McCormick-Taber Seminar in Philosophy Redux

About twenty years ago, PoT blogger Michael Young and I started a philosophy discussion group that we somewhat pretentiously called The McCormick-Taber Seminar in Philosophy (MTSP), idiosyncratically named for the locations where the first seminars took place in the early 2000s: McCormick Park in Princeton, New Jersey, where I lived at the time, and Taber Avenue in Providence, Rhode Island, where Michael lived.* We self-consciously conceived the group as a successor to David Kelley’s so-called Institute for Objectivist Studies, in which the two of us were involved, or perhaps over-involved, during the 1990s.  

Our aim (I suppose) was to drop IOS’s focus on Objectivism, but strive (nostalgically) to recapture what we took to be IOS’s glory days in the early 1990s. I don’t know how accurate my memories are, but I seem to recall my early involvement with IOS as an intellectually thrilling affair. It didn’t stay that way, but the impulse to re-create “the way things were” lives on. Hence MTSP.

MTSP’s activities have waxed and waned since its early beginnings, sometimes taking place on-ground, sometimes online, and usually involving between two and six participants. Though much of what we did led only to talk, some of it led to real work: I road-tested much of my doctoral dissertation at MTSP, and both Carrie-Ann Biondi and Jason Raibley road-tested some of their published work there. So it wasn’t all talk. Granted, a lot of it was.

Humble beginnings

After starting MTSP up again in 2018, we let it fall into abeyance when the pandemic began, but have recently decided to start it up once again–with a slight twist. Right now, a small handful of us are about to meet on Zoom each Sunday night to discuss a philosophical work chosen by one of the “members. ” Our current reading is George Sher’s Desert (1987), which will likely occupy us for the next five or six weeks. But instead of confining our discussions entirely to the online sessions (necessarily limited in size), I thought we’d let the online conversation spill out onto the blog, opening it up to anyone interested in participating.**

To that end, I’ll be blogging summaries of Sher’s Desert, both as prologue to MTSP’s online discussion, and as an invitation to continue the discussion here at PoT. Obviously, you don’t have to be part of the Zoom discussion (or know anything about it) to contribute here. My hope is that the summaries provide enough of philosophical interest to whet the appetites of anyone reading (but not in the Zoom group), while also helping to focus the online discussion taking place tonight on Zoom. The Zoom group is itself likely to wax and wane in size and interest, so if you’re interested in joining at some point, feel free to contact me at khawajaenator at gmail.


*Turns out that the park’s official name is “Marquand Park.” “McCormick” is the name of the kiddie playground within Marquand Park. Seems appropriate, somehow.

**Previous works discussed include Michael Huemer’s The Problem of Political Authority, Jason Brennan’s Against Democracy, David Estlund’s Democratic Authority, and David Riesbeck’s Aristotle on Political Community.

PS. Feel free to publicize this post on Facebook. I can’t, since I’m once again in Facebook jail for violating Facebook Community Standards: I called an anti-vaxxer “ignorant” after she threatened to inundate the hospital I work at with protest emails if it imposed a vaccine requirement on its employees. I don’t really think I deserve this, but the Facebook Community seems relatively uninterested in moral desert.

14 thoughts on “McCormick-Taber Seminar in Philosophy Redux

  1. I’m glad to hear that I don’t have to know anything about the Zoom discussion to contribute. I operate more effectively when I’m not expected to know anything.

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      • One tension of my line of work is being user friendly while also answering strong objections to my institution’s basic educational philosophy. There is, let us say, a tension between responding to objections honestly and not alienating people. “I’m sympathetic to your point, though it is fundamentally misconceived” is not exactly a winning rhetorical move. Given my conflict aversion, I might be better off in Support. Then again, it was working in Support decades ago that first made me think teaching might be for me, so…

        Liked by 1 person

          • I just ordered take-out at a restaurant. The woman taking my order ended the call by saying, “Oh, and I just want to remind you that we’re a cash-only establishment!” I love that use of “remind,” involving an attribution of knowledge to me that I didn’t have, while reinforcing “it” in the most cheerful, friendly, and useful way. I’m not sure whether that is user-unfriendly and dishonest, or user-friendly but only slightly dishonest, or user-friendly but just-fine-on-the-honesty-front. But I’m hungry, so I don’t really care.

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            • I approve of her word choice. She’s trying to avoid insulting you by informing you of something you already know. She’s flattering you by assuming that you already have this knowledge. Given how often people get irritated at being told what they already know as though they didn’t know it, I’d say she’s got the right idea. But people like you are impossible to please. Hopefully the food is good, at least.

              Liked by 1 person

  2. Pingback: Sher on Desert: The Dimensions of the Problem | Policy of Truth

  3. Pingback: You Didn’t Build You: The Rawlsian Critique of Desert | Policy of Truth

  4. Pingback: Desert and Merit (Part 1 of 2) | Policy of Truth

  5. Pingback: HLA Hart’s “The Concept of Law” (1) | Policy of Truth

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