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John Haugeland, 1945-2010
June 23, 2010 10:29 AM   Subscribe

American philosopher John Haugeland has died. In dramatic fashion, he suffered a massive heart attack in the middle of a conference dedicated to his work on the occasion of his retirement. He made enormous contributions to the philosophy of mind and introduced many undergraduates to the very idea of artificial intelligence.

Haugeland was also one of the most important scholars on the early work of Martin Heidegger, and made the ramifications of his work apparent at a time when most English-speaking philosophers were dismissing him as a charlatan and a Nazi.* Haugeland was early in arguing against various purely computational theories of the mind, favoring those that incorporated the whole of the body and treated thinkers as organisms in their environment. His Mind Design, an anthology of essays by major thinkers on the subject, set the agenda for much of cognitive science and philosophy of mind in the last two decades. Those interested in these themes and Haugeland’s take on them might want to read his “Mind Embodied and Embedded.”



* - Link skips to the third page of an article on Hannah Arendt.

Full disclosure: Haugeland was my undergraduate thesis advisor, so I’m biased as all hell on the importance of his work.
posted by el_lupino (42 comments total) 11 users marked this as a favorite

 
How exactly does one retire from philosophy? Do they post a notice saying "Everything I say from this point onward is of no consequence. I just want to sit on my couch and watch TV?" What?
posted by jonmc at 10:34 AM on June 23, 2010 [6 favorites]


How exactly does one retire from philosophy? Do they post a notice saying "Everything I say from this point onward is of no consequence. I just want to sit on my couch and watch TV?" What?

I can't remember who it was now, damn, but I was listening to a radio program on Danto and they had a 'retired' philosopher on the show. They asked him some convoluted question about aesthetics and continental v. analytic something or other, and the philosopher starts answering the question in the standard academic way and then he's like, "I'm retired. I don't give a shit. All of that is bullshit anyway."

So, I think that's how one retires from philosophy.
posted by Lutoslawski at 10:38 AM on June 23, 2010 [20 favorites]


How exactly does one retire from philosophy?

Voluntarily not collecting a paycheck for it after having done so for a long time is generally sufficient.
posted by el_lupino at 10:40 AM on June 23, 2010 [4 favorites]


Be careful when watching TV, as you might start thinking about the philosophy of The Simpsons, Lost, and Lord of the Rings (well, if the LotR movies are televised).
posted by filthy light thief at 10:40 AM on June 23, 2010


Oh, and

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posted by el_lupino at 10:42 AM on June 23, 2010


How exactly does one retire from philosophy? Do they post a notice saying "Everything I say from this point onward is of no consequence. I just want to sit on my couch and watch TV?" What?
“What do you do?”
“I’m a philosopher.”
“What are some of your sayings, then?”
Apocryphal, retold here e.g. Point being the work of academic philosophers looks like the work of academics generally -- reading and writing papers, presenting at conferences, teaching classes. To retire means to stop doing those things.

If philosophers just pondered and made deep pronouncements (as has sometimes been true in the history of philosophy), perhaps "retiring" would be harder to pin down.
posted by grobstein at 10:42 AM on June 23, 2010


oh, yeah and

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posted by Lutoslawski at 10:45 AM on June 23, 2010


Did this just happen? Are you at this conference, el_lupino? There doesn't seem to be any news about it that I can find. (Haugeland advised one of my professor's dissertations, and I just started reading his work this year.)
posted by felix grundy at 10:49 AM on June 23, 2010


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posted by joe lisboa at 10:53 AM on June 23, 2010


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posted by a small part of the world at 10:56 AM on June 23, 2010


The conference was last month in Chicago, and news of his death came out in the last day or two. Word has leaked out and will probably start showing up on places like Leiter's blog.
posted by el_lupino at 10:56 AM on June 23, 2010


Oh no. Awful. Haugeland was a great writer. I still recommend his Intentionality All-Stars article to people as a fun intro to philosophy of mind.

.
posted by painquale at 10:58 AM on June 23, 2010 [1 favorite]


augghh possessives

Is there a reason that this is news that's leaked rather than simply known? Why the delay?
posted by felix grundy at 11:02 AM on June 23, 2010


The Intentionality All-Stars [doc file]
posted by painquale at 11:03 AM on June 23, 2010 [4 favorites]


grobstein: “If philosophers just pondered and made deep pronouncements (as has sometimes been true in the history of philosophy), perhaps "retiring" would be harder to pin down.”

You mean if "being a philosopher" meant "philosophizing." Which... well, I would've thought that it does. I'm at the point where I feel as though the only way of salvaging any meaning for the term "philosophy" whatsoever is to stop referring to philosophy professors as "philosophers," and especially to stop using the god-awful term "professional philosopher." Ugh.

jonmc: “How exactly does one retire from philosophy?”

I think we've got our answer. Haugeland was a deep thinker and a wonderful writer, and I've enjoyed many of his pieces, though I don't always agree with him.

And at the very least, I think we can now say this about him: when John Haugeland retired from philosophy, he retired from philosophy.
posted by koeselitz at 11:29 AM on June 23, 2010 [2 favorites]


koeselitz

I think "philosopher," used to describe a contemporary person, now usually means "academic philosopher." I actually like this development, because it excuses me from acknowledging popular writers who ponder on "deep" subjects as "philosophers" -- an honor rarely deserved.

But I can see why you don't like it.
posted by grobstein at 11:34 AM on June 23, 2010


How exactly does one retire from philosophy?

Assuming this isn't a joke (and if it is, it's hard to tell, since people have a lot of misconceptions about philosophers) ... A philosopher pretty much means a philosophy professor who also publishes books or articles on philosophy. You retire from being a philosopher the same way you retire from being any other kind of professor or author.
posted by Jaltcoh at 11:41 AM on June 23, 2010


Full disclosure: Haugeland was my undergraduate thesis advisor, so I’m biased as all hell on the importance of his work.

Then doesn't this post violate the guidelines? I've seen the mods refer to FPPs as delete-worthy when there was a far looser connection between the OP and the subject.
posted by Jaltcoh at 11:43 AM on June 23, 2010


Then doesn't this post violate the guidelines?

It pretty much does but we had a little conference about it and figured that the OP was the best person to write this obit and people seemed interested and didnt' heavily flag it and if we deleted it, it would be unlikely to be ressurected.

So we're okay making an exception with a general stern look in el_lupino's direction to make sure to not do anything approximating friendslinking again. If people think we shouldn't do this, opening a MeTa thread is certainly appropriate.
posted by jessamyn at 11:47 AM on June 23, 2010


Then doesn't this post violate the guidelines? I've seen the mods refer to FPPs as delete-worthy when there was a far looser connection between the OP and the subject.

For an obit post and thread, your analogy breaks down. Take it to MeTa and/or flag it.
posted by joe lisboa at 11:47 AM on June 23, 2010


On preview: what the actual mod said.
posted by joe lisboa at 11:49 AM on June 23, 2010


For an obit post and thread, your analogy breaks down. Take it to MeTa and/or flag it.

Well, I'm fine with jessamyn's explanation (OP was the best person to write it), but I don't see how my "analogy breaks down" just because it's an obit.

I did flag it. I didn't think it was worth a MeTa. I wrote a comment instead. Jessamyn answered it.

In addition to the self-linkage, it also seems to be original reporting with no link to anything on the web about how he died or even that he died.
posted by Jaltcoh at 11:52 AM on June 23, 2010


How exactly does one retire from philosophy?

Drink the hemlock.
posted by Meatbomb at 11:58 AM on June 23, 2010 [5 favorites]


I actually didn't realize that linking to works by past professors you've had is considered a taboo.
posted by painquale at 12:00 PM on June 23, 2010 [3 favorites]


grobstein: “I think "philosopher," used to describe a contemporary person, now usually means "academic philosopher." I actually like this development, because it excuses me from acknowledging popular writers who ponder on "deep" subjects as "philosophers" -- an honor rarely deserved. But I can see why you don't like it.”

I understand what you mean, and I see what you're getting at. But this course of action only really makes sense if you think "philosopher" is just a customary honorific on a par with "sir" or "gentleman;" that is, the debasement of the term can only be a good thing if the main thing you objected to was the honoring of mediocre writers. Whether or not people get honor isn't central to it, in my mind; if we felt that philosophy ought to be a meaningful term, we wouldn't accept its use as a mundane professional indicator, and would instead object when we heard it as such.

Moreover: you might have had a long experience with mediocre writers who are termed "philosophers." I haven't really seen that much, though I don't doubt it's a problem in some quarters. My own long experience has been that academic philosophy professors are often the least thoughtful, least rigorous, least philosophical people one can find anywhere. So I tend to point up the distinction between them and their subject.

Of course, maybe this just means we need a different word, or maybe we simply need to reorient ourselves toward the subject. Heidegger seems a propos; maybe I should just be moving on to "thoughtfulness" and "thinking" rather than philosophy.

Anyhow, once again, Haugeland was a fine exception to the rule; a very intelligent and thoughtful writer. He will be missed.
posted by koeselitz at 12:02 PM on June 23, 2010


I actually didn't realize that linking to works by past professors you've had is considered a taboo.

Making a post about someone who was your academic advisor pretty much violates the friendslinking rule. This is not quite the same as linking to a work by a past professor. I suggest people who want to talk about this, please take it to MetaTalk.
posted by jessamyn at 12:10 PM on June 23, 2010


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posted by Xany at 12:23 PM on June 23, 2010


Leiter's on it.
posted by painquale at 12:43 PM on June 23, 2010


"Old philosophers never die, they just retire to their own premises."

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posted by Sparx at 1:12 PM on June 23, 2010


Wow, thanks for posting this. Haugeland was influential in my own career, and dying at your own laudatory conference is a hell of a way to go.
posted by LobsterMitten at 1:57 PM on June 23, 2010 [1 favorite]


And in academic philosophy, if you teach in a department that has grad students, retirement often just means that you stop collecting the salary you had as a prof, and your department can do a search to replace you. You'll continue to have a pension income (in most cases, I believe - maybe this varies more than I know), you can in many cases continue to take on new grad students and teach classes and keep an office on campus if you want to and the department agrees, and you can certainly continue to write and publish and give talks. Just one example, an influential emeritus philosopher I know is publishing a lot more now that he's retired - like, he's publishing more than one paper a year since retirement, which is a crazy fast rate for publishing in good journals.
posted by LobsterMitten at 2:10 PM on June 23, 2010 [2 favorites]


Thanks very much for posting this. I don't think you are very biased on the importance of his work...it WAS important.

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posted by jeanmari at 2:29 PM on June 23, 2010 [1 favorite]


Was the conference for a Festscrift? (Or a Gedenkschrift, I guess.)
posted by painquale at 5:07 PM on June 23, 2010


I took three courses from J. Haugeland at U Chicago in the late 1990s (and 2000). Great guy, great thinker, and also a great teacher; I'm often reminded that not all great thinkers are great teachers.

I distinctly recall Mr. Haugeland's discussions during class and his use of the word "to." He frequently stressed the word -- saying things like "Well, minds, in order *TUHH* be a part of cognition, must x, y, and z." It was a weird affectation, but I think it was a symptom of part of his interest in philosophy, both in his work on the philosophy of mind and in Heidegger. Haugeland was deeply interested in the aboutness of thought -- that cognition is special because thinking always has a referent, the thing about which you're thinking. And this relationship is one of "to," a kind of pointing/tying.

Big .
posted by zpousman at 7:37 PM on June 23, 2010 [2 favorites]


.

Not just his "Mind Embodied and Mind Embedded" but also "Pattern and Being" (and indeed all the essays in Having Thought that I've read) are really good. Very unfortunate.
posted by kenko at 8:04 PM on June 23, 2010


That conference looks great, too. I wonder if the proceedings will be published.
posted by kenko at 8:06 PM on June 23, 2010


Thanks for posting this, I probably wouldn't have otherwise known. He was a deeply important scholar in the field of cognitive science.
posted by SecretAgentSockpuppet at 8:26 PM on June 23, 2010


As for koeselitz's thought about the term 'philosopher' being a mundane professional indicator, I guess I just see the term as being ambiguous between two senses. The first sense is a mundane statement of fact, this is a person who gets paid to do philosophy or to teach philosophy or who writes on certain sorts of questions. The other sense is a judgment about the person's quality as a thinker too (ie, it suggests they're a worthwhile person to listen to, a good philosopher or an interesting philosopher even when wrong, they consider certain sorts of questions but they do so with extra skill or thoughtfulness etc). This is ok, we have plenty of ambiguous terms in English and it doesn't cause undue confusion.

Plus, the first sense is rare, really only used by academics or people who've studied some philosophy in school, so it's almost like a technical term -- like how doctors might use some profession-names differently than ordinary people use them but it's clear in context what they mean so there isn't confusion.

There is a good reason not to restrict the use of the term to the second sense (the approving sense), I think. What do we say about the many people in the ancient world who did what we think of broadly as philosophy, they were looking at questions of metaphysics or epistemology or ethics, but who were sort of crappy at it? Or the many contemporaries of Hegel, say, who addressed philosophical questions and corresponded with him and whatnot, but whose work we aren't interested in today? It seems to me that we should say they were philosophers, but they were just not very good philosophers. If we only accept the approving sense of the term, we would have to say they were not philosophers at all, and that seems to get it wrong.

So if you want to slag present-day academics who do philosophy, just say they are bad philosophers, their philosophical writings are not philosophically interesting, their courses and talks and whatnot are not thoughtful, etc.
posted by LobsterMitten at 8:37 PM on June 23, 2010


I don't think koeselitz is just saying that academics do bad philosophy though. I think that he's saying that according to what he considers philosophy, most academics don't do philosophy at all. Academics aren't bad philosophers, they're false philosophers, and although a bad X is still an X, a false X is not an X at all. So Hegel's little-known contemporaries might have been bad at what they did, but they were grappling at philosophical issues, whereas guys today are doing something else entirely. That's my reading of koeselitz: his slagging of present-day academics is way harsher than you're presenting! If you accept those premises about the state of professional philosophy, then yeah, it looks like we should coin a new word so that we can talk about the people thinking about real philosophical issues without pulling in all the pretenders to the throne.

I don't accept any of those premises, of course. I wouldn't be an aspiring professional philosopher if I did. I think koeselitz is dead wrong on the small-mindedness of professional philosophy, and on what counts as philosophy at all. But the debate he's presenting is a debate over issues of fact, I think, not a semantic debate over ambiguity in the word 'philosopher' or whether it only denotes those who are good at their jobs.
posted by painquale at 9:56 PM on June 23, 2010


"How exactly does one retire from philosophy?"

When someone asks the meaning of life, you say:

"Life is like a pomegranate".
posted by Twang at 9:57 PM on June 23, 2010


painquale: “But the debate he's presenting is a debate over issues of fact, I think, not a semantic debate over ambiguity in the word 'philosopher' or whether it only denotes those who are good at their jobs.”

What he's doing, actually, is bringing his petty quarrels – which mostly relate to his own inability to find any place in an academic world named after the field he most cares about – into a thread where they really don't belong. And I think that if LobsterMitten was being gentle in response, it was because LobsterMitten knows damned well that I'm a cranky fool about this.

Sorry, everybody. Haugeland didn't deserve me dropping trollish debates inside comments like that. In any case, philosophy has lost a great thinker, and that's the sad and important point here.
posted by koeselitz at 10:06 PM on June 23, 2010


Well, I think some slagging is probably richly deserved; I'm very sympathetic to the idea that a lot of people in philosophy today do stuff that isn't all that philosophically great and that people who are excellent teachers (in the best tradition of philosophical teaching) get pushed out of the field by the way hiring/promotions are handled. I'm just quibbling about the term 'philosopher'. It's a discussion I've had with a few people around here over the years, and no, I don't think you're a fool at all.
posted by LobsterMitten at 11:46 PM on June 23, 2010


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