Two important deadlines are beginning to loom large as the year progresses: (1) finishing the work for my honours degree, and (2) applying for grad school. I'm mainly writing this down just to get my thoughts/plans all straightened out. But any feedback or advice would be a welcome bonus.
On the first point, I have three pieces of assessment:
(A) 2500 word essay on aesthetics (compulsory honours seminar). We've only just started, but I might look at the question of objectivity, ideal convergence, etc., as that could tie in with some of my meta-ethical interests [cf. (b) below]. Otherwise, something on the philosophy of fiction could be fun. [Due early October.]
(B) 5000 word essay on effectively any topic [due end of Oct.]. I quite like the idea of further exploring the sort of meta-ontological deflationist picture I outlined here. Or else perhaps some political theory -- especially deliberative democracy or Benkler's work on "peer production" [cf. (d) below]. I might also sit in on some philosophy of mind lectures, and see if anything there captures my attention.
(C) 10-15k word sub-thesis. [Due mid October.] This is on the link between apriority and necessity. I've been slowly narrowing down exactly what it'll cover, and am just getting starting on actually writing it now. The first chapter will be mere exposition, outlining Kripke's arguments for the necessary a posteriori, and the Chalmers-Jackson response from 2-D semantics. (The sort of stuff I discussed here.) The second chapter might look at the challenge from nomological necessitarianism (which attempts to collapse metaphysical possibility down to the nomological space), with reference to Bird's and Shoemaker's arguments. From what I've skimmed of them so far, they look fairly Kripkean, and so should be vulnerable to a similar 2-D response. For something a bit more original, I might also address the world-essentialist claim that our world couldn't have had different laws. Could be fun. Finally, in the third chapter I'll discuss the objection from "strong necessities" or primitive modality, and see whether my reconciliation strategy pans out.
Should be a busy couple of months! October will be dreadful. What's worse, that's when I'll have to sit the GRE too! (The next one is in February, but if the results aren't available till March, I'm guessing that's too late for the American grad schools?)
As for grad school, I'm told I should have a fairly safe spot here at ANU (though of course nothing's certain), so should probably only bother applying to those American schools which I'd prefer to here. I think NYU and Princeton would have to be the top two, based mostly on their reputations (plus the pretty pictures from here, ha), but I don't have very settled (or well-informed) views on the matter. After those two, I'd pick Rutgers, Michigan, and perhaps MIT. I guess ANU fits in soon after. (Should Harvard and Stanford sneak in ahead? Pittsburgh? Columbia? I really know very little about these places...)
I'd ideally like somewhere that's strong in both ethics and metaphysics, with bonus points for political philosophy and cognitive science. (Some deficits might be covered by a nearby complementary department, as per Harvard and MIT?) I don't yet have any definite idea of what I want to write my thesis on, or even what broad subfield, though here are a few possible topics that capture my imagination at present:
a) Metaphilosophy: conceptual analysis, the reliability of intuitions, how substantive a priori knowledge is possible.
b) Metaphysics: "realism"/correspondence vs. idealized Peircean "constructivism" about truth. (This is a nice one since it also touches on apriority and metaethics.)
c) Ethics: Perhaps "welfarism" would make a nice umbrella topic here, letting me pursue both issues about welfare/harm (which I've blogged about quite a lot recently), as well as interesting questions about whether there are other fundamental values besides welfare.
d) Political philosophy: "free culture" vs. intellectual property rights, commons-based peer production (wikis, etc.), and the implications for democratic participation. Such fun topics, so they must be philosophical, right? A little out of the mainstream, maybe...
e) CogSci: (i) "neuroethics" is a nice mix of fields. Brings up interesting issues about moral responsibility and such. Alternatively: (ii) AI is always fun to think about. (iii) Can cognitive science shed any light on a priori reasoning?
f) Metaphysics /philosophy of science: the idea of "levels of explanation" (say, between the micro and macro realms, physics vs. social science, neuroscience vs. psychology, etc.) is an interesting one which I'd like to know more about. Also, questions of whether, say, chairs or the atoms that comprise them are more "fundamentally" real. Dennett's 'Real Patterns', etc.
g) Epistemology: understanding and explanation. They seem like important philosophical goals, but I'm in want of an explanation that'd help me better understand exactly what they amount to. (This is more just an area of curiosity, I guess, I can't really see myself writing a dissertation on it.)
The first three are perhaps the most serious contenders at present, though it's all very speculative at this stage.
ANU vs. America:
The biggest difference is between ANU and all the rest. American grad schools have an extra 2 years of coursework, which I think is a big advantage given my broad interests, current indecision, and unconscionable ignorance of both philosophy of science and history of philosophy. The extra teaching opportunities would be a plus, and exposure to a different philosophical climate might be an eye-opener (shifting to ANU from Canterbury certainly has been!). Overall, I'd guess that graduate education from a top U.S. school would probably help me become a more well-rounded philosopher. I also hear that their degrees are generally favoured on the job market.
On the other hand, the sheer level of philosophical activity here, and the general atmosphere for grad students, is reputed to be pretty hard to beat. Especially if I want to write about conceptual analysis, this would seem the ideal place, with Chalmers and Jackson both here. Another student recommended taking a year off midway through the degree to teach (adjunct?) in a U.S. department, which might ameliorate some of the disadvantages mentioned earlier.
So it could be pretty good to stay here. But I expect the very top American schools would be even better. The main question is: which ones? How many should I apply to? Feel free to add your 2c below, or email me if you prefer. (I'm especially interested in info that's not reflected in the PGR rankings, such as teaching quality, general "atmosphere" and openness of the department and grad student community, etc.) Though of course I'll be sprinkling the comments with plenty of salt prior to consumption... ;-)