Gadamer’s God-awful account of science

I’ve just finished my chapter for the book of the Reading Between The Lines conferenceGadamer Truth MethodMy chapter included a critique of Gadamer’s account of science, in his book Truth and Method and elsewhere.

I argue that Gadamer makes deeply misleading claims about what science involves, and does not reference any practising natural or social scientist; as far as I can tell, Gadamer’s most recent reference to an actual scientist was from someone writing 98 years before the publication of Truth and Method. Oh, and Gadamer misquotes this scientist and treats him as far more naive than he was.

But many commentators simply repeat Gadamer’s caricatures or pass over them in silence. This might actually be more troubling than Gadamer’s naughty scholarship.

My question is: can anyone point me to a good critique of Gadamer’s account of science? So far, I’ve only found five people who criticise any aspect of his account of science:

  • pp. 226 and 236 of Dieter Misgeld’s article in the journal Philosophy of Social Science, from 1979;
  • pp. 168-9 of Richard Bernstein’s Beyond Objectivism and Relativism (1983);
  • the opening chapter of Joel Weinsheimer’s Gadamer’s Hermeneutics (1985) – this is the most powerful critique but still leaves Gadamer largely unscathed;
  • p. 4 of Georgia Warnke’s Gadamer: Hermeneutics, Tradition and Reason (1987); and
  • p. 158 of Robert D’Amico’s book Contemporary Continental Philosophy (1999).

If you can point me to any other references – preferably in English! – I’d be most grateful. Thanks!

The impact of impact

There are still a few places available for tonight’s event on ‘The Impact of Impact’, run by the King’s Interdisciplinary Social Science Doctoral Training Centre (KISS-DTC), Monday 16 June 5.30 to 7.00 pm at King’s College London, Strand Campus, room K2.31:


  • Dame Janet Finch, Chair of the Social Sciences panel in the Research Excellence Framework
  • Aileen Murphie, National Audit Office Director DCLG & Local Government Value for Money
  • Anthony Tomei, former director of Nuffield Foundation
  • Dr Duncan Green, Senior Strategic Advisor, Oxfam GB & author of From Poverty to Power
  • Moderator: Mark Easton, Home Editor, BBC News

For a number of years, social scientists have been subject to increasing scrutiny of the contribution of their research to the economy and society in general. Impact outside academia and the ‘usefulness’ of research have gained additional salience in the current context of budgetary constraints and austerity. In this context, selling one’s ideas to practitioners has become a requirement for many social scientists. Academics are expected to frame their work to match the expectations of consumers outside of the university sector (private companies, foundations, etc.).

But what are the implications for the development of knowledge in general? Does the focus on the impact of social science distort research? Or are these changes an opportunity for social science to contribute more directly to society and stimulate social engagement?

Our illustrious panel represents academic, practitioner and funder perspectives and will debate how the shift in social science research funding influences – consciously or unconsciously, positively or negatively – the content and nature of academic knowledge, and thus shapes the field.


The curse of quotation marks on the BBC website

Headlines on the BBC website are littered with annoying and often unnecessary quotation marks. They are used inconsistently and sometimes misleadingly.

Here are some of the funniest examples:

  1. BBC ‘to launch’ personalised iPlayerquotation marks
  2. Many Britons ‘fear mortgage arrears’
  3. Webber ‘proud’ of achievements in Formula 1
  4. Sochi 2014: British curlers ‘capable’ of medals

Here are six different ways in which the BBC website misuses quotation marks.  Read the full post »

‘History Research': scam/vanity publishing?

This morning I got an email from someone at David Publishing who wrote:

We have learnt your paper “Actions Speak Louder Than Words: Quentin Skinner’s Real Method in the Association for Political Theory 11th Annual Conference.

I’m glad they “learnt” my paper, not least because I never gave it – the paper was too tricky and I gave a different one instead.

But what raised my eyebrows was this:

If the paper is accepted by our journal,you need to pay some fees for publishing. $50/page and if the paper is over 15 page or with high quality we will give you a discount about 30%-50%.

This journal, History Research, published 36 articles last year. If we assume 10 pages an article at the quoted figure of $50 a page, that’s an income of $18,000 for this one journal alone. Given the poor quality of English in the email they sent me, I’m guessing they don’t spend much money on proofing.

A quick Google search reveals lots of academics worrying about this publisher: see here (Scholarly Open Access’s watch list) and here (Brian Leiter’s philosophy blog).

History ResearchOne of these worries – that it’s all a scam – is clearly outdated: David Publishing are now explicit, up-front, that authors must pay to publish. So, this isn’t a scam. Indeed, a quick Google search shows that most of the people publishing in recent issues of this particular journal have posts in established academic institutions.

My worry is that many academics, especially young ones, are easily enticed by such emails from publishers; see here for several academics who took David Publishing’s emails seriously. And I remember being very flattered when I was told that my first ever conference paper had been accepted for the conference proceedings. The conference proceedings were fairly prestigious in the sub-field, but in retrospect I should have thought seriously about declining, and submitting the paper elsewhere. I certainly doubt that History Research would carry any serious weight at any serious academic institution. Indeed, having such a journal on your CV could count against you, not in your favour.

So, my very obvious advice to readers of this blog – especially MA and PhD students, and early career researchers – is to be very careful about such emails, and to chat with more senior colleagues about where to publish your work.

10 tips for chairs of seminar/conference papers

A chair tip

A chair tip

1. Don’t read out the speaker’s past history from a printout of their webpage: look as if you know something about them. And for multi-paper panels, all you may need is ‘next up is Jo Public from Edinburgh’.

2. Don’t read out the speaker’s original title, which may have changed since submission. Check the title in advance, or just introduce the speaker not the title. You may also want to check how to pronounce the speaker’s name/university.

3. If possible, tell speakers well in advance how long they have. The organiser may already have done this, of course.

4. If possible, warn speakers well in advance that you will be controlling time carefully. Graduate students and junior faculty may worry about saying this to senior faculty; but if a speaker overruns in a multi-paper panel, it’s discourteous and unfair to other speakers, and if a speaker overruns when she is the only speaker, it’s discourteous and unfair to the audience.

5. Keep speakers to time. Don’t congratulate them on the timing: it’s their job to finish on time, not something which merits praise. If you comment on the timing of the papers, it makes the session about you not them.

6. Before the session starts, tell speakers at what times you will warn them at (e.g. 5 minutes, 2 minutes, time up). Think too about how to warn speakers about timing; it’s not always physically easy (e.g. when someone uses a lectern). A hastily scribbled piece of paper can be hard for speakers to see: if you can, pre-print sheets or use a board-marker pen.

7. Keep questions and answers short, especially when several questions remain near the end of a session. Be firm, be fair. If you’ve asked for short questions and someone starts a four-parter, it’s your job to politely interrupt them. Don’t feel embarrassed: it is they who are being insensitive, not you.  

8. Try not to ask your own questions unless needs be. (Needs sometimes be.)

9. Never collate questions: it’s spectacularly pointless. Be flexible about question order: if someone has already asked a question, she’s less important than someone who hasn’t.

10. Don’t overrun. Don’t overrun. Don’t overrun. Not everyone will want the session to keep going: some people will be bored, others will want a pee, a cigarette or some coffee. When time is up, time is up. In exceptional circumstances, break briefly to let some people escape before you continue.


The underlying principles are as follows:

(a) Speakers are more important than the chair.

(b) The audience is more important than the speakers.

(c) Timing matters.

(d) Think ahead.

(e) Be firm.

(f) Be fair.

Robert Dahl (1915-2014)

Robert Dahl has passed away, aged 98.


Here are five things that stand out for me in Dahl’s work.

  1. We don’t have democracy, we have polyarchy (see Polyarchy, 1971).
  2. The parts of the US constitution which are the least democratic are the parts which are the hardest to change (see How Democratic is the American Constitution?, 2002 pp. 154-5).
  3. ‘In a rough sense, the essence of all competitive politics is bribery of the electorate by politicians’ (A Preface to Democratic Theory, 1956 p. 68).
  4. ‘My commitment has been to democracy, to liberty, and to a kind of equality …. [E]conomic institutions for me … are seen as quite instrumental; it’s like choosing a Ford or a Toyota, where I have about that much emotional investment in one or the other, whereas I have a deep emotional investment in the nature of the political system and the sort of freedoms that exist in it’ (in Ian Shapiro and Grant Reeher, eds., Power, Inequality, and Democratic Politics, 1988 pp. 158-9).
  5. Dahl’s definition of power was more or less right. Steven Lukes’s vastly overrated critique confuses Dahl’s concept of power and how Dahl studied power. There’s no reason to reject the former just because of the significant problems with the latter.

And here are four points about how Dahl studied democracy:

  1. ‘I have always tried to formulate what I’m doing … in the form of a question. Most of my books open with a question in the first paragraph. … This technique so focuses the mind on what’s to follow that I’m astounded when other people don’t use it’ (in Gerardo Munck and Richard Snyder, eds., Passion, Craft, and Method in Comparative Politics, 2007 p. 136).
  2. It helps to combine ‘the normative and empirical aspects of democracy … in a single theoretical perspective’ (Democracy and its Critics p. 6).
  3. Dahl’s case for democracy, in Democracy and its Critics, is both negative and positive – negative, because despite democracy’s flaws the alternatives are worse, and positive, because it involves a commitment to moral equality. This is better than the Churchill defence, which is too negative.
  4. Revealingly, Dahl called the book Democracy and its Critics, and tries to make his critics’ case as strong as he can, rather than attacking caricatures or weak versions. Compare Benjamin Barber, who prefers to go for the straw jugular.

In an interview published in 2007, Dahl said:

the writers who had the most impact on my thinking were people with whom I disagreed, but who were more than worthy political opponents. They were giants, and because they were giants they set down a challenge I could struggle with my entire life [e.g. Plato, Marx, Schumpeter]. … I think of it as an imaginary dialogue. The most productive dialogues are not adversarial in the sense of trying to win points, like in a tennis game. I think of it as dialectical in the Platonic and Hegelian sense. I start here, my adversary is over there. I move over a little bit, then they move to a new position, and so forth. Conversations like that are rare. When you have one, you come out of it feeling great (in Gerardo Munck and Richard Snyder, eds., Passion, Craft, and Method in Comparative Politics, 2007 pp. 116-9).

I believe that most of the key developments in democratic theory in the last 30 years have come from philosophers, not political theorists. But political theorists like Robert Dahl, Jane Mansbridge and David Beetham are exceptions.

Journal of Universal Rejection

This spoof journal made me laugh – hard.

Make sure you scroll down to the hilarious table of contents.


Nadia Urbinati and Bryan Garsten ‘Liberalism and Democracy’ conference at QMUL, Jan 10


I’m looking forward to tomorrow’s conference on recent work by Nadia Urbinati (Columbia) and Bryan Garsten (Yale) at Queen Mary, University of London.

Nadia Urbinati

Nadia Urbinati

Bryan Garsten

Bryan Garsten

The conference focuses on Nadia Urbinati’s forthcoming book Democracy Disfigured: Opinion, Truth, and the People (Harvard University Press, 2014), and Bryan Garsten’s ongoing work on liberal religion and modern liberty.

The speakers are John Dunn (Cambridge), Mónica Brito Vieira (York), Gareth Stedman Jones (QMUL), and Georgios Varouxakis (QMUL), with responses from Nadia Urbinati and Bryan Garsten at the end.

The programme is here. You can book a place here.

Is replication just for scientists? Part 2: interpreting texts

Part 1 argued that replicability, an important facet of scientific research, is also found in philosophical thought experiments. Indeed, philosophical thought experiments are easier to replicate than most natural or social science research.

Here, in Part 2, I apply this idea to interpreting texts, whether in the history of political thought, in philosophy, or anywhere else.

Reading book

My key claim is that when we make an empirical claim about a text – for example, what an author meant by a word or phrase – we should provide our evidence, so that other interpreters can replicate our reading to see if they agree or not. In other words, we should give precise references (e.g. page numbers) so that other people can find the passage, read it for themselves, and see if they share our interpretation.

Aside from replicability, there are two more self-interested reasons to give precise references . First, it forces us to try to be careful. I can think of several occasions where I find that I have misread or misremembered an argument when I look for the page number. Second, it shows our readers that we have tried to be careful. I’m more likely to trust an interpretater if I think that the author has been careful with her evidence, although there are exceptions in both directions, of course.

Unfortunately, sometimes we cannot give precise references, because we have not read the source we are citing, or not read it closely enough, or not read it recently. We don’t always give precise references in informal contexts (e.g. on blogs!) but where possible we should do so in published academic writings. One reason we don’t is the  bad academic convention of giving precise references for direct quotations but not necessarily when only citing ideas without quoting them. I believe we should give precise references in both situations.

To change the convention, journal editors and publishers should make us give precise references where we can. I remember one journal editor of a leading political theory journal who considered forcing people to give page numbers in order to get away from slapdash references to “Rawls 1971″ and the like. I note with great pleasure that the American Political Science Review now requires authors to give ‘precise page references to any published material cited’. My only caveat to that is where page numbers are not helpful: for example, there are so many different editions of Rousseau’s Social Contract that chapter numbers are probably more helpful there.

But the basic principle stands: ideally, other people should be able to replicate what we have done to see if they agree with our claims. This principle is as important in textual interpretation as it is in the natural sciences.

My review of the new edition of Hobbes’s Leviathan (post updated)

Malcolm Leviathan edition Here is my review of Noel Malcolm’s stunning three-volume critical edition of the English and Latin versions of Hobbes’s Leviathan.

This superb edition was based on 25 years of erudite scholarship and careful detective-work by Malcolm. But the edition is not user-friendly. I believe that the publishers should also produce a one-volume version of the English Leviathan only, with a new introduction more geared to non-experts. I’m calling this a ‘critical student edition’, because it would in effect combine Malcolm’s critical edition with Richard Tuck’s ‘student edition’.

My review is published in the fall 2013 issue (volume 2:2) of the Journal of Early Modern Studies, a fine new journal edited at the University of Bucharest.

Other reviews of Malcolm’s edition have been written by Elliott Karstadt and by David Runciman. And for an audio interview with Malcolm, see here on my blog.

Hobbes on reason, deliberation and the passions

Oxford University Press has now uploaded an online-first version of my forthcoming chapter in The Oxford Handbook of Hobbes, ed. A.P. Martinich and Kinch Hoekstra, which will hopefully be in print in 2014. Here is the link. Email me if you have problems accessing the full chapter.

My chapter covers the relationship between reason, deliberation and the passions in the work of Thomas Hobbes. I reject the common view that Hobbes depicts reason as the slave of the passions, as implied by scholars such as Stephen Darwall, Susan James, Michael Oakeshott, and Paul Rahe. The relevant passages seem to have been read out of context, and the claim does not fit Hobbes’s account more generally. 

I also reject the view that reason governs the passions, as suggested by Bernard Gert and Quentin Skinner. Again, the textual evidence for this position seems to have been overstated.

Hobbes eyes

The key conflict, rather, is between our real good and apparent goods, i.e. between our passion for self-preservation and passions such as vainglory and ambition. Hobbes is not entirely clear, though, about which of these will dominate when they clash. (That’s the part of the chapter I’m least happy with. I laid out the possible conclusions and suggested that the evidence was ambiguous. I hope that in the future, I or others can find a better answer; but perhaps Hobbes simply was not clear, in his head and/or with his pen, about what he thought here.)

I also reject the view that Hobbes thought reason could operate during deliberation, as suggested by scholars such as Michael Losonsky, Christopher Tilmouth, and to some extent, John Rawls and David Van Mill. There is almost no textual evidence for this claim, I suggest, and again it does not make sense in Hobbes’s system.

But reason can operate before deliberation, as suggested by Stephen Darwall, David Gauthier, and Jean Hampton. Reason thus informs deliberation by altering imagination and opinions, e.g. making fear of violent death more likely to be the final appetite in deliberation.

Rather than reason being the slave of the passions in Hobbes, I suggest, it is the counselor of the passions, in Hobbes’s work. The analogy is not perfect but it fits Hobbes’s account better than the slave metaphor.

Dolley Madison in 1848

Here are two pictures of Dolley Madison, wife of James Madison and an influential figure in the White House during the presidencies of Madison and his predecessor, Thomas Jefferson.

These daguerrotypes were taken in 1848, when Dolley was 80; she died the following year.

DMadison (1848)I find it amazing to think that these are pictures of someone who lived through the American Revolution and was there at the founding. I failed to infuse my students with my excitement about this. Maybe it’s just not that exciting? Or maybe it’s because I was teaching this course at 9.00 on a Monday morning.

Evading responsibility while looking responsible: another fine mess

Saying “I take responsibility” can help people evade responsibility, as I suggested in an earlier post: something goes wrong, but the person in charge only says “I’m responsible”, without saying what went wrong or what she will do to make things better. I used the example of Jose Mourinho – slightly unfairly, as it turned out, but the basic principle is still right.

And I also suggested that journalists often get taken in by this: they may report that someone has taken responsibility without noticing that actually there has been an evasion of responsibility.

Responsibility: somewhere over there

Responsibility: somewhere over there

Two days ago, there was an interesting example of both things – evasion of responsibility, and journalists falling for this. David Moyes, the Manchester United manager, said in an interview that he takes “complete responsibility” for Manchester United’s poor recent results in football.

The BBC duly reported this in a story called ‘Man Utd: I’ll take full responsibility, says David Moyes’. But there is nothing in the interview that added any substance to the claim of responsibility. Quite the reverse: when asked to explain what needed to be done better, his answer was “a bit of everything”: “play better”, “pass it better”, “create more chances”, “defend better”. Wow! Stunning insights.

The BBC story actually has zero content: there is no news, nothing of any substance. I call this kind of story ‘Mouth opens and words come out’.

Interestingly, the newspaper The Scotsman reports another comment of Moyes’s which suggests that far from taking responsibility, he is actually blaming the players. Their story starts unpromisingly: Moyes “has admitted” he takes responsibility (no, it’s an evasion not an admission), and “to the Scot’s credit, he is refusing to hide behind excuses” (no, he is refusing to say what went wrong or what he will do to improve things). But the newspaper then adds that when Moyes was asked if the squad is “good enough”, he replies instead that it is “big enough”. It sounds from the context as if he knew what he was saying – and the paper rightly implies that he is being evasive here.

If so, this latter comment suggests that Moyes doesn’t think the squad is good enough, and that this lack of quality is at least partly responsible for Manchester United’s current problems.

This is partly a long-term problem, as Sam Wallace argues. Yet Moyes is partly responsible for the lack of quality too, given that he contributed to United’s failure to buy top players over the summer, as Phil McNulty suggests.

But of course, a football manager cannot usually say in public that his squad isn’t good enough or that he made a hash of transfer targets. As a result, we end up with football managers saying nothing, and journalists – alas – reporting this as a genuine piece of responsibility.

Powerpoint Tips #2: press F5 – for God’s sake, press F5!

The worst way to start a talk is to waste five or so seconds trying to work out how to load the Powerpoint presentation, i.e. how to start the slideshow in fullscreen mode. “Where’s the mouse? Where’s the little icon to click? It’s not where it is on my computer. Can someone help?”


The answer is: press the F5 key, and the Powerpoint presentation loads automatically. (If you’re on a PC. If you’re on a Mac, either press Control + Shift + S, or buy a PC. Or, sell your Mac, buy two PCs, and learn how overpriced Macs are at the same time.)

So, press F5. For God’s sake, press F5!




Association for Political Theory Conference, 2013

Just arrived in Nashville, Tennessee, for the Association for Political Theory conference at Vanderbilt University.

I was meant to be giving a paper called ‘Actions Speak Louder Than Words: Quentin Skinner’s Real Method’, which explains that the methods Skinner actually uses are richer and more diverse than the ones he outlines in his methodological writings.

But that paper ran into difficulties and I realised I couldn’t do it in time, so I will save it for another day.

Instead I am giving a paper called ‘Extended Meaning and Understanding in the History of Ideas’, which seeks to explain the idea of meaning and understanding that drives much of our work in politics and philosophy departments, to sit alongside Skinner’s work on the idea of meaning and understanding that drives much work in history departments.

Where Leo Strauss grew up

Back in July, I went to a conference on ‘Reading Between The Lines: Leo Strauss and the History of Early Modern Philosophy’, in Marburg, Germany. After the conference finished, some of us took a trip to Kirchhain, the little town where Leo Strauss was born and grew up. Many thanks to Thomas Meyer (Munich), who organised the trip to Kirchhain and is writing a biography of Strauss that sounds like it’s going to be a must-read.

I’ve previously posted a picture of Strauss aged 12, and I’ll post a couple more pictures at some point, but here are some pictures of Strauss-related buildings in Kirchhain:

The house where Strauss was born

The house where Strauss was born

The house where Strauss grew up

The house where Strauss grew up

The school where Strauss went

The school where Strauss went

The synagogue where Strauss and his family went

The synagogue where Strauss and his family went

Some of the buildings that the Strauss family owned (for businesses including furniture-making, I think)

Some of the buildings that the Strauss family owned (for businesses including furniture-making, I think)

























How to present a BBC documentary

If you want to present a BBC documentary, you need to (1) use excessive, random hand movements, or (2) emphasise your R’s in a rrrreally irrritating way.

Here are some examples.


(1) Excessive, random hand movements

— Michael Mosley, The Genius of Invention — 

Watch the first 45 seconds of this clip to see how Michael puts his excessive hand movements in nearly all of the wrong places. By contrast, the excessive hand movements of his co-presenters, Cassie Newland and Mark Miodownik, are in the right places. No future for them as TV presenters, I’m afraid.

— Simon Sebag Montefiore, Rome: A History of The Eternal City — 

Watch 41.18 to 41.25 of this clip, where Simon gesticulates excessively at nearly every word in the sentence, before putting his exhausted hand in his pocket for the only word in the sentence that actually needed any emphasis.

At 53.40 of the same clip, Simon is holding a book, which appears to overload his brain, causing hand-mouth coordination to go totally haywire. Again, Simon’s hand is too tired to gesticulate by the end of the sentence.

The hand-waving approach to TV documentaries is brilliant parodied by David Mitchell here.


(2) Emphasising your R’s in a rrrreally irrrritating way

— Evan Davies, Dragon’s Den — 

In the last few series of Dragons’ Den, Evan has changed ‘dragons’ to ‘dRRRagons’. I can’t find a clip of the actual programme online, but you can hear him say ‘dRRRagons’ on this clip, at 12 seconds, and even more irrrritatingly at 23 seconds. But revealingly, he forgets to do it at 26 seconds – and I’m pretty sure that is how he used to say the word, in the good old days.

Sorry if I’ve now spoiled the programme for you!

— Jim Al-Khalili, Shock and Awe: The Story of Electricity — 

At 3.35 of this clip, hear Jim Al-Khalili say that Michael Faraday “was surrounded by the gRRReat and the good, and he was about to listen to one of the gRRReatest scientific minds of the age” (3.35).

(I have a sudden urge to eat a bowl of Frosties.)

— Howard Goodall —

The king of R-rolling is Howard Goodall, who really doesn’t need to do it: unlike most TV presenters he has a sufficiently dynamic voice that he doesn’t need such gimmicks. He barely does it in his most recent series, The Story of Music, but you can hear it from time to time in his earlier series, as at 20.47 and 20.52 of this clip. Twice in five seconds … surely a touch rrrridiculous?


Please add more examples in the Comments, below. I’m particularly interested to know if there are any TV presenters who do both of these things at the same time.

I don’t want to sound churlish: TV presenters need to do a bit of this kind of thing. Watch Michael Ashcroft presenting Heroes of the Skies and you will see a nice impression of a block of wood.

And it’s not just TV presenters who need to do a bit of this. I pepped up my lecturing style after I saw a video of myself lecturing several years ago – standing still behind a lectern, looking and sounding boring.

Politicians, too. I’m pretty sure I remember Iain Duncan Smith being given body-language training about a year into his leadership of the Conservative party, in a failed attempt to make him seem more charismatic; but he wasn’t very good at it, and I remember one interview where he droned on while his hands did a bizarre tango. He’s got the hang of it now: excessive hand movements, but in the right places (e.g. at 30 seconds onwards of this interview).

When saying “I’m responsible” is an evasion of responsibility

We often complain that not many people take responsibility any more, but  sometimes saying that you take responsibility may actually allow you to evade responsibility.

One example came after Chelsea football club’s surprising 2-1 home defeat to Basel in the men’s Champions’ League tournament last night. After the match, Chelsea manager Jose Mourinho said:

When we lose I don’t speak about the players or individuals, I speak about my responsibility. I am responsible.

It’s costless for Mourinho to say this. He knows that whether or not he says things like this, he’ll get sacked if the results aren’t good enough, even if it’s his players’ fault. Think about petulant teenage-impressionist Gerard Houllier, blaming his players before he got sacked as France coach and after he got sacked as Liverpool coach. It made no difference and he would have been better off going out graciously.

Moreover, by saying what he said, Mourinho can avoid saying why Chelsea lost and thus who, if anyone, was responsible. Was it his team selection? The quality of players available? The formation? The referee? Did particular players mess up? Bad luck? His comment that “I am responsible” amounts to saying “I am sackable but I’m not going to say who was culpable”.

I am responsible, ergo I evade responsibility.

Mourinho is of course quite right to say what he did: from his comments on the video at this link, it sounds as if he did think that one or more players didn’t play well, but that he is trying to shield them in public. Fine – that is his job and, usually, the right thing to do.

My complaint, in fact, is as much about the BBC’s reporting of this story as Mourinho’s comments. The BBC’s actual headline is “Jose Mourinho takes blame for Chelsea defeat to Basel”. A more accurate headline would have been “Jose Mourinho avoids saying who was to blame for Chelsea defeat to Basel”.

Or how about this one: “Journalist falls for Jose Mourinho’s comment that he was responsible for Chelsea defeat to Basel”. Not as punchy, but more accurate.


UPDATE (21 September 2013): in response to my criticisms, clearly, Mourinho has clarified his position, noting that his players are taking time to adapt to his style, and criticising Juan Mata for not showing enough adaptability.

So, my basic points still stand: we can evade responsibility by pretending to take responsibility, and we shouldn’t always take statements about responsibility at face value. But I was too harsh about Mourinho: he has actually been laudably clear about the situation, in suggesting that Chelsea’s form is in part a natural response to a change of style, and that at least one player isn’t changing fast enough.

Teachers who inspired me as an undergraduate, part 4: Mark Goldie

This is my fourth and final post about teachers who inspired me as an undergraduate.

Mark Goldie taught me just once, for a supervision on Hobbes, but had a lasting impact – not because he inspired me to study Hobbes (my love for Hobbes came later) but because of how he taught me. If I remember rightly, the supervision itself lasted 90 minutes rather than an hour, and Goldie pushed me hard on my understanding of Hobbes. But what had most effect on me was his astonishingly detailed and constructively critical comments on my essay. He read the essay with great care, and then wrote pencil numbers in the margins and typed out a comment for each number.

Mark Goldie, with the first six volumes of his feedback to students

Mark Goldie, with the first six volumes of his feedback to students.

This was the only time in four years of my undergraduate education that anyone commented in detail both on the substance of my argument and also on how I wrote the essay itself. I clearly took Goldie’s comments seriously: my notes contain responses in four different pens, implying that I probably read through his comments four times.

You can see Goldie’s feedback below. Some comments are very blunt, and he has since told me that he wouldn’t have done this unless he thought I would respond appropriately. And of course, the comments were also explained in the one-on-one supervision process.











When I started teaching, I used Goldie’s approach for feedback. Alas, I have sometimes given blunter feedback, and have not been as sensitive as Goldie to how different students would respond. I’m still learning about teaching!

Goldie didn’t entirely stop my quirky, bizarre essays: that got kicked out of me in Oxford by Adam Swift, Mark Philp, Clive Payne and Anthony Heath (the last of whom told me to remove all adjectives from my writing!). But Goldie started me on the right track. My undergraduate teaching wasn’t nearly as good as what our students get at KCL – Cambridge basically taught me to teach myself, which is not a bad education I suppose – but Goldie was a shining exception to the norm. Thank you Mark Goldie!

You can read the other three posts in this series here (Stefan Collini), here (Stuart Corbridge) and here (Quentin Skinner).

Rejection letter for Machiavelli’s Discourses

Read a spoof rejection letter for Machiavelli’s Discourses at Paul Sagar’s supremely funny blog ‘Rejection Letters of the Philosophers’.

I’ve previously posted a link on my blog to Sagar’s spoof rejection letter for Hobbes’s Leviathan. Also very funny indeed is his spoof rejection letter for A.J. Ayer’s Oxford entrance application!


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