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How academic excellence resembles a singing horse

Review of a socratic dialogue about excellence

What is excellence? How do we detect it? Can we strive for it? Should we strive for it? “The Singing Horse” (“Het Zingende Paard”) is the report of a socratic dialogue on the notion of excellence between Jeroen Geurts, professor of neuroscience and member of the Dutch Young Academy, and Harm van der Gaag, philosophical counselor. The notion of excellence holds the key to many doors in academia, but is not as self-evident as it is often made to seem…
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Philosophers who work outside of academia – part 4

A couple of weeks ago Helen de Cruz conducted in-depth interviews with philosophers who work outside of academia. She published the complete interview series at the New APPS: Art, Politics, Philosophy, Science group blog: part 123. The interview series has also been featured at the Atlantic. I have been posting selections from the interview she had with me (here, here, and here). Below I elaborate on some of the points and add some answers that did not make it into the original series for reasons of space.

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“slippery stuff like philosophy”

Met de start van het nieuwe academische jaar beginnen ook weer alle activiteiten die onderzoekstijd zo onder druk kunnen zetten: onderwijs, vergaderingen, financieringsaanvragen… Menig academicus heeft het voornemen, of in ieder geval de wens, om de productieve rust van de zomerperiode zo lang mogelijk vast te houden, vaak tegen beter weten in. De ervaring leert dat het heel moeilijk is om oog in oog met allerlei urgente vragen en verplichtingen in je inbox en je agenda tijd te maken voor minder urgente, maar misschien wel veel belangrijkere activiteiten zoals vrijelijk denken, lezen, en onderzoeken. Ter inspiratie bied ik je hierbij twee citaten aan uit de dystopische novelle van Ray Bradbury, Fahrenheit 451, genoemd naar de temperatuur waarop papier vlam vat.
 
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Value of the Dutch Approach of the PhD

Today, the Dutch government confirmed the current Dutch approach to the PhD, i.e. where PhD candidates are seen and rewarded as employees, not students. Dutch universities (VSNU) have been trying to create the option that PhD candidates get a student status, which would be much cheaper. They encounter much resistance, both from organizations of PhD candidates (who joined forces at e.g. promovendus.org) and from trade unions. The discussion has been going on for years now (e.g. article Trouw and DUB). I will not bore you with a summary of all arguments, but briefly indicate the main reasons that have been brought forward.

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Another perspective on two years since PhD thesis defense

My previous post focussed on feelings about your PhD thesis topic while you’re in the midst of writing as compared to when you’ve had the time to step back and widen your perspective of your specialist subject. I gave a personal example of what two years distance can mean for the relationship with your thesis topic. Now, I’d like to share with you the second part of my story since defending my PhD thesis. This part tells about the turn I took and the new road I began traveling, of which this blog and this website testify.

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Lessons from the past

In September 2010 I defended my thesis on Stoic philosophy and this summer the journal Mnemosyne published my summary announcement in their section Dissertationes Batavae. Needless to say I’m quite proud, but also it feels very strange to encounter work from the past again in this way: it partly seems to come from a different world. Two years ago, I could not imagine being where I am now. Finishing my thesis was a struggle. How I would have loved to know some of the things I know now!

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On courage

Aristotle famously stated what boils down to “virtue lies in the middle”. The classic explanation of this claim is that courage is not just the opposite of cowardice, but that it is equally opposed to hubris, conceited, reckless overconfidence. As such, courage holds the middle ground between cowardice and hubris. After Aristotle, for over 2000 years now, philosophers have elaborated on the nature of true virtue and the way to attain a virtue such as courage. And indeed, there is much more to say about courage than that it is “to overcome one’s fear”. Many have provided analyses, recipes, good advice and intricate scientific classifications.

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