps they'd think his personhood is just now beginning to emerge now that he's beginning to communicate better). But she also thinks her stuffed bear is a little person. (In both cases it means she's working from a conceptual framework that doesn't require consciousness or the capacity for pleasure or pain for personhood. I'm not sure if there's some condition her assumptions about personhood require, though. I think for the bear she might be speaking in the world of her imagination or something.)

Then she does a third interesting thing. She goes on to use a singular 'they' with the correct grammatically-plural but semantically-singular verb (as opposed to saying "they is", which occurs in some colloquial English dialects even for a real plural "they" but not ever in standard colloquial English, which still says "they are" for a singular referent when gender is unknown). What's funny is that she and Ethan are in full disagreement about whether the baby is a boy or a girl. She wants a sister, and so she must be getting one. Ethan is expecting another brother. [We'll be happy if Isaiah thinks more of the baby than he would a stuffed animal he can throw things at, since that's exactly what happened the last time he was near a newborn. He nailed it in the head with a pretty hard plastic toy. That boy can really aim, but he needs some more discernment of targets.]

Anyway, Sophia isn't going to go out of her way to avoid using male or female terms for this kid. It's just so natural for her that she used the singular 'they' (and got it right) without thinking that she has this view she's putting forward about a baby sister. She's learned the language better than a lot of cranky language prescriptivists who think this expression is some offensive innovation in recent years (even though it occurs in the King James Version of the Bible, not to mention Shakespeare and Jane Austen).

More Kid Stuff

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Sam has compiled another list of stuff the kids have been saying and doing.

Meanwhile, the ultrasound technician asked us today if we wanted to know what we're having. I resisted the temptation to say, "What, do you think it might be a lizard or something?"

I've been spending less time blogging in the last few days because I've been working on several things I've been sending off for publication. Actually, they're all for the same series of books looking at pop culture phenomena from a philosophical perspective. I received word on Saturday that my submission "Mutants and the Metaphysics of Race" was accepted for the forthcoming Blackwell volume The X-Men and Philosophy. I'm very happy about that, because it should be a lot of fun to write, and it reflects a lot of the things I'm writing about in my dissertation.

The due date for submissions to two other books in the series is tomorrow, and I've been putting together three submissions, two of them based on things I've written about on this blog before. I've reflected before about destiny in Harry Potter and the limits of authorial intent given some of J.K. Rowling's comments about her stories. The one that took a lot more new thinking was about providence and chance in The Hobbit, which was a lot harder to think through than the same questions would have been for The Lord of the Rings or The Silmarillion.

I thought about something on race in Harry Potter, but I already had these two posts that I could refashion into abstracts for chapters, and I do have a lot of grading to do and still some class prep for tomorrow, so I went with the quicker path. I think it might have beenm harder to come up with something as philosophically-oriented given that the metaphysical issues wouldn't have been as upfront as the difficulties I'm going to be pointing out with seeing mutants as a race. With ethical issues, there would be much less that's controversial that Harry Potter is suited for pointing out. (The examples Rowling gives are much more clearly wrong in an uncontroversial way than the kinds of racism that really aren't universally seen as bad.) It's probably for the best, because now if any of these get accepted it will be a publication, albeit a popular-level one, on a philosophical topic other than my dissertation, and that shows more well-roundedness.

It remains to be seen if any of these will be accepted, but having one accepted for a different volume certainly helped provide the energy necessary to write up what I'd been thinking about for a while. Now I need to get something published in an academic journal in case any of these get accepted, or potential departments I apply to might think I'm only capable of publishing philosophy for a popular audience.

March License Plates

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U.S. states: Alaska, Arizona, Arkansas, California, Colorado, Connecticut, Delaware, Florida, Georgia, Illinois, Indiana, Kansas, Kentucky, Louisiana, Maine, Maryland, Massachusetts, Michigan, Missouri, Nebraska, New Hampshire, New Jersey, New York, North Carolina, Ohio, Oklahoma, Pennsylvania, Rhode Island, South Carolina, South Dakota, Tennessee, Texas, Utah, Vermont, Virginia, Washington, Wisconsin, Wyoming

Other U.S.: District of Columbia, U.S. Government

Canada: Manitoba, Ontario, Quebec

U.S. states lost from February: Iowa, Minnesota, New Mexico, West Virginia

U.S. states gained (not in February): Alaska, Louisiana, Nebraska, Oklahoma, South Dakota, Wyoming

U.S. states seen yet at all: I'm down to just Hawaii and Mississippi. Alaska and Wyoming were on this list after February, but I did see them both during March.

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