The American Philosophical Association has issued a statement that condemns bullying and harrassment. Who could disagree? But the following paragraph needs a little more work:
Abusive speech directed at philosophers is not limited to responses by the public to published op-eds. A look at some of the anonymous philosophy blogs also reveals a host of examples of abusive speech by philosophers directed against other philosophers. Disagreement is fine and is not the issue. But bullying and ad hominem harassment of philosophers by other philosophers undermines civil disagreement and discourse and has no place in our community. [. . .]
Two points. Why the restriction to anonymous philosophy blogs? There is a decidedly non-anonymous gossip site run by a philosophy adjunct that has featured numerous unprovoked attacks on fellow philosophers. Here is a prime example.
Now let's say you have been attacked out of the blue by this fellow, and you respond in kind with mockery and contumely, to give him a taste of his own medicine. Should it not be pointed out that the same types of actions can be justified as defense that cannot be justified as attack?
Civility is a good old conservative virtue. But it has limits. Civility is for the civil, not for those whose hypocritical calls for civility serve to mask their aggression.
Students at Lebanon Valley College (LVC) in Pennsylvania are demanding Lynch Memorial Hall on campus be renamed, due to the potential traces of racism associated with the word “lynch.”
[. . .]
Michael Schroeder, an associate professor of history, said about LVC, “We’re not an island but sometimes it feels like an island because it’s such a rural and bucolic setting. But we’re clearly caught up in the same currents that the rest of the country is.”
Schroeder added he supports the goals of the students making the demands.
“Students here tend to be relatively quiescent, but this year there’s a disproportionately large number of students of color and they’re feeling marginalized and silenced,” he said.
The stupidity of the students making this ridiculous demand, though deplorable, is perhaps excusable, but not the abdication of authority on the part of the history professor. The man is a despicable fool and probably a coward. You don't acquiesce in a demand like this, you point out the obvious. The name 'Lynch' is precisely a name and not a verb, and has nothing to do with lynching.
You point out that critical thinking, which is part of what should be taught in college, is not the association of ideas.
Does this fool think that Loretta Lynch, the present Attorney General of the U. S. should change her name? Does he think she is a 'traitor to her race' for bearing this name?
And then there is the utter incoherence of his final remark. If there is a disproportionately large number of "students of color," how is it that they "feel marginalized and silenced"?
As contemporary 'liberals' become ever more extreme, they increasingly assume what I will call the political burden of proof. The onus is now on them to defeat the presumption that they are so morally and intellectually obtuse as not to be worth talking to.
I know you've been following the insane protests that have been occurring at places like Missouri, Yale, and Ithaca. I had wondered how long it would take for them to reach Rochester. Sure enough, they made it here two Fridays ago, culminating in students handing the university president a list of DEMANDS (as you will see in the link I provide). I thought you might find this interesting.
I find the contrast between the mentality of the students and the mentality that I was raised with to be starkly different -- almost shockingly so. I tried to think of a time when I felt I was in the position to demand something from anyone, and I can't think of one time. Certainly never with a boss, professor, or university president. To demand something is to not be open to dialogue.
To my disgust, only a few days after the protests, the university president sent a massive email to the entire campus community, conceding to many of the demands of the protesters. As you say, there is no coward like a university administrator!
One other note, if you look at the petition, you notice that the students are demanding a "Bias Related Incidents" reporting network. We have a CARE network on campus, which any campus member can use to report anyother campus member who seems to be struggling with something. I don't hate the CARE system, although I see it as coddling, because it often does help students who have fallen into hard times and need help (drug related issues, family strife, etc.). But this "Bias Related Incidents" reporting network is downright Orwellian.
You'll also notice that the petition mentions "intolerable acts of racism" as a motivating reason for change, but they never mention one specific act of racism.
Anyway, I thought you might find a "live report" interesting. I hope this finds you well. Here's the link:
To understand the Left you must understand that central to their worldview is the hermeneutics of suspicion which is essentially a diluted amalgam of themes from Marx, Nietzsche, and Freud.
Thus nothing has the plain meaning that it has; every meaning must be deconstructed so as to lay bare its 'real meaning.'
Suppose I say, sincerely, "The most qualified person should get the job." To a leftist that means: "People of color are given extra unfair benefits because of their race."
Or suppose I describe a black malefactor as a thug. What I have actually said, according to the hermeneutics of suspicion, is that the malefactor is a nigger. But 'thug' does not mean 'nigger.' 'Thug' means thug. There are thugs of all races.
Leftists often call for 'conversations' about this or that. Thus Eric Holder famously called for a 'conversation' about race. But how can one have a conversation -- no sneer quotes -- about anything with people who refuse to take what one sincerely says at face value?
Every day brings further evidence that contemporary liberals have lost their minds.
A yoga class has been cancelled at the University of Ottawa on the ground that participants are complicit in 'oppression' and 'cultural genocide.' By the way, we are talking about hatha yoga here which is essentially just stretching.
So you might think that re-labelling the course 'Stretching' would solve the problem. But no!
This is a good place to observe that stretching is an essential ingredient in a balanced physical fitness program along with aerobic exercise (walking, hiking, running, biking, etc.), anaerobic work (weight-lifting), and activities that maintain good hand-eye coordination (tennis, pickleball, etc.) The Maverick recommends a four-pronged approach.
Why is Canada such a Pee Cee place? I should think that with all that rugged country up there, those vast empty expanses, and the ass-freezing temperatures a tougher breed of cat would live there and not a bunch of pc-whipped pussies.
Another 'interesting' development is the assault on free speech. According to Pew Research, 40% of millennials think it acceptable to limit speech offensive to minorities.
Trouble is, almost anything will be found offensive by the members of some minority or other. Some blacks have shown themselves to be absurdly sensitive to the slights they imagine embedded in such words and phrases as 'niggardly,' 'denigrate,' 'black hole,' and 'watermelon.'
Some take offense at 'chink in the armor.' But if 'chink in the armor' is about Asians, then the Asians in question would have to be rather tiny to hang out interstitially in, say, a coat of mail.
Why not take offense at 'chunk'? Someone might get it into his Pee Cee head that a chunk is a fat chink.
There is no end to this madness once it gets going, which is why we sane and decent people need to mock and deride liberals every chance we get. Mockery and derision can achieve what calm reasoning cannot.
One cannot reason with those who are permanently in a state of self-colonoscopy.
Welcome to the worst job market in America. Extracts:
As late as 1970, more than two-thirds of faculty positions at U.S. colleges and universities were tenure-line, but now the percentages are reversed, with 1 million out of the estimated 1.5 million Americans teaching college these days classified as “contingent” faculty, the overwhelming majority of them working part-time. Parents who have shelled out or borrowed the more than $60,000 per year that it can now cost to attend an elite private college may be shocked to learn that their young Jayden or Sophia isn’t actually being taught by the Nobel Prize-winners advertised on the faculty but by shabbily attired nomads with ancient clattering cars who are wondering how to get the phone bill paid. Some adjuncts have successfully unionized. In 2013 adjuncts at the University of Oregon won the right to a boost in base pay, regular raises, health insurance, and the ability to qualify for multiyear contracts. That still didn’t erase—and perhaps set in stone—their second-class faculty status, and they still would earn tens of thousands of dollars less than the greenest assistant professor.
Explanations for this two-tier phenomenon abound. Marc Bousquet, now an associate professor of film and media at Emory University, contended, in his 2008 book, How the University Works: Higher Education and the Low-Wage Nation, that the problem was the “corporatization” of the university. Bousquet argued that formerly high-minded academia figured out that it was actually a business. Like the rest of American businesses during the 1980s and 1990s, Bousquet argued, universities adopted outsourcing as their most profitable economic model, transforming their historic teaching mission into a form of low-wage, gig-economy service employment in which the majority of the instructors, like Uber drivers, are responsible for their own overhead.
An alternative and less class-warfare-driven theory came from Benjamin Ginsberg, a political science professor at Johns Hopkins University. In his 2011 book, The Fall of the Faculty: The Rise of the All-Administrative University and Why It Matters, Ginsberg targeted administrative bloat as the culprit for the massive shrinkage in tenure-line faculty from the 1970s onward, even as college tuition costs were rising exponentially. He pointed out, for example, that between 1998 and 2008, America’s colleges increased their spending on administration by 36 percent while boosting their spending on instruction by only 22 percent. In an adaptation of his book for the Washington Monthly Ginsberg wrote: “As a result, universities are now filled with armies of functionaries—vice presidents, associate vice presidents, assistant vice presidents, provosts, associate provosts, vice provosts, assistant provosts, deans, deanlets, and deanlings, all of whom command staffers and assistants—who, more and more, direct the operations of every school.”
[. . .]
In the end, though, the best course for Ph.D.s facing underemployment—as most do—is probably a version of William Pannapacker’s “Just Don’t Go”: Take the supply-and-demand problem into your own hands, and just say no to adjuncting and its Dickensian miseries. This past April Jason Brennan, a philosophy professor at Georgetown and a self-described libertarian, incurred the Internet wrath of the famously left-leaning adjunct-advocacy community by proclaiming that “it’s hard to feel sorry for [adjuncts].” There’s no reason for them “to wallow in adjunct poverty,” Brennan wrote, pointing out that they could “quit any time and get a perfectly good job at GEICO.”
In a phone interview, Brennan said, “So many people consistently make bad decisions. The system isn’t going to deliver more tenure-track jobs. A small number of people will, and the rest get kicked out for good. Most people won’t get what they want. There just isn’t that much money.”
"Roughly 150 Black Lives Matter protesters reportedly stormed a library at Dartmouth College in Hanover, New Hampshire, Thursday night to berate students studying there for their supposed racial privilege." Here.
The solution, of course, is to expel the BLM thugs. But that would be a 'racist' thing to do. So is it the leftist view that blacks are thuggish by nature and simply cannot be expected to behave in a civilized manner? So who are the real racists here?
TRIGGER WARNING! The above contains careful thought and big words and will upset and offend the 'safe space' crybullies, the BLM thugs, and the liberal- left scum who apologize for them.
Addendum (11/20): If the secular sphere has a 'sacred' space, that would be the university library, the repository of the best thoughts of humanity. The university is finished if such a space is allowed to be invaded and disrupted by thugs and savages.
There is no coward like a university administrator, to cop a line from Dennis Prager. But that is not to say that there have never been any who have demonstrated civil courage. But we have to go back a long way to the late 60s and early 70s.
With apologies to that unrepentant commie Peter Seeger who wrote it and to all who have sung it:
Where have all the Silbers gone, long time passing? Where have all the Silbers gone, long time ago Where have all the Silbers gone, gone into abdication every one When will they ever learn, when will they e-v-e-r learn?
I believe that I now have a clear mandate from this University community to see that: (1) our lines of communication between all segments of the community are kept as open as possible, with all legitimate means of communicating dissent assured, expanded, and protected; (2) civility and rationality are maintained; and (3) violation of another’s rights or obstruction of the life of the University are outlawed as illegitimate means of dissent in this kind of open society.
Now comes my duty of stating, clearly and unequivocally, what happens if. I’ll try to make it as simple as possible to avoid misunderstanding by anyone. Anyone or any group that substitutes force for rational persuasion, be it violent or non-violent, will be given fifteen minutes of meditation to cease and desist. They will be told that they are, by their actions, going counter to the overwhelming conviction of this community as to what is proper here.
If they do not within that time period cease and desist, they will be asked for their identity cards. Those who produce these will be suspended from this community as not understanding what this community is. Those who do not have or will not produce identity cards will be assumed not to be members of the community and will be charged with trespassing and disturbing the peace on private property and treated accordingly by the law.
After notification of suspension, or trespass in the case of non-community members, if there is not within five minutes a movement to cease and desist, students will be notified of expulsion from this community and the law will deal with them as non-students.
There seems to be a current myth that university members are not responsible to the law, and that somehow the law is the enemy, particularly those whom society has constituted to uphold and enforce the law. I would like to insist here that all of us are responsible to the duly constituted laws of this University community and to all of the laws of the land. There is no other guarantee of civilization versus the jungle or mob rule, here or elsewhere.
I'm sure you've heard a lot about the Mizzou [University of Missouri] protests so I'll spare you the details. But one particular debate caught my eye. Some of these student protesters claimed that the press has no right to photograph them because to do such is an intrusion on their privacy (obviously the press has a legal right to do such). Some people respond by saying that since Mizzou is a public space (it's a public university) you have no right to privacy in public spaces. But of course you still have some right to privacy in public areas (the right not to have your person searched without a warrant, the right to use a bathroom without people watching, etc.) So what are the moral grounds (as opposed to the legal grounds) for saying that the press should have unrestricted access to photograph things in plain view in public spaces?
Protests and demonstrations occur in public, and for good reason: the whole point is to make public one's concerns. So there is something deeply paradoxical about protesters who object to being photographed or televised. It is paradoxical to go public with one's protest and then object to reporters and other people who give you publicity. It is incoherent to suppose that a space in which one is noisily protesting and perhaps disrupting normal goings-on can be a 'safe space' into which the public at large cannot intrude, even at a distance, with cameras and such.
Paradox and incoherence aside, the protesters have no moral right not to be photographed given that they have occupied and disturbed the peace of public spaces. Does the press have the unrestricted moral right to photograph things in plain view in public spaces? No, not an unrestricted right. But surely they have the right to photograph what is in plain view in a public place if the ones photographed are protesting or demonstrating whether peacefully or violently.
Suppose a couple are enjoying a tête-à-tête under a tree in the quad. Does a roving photog have the moral right to snap a photo? I say No. He has a moral obligation not to do such a thing without permission. So I would say that is not just a question of good manners, but a question of morality.
It began in the universities in the '60s. And now it is in full 'flower.' I recall Dennis Prager putting it this way: "There is no coward like a university administrator." Now hear David French:
Fortunately for the radicals, our universities are populated by the craven and the cowardly. Push a professor, even slightly, and it’s likely he’ll fold. Demand faculty support for your protest, and dozens will rush to join, self-righteously advancing their own false oppression narratives even as they enjoy lives billions of others would covet. There is nothing brave about these people. They are not “elite.” They don’t deserve a single dime of taxpayer money or one cent of student tuition. They dishonor their schools and their country.
Closeted campus conservatives are worse than useless. Indeed, their very timidity contributes to the narrative that there is something shameful about their beliefs. To read anonymous letters from professors who are afraid to “out” themselves in a hostile campus culture is to read the sad dispatches of people too pitiful for their profession. Do something else, anything else, than merely sit and watch while the revolutionaries shred the Constitution, reject our culture, and assert their own will to power.
The true shame is that it doesn’t even require actual courage to defeat the university Left, just a tiny bit of will — a small measure of staying power. No one is shooting at trustees. No one is beheading professors. There’s no guillotine in the quad. Instead, campus “leaders” tremble before hashtags and weep at the notion of losing a football team so inept that it couldn’t score a touchdown through most of the month of October. Let them strike. With an offense that inept, the SEC won’t even notice.
These are the times that try men’s souls? No. These are the times of men without chests. The Left has the will to power. University leaders have no will at all. They have earned nothing but contempt.
Arthur C. Brooks deplores the lack of ideological diversity and the prevalence of 'groupthink' in academia in an October 30th NYT editorial entitled "Academia's Rejection of Diversity." He is of course right to do so. But this is nothing new as any conservative will tell you. And we don't need studies to know about it, which is not to say that studies are not of some slight use in persuading doubters.
What I would take issue with, though, is Brooks' apparently unqualified belief that "being around people [ideologically] unlike ourselves makes us [intellectually] better people . . . ." I have added, charitably I should think, a couple of qualifiers in brackets.
Interaction with ideological opponents can be fruitful, and sometimes is. That goes without saying.
But I think it is very easy to overestimate the value of interactions with people with fundamentally different views. It is a mistake to think that more and more 'conversations' will lead to amicable agreements and mutual understanding. This mistake is based on the false assumption that there is still common ground on which to hold these 'conversations.'
I say we need fewer 'conversations' and more voluntary separation. In many situations we need the political equivalent of divorce. In marriage as in politics the bitter tensions born of irreconcilable differences are relieved by divorce, not by attempts to reconcile the irreconcilable. Let's consider some examples. In each of these cases it is difficult to see what common ground the parties to the dispute occupy.
1. Suppose you hold the utterly abhorrent view that it is a justifiable use of state power to force a florist or a caterer to violate his conscience by providing services at, say, a same-sex 'marriage' ceremony.
2. Or you hold the appalling and ridiculous view that demanding photo ID at polling places disenfranchises those would-be voters who lack such ID.
3. Or you refuse to admit a distinction between legal and illegal immigration.
4. Or you maintain the absurd thesis that global warming is the greatest threat to humanity at the present time. (Obama)
6. Or, showing utter contempt for facts, you insist that Michael Brown of Ferguson, Missouri was an 'unarmed black teenager' shot down like a dog in cold blood without justification of any sort by the racist cop, Darren Wilson.
7. Or you compare Ferguson and Baltimore as if they are relevantly similar. (Hillary Clinton)
8. Or you mendaciously elide distinctions crucial in the gun debate such as that between semi-auto and full-auto. (Dianne Feinstein)
9. Or you systematically deploy double standards. President Obama, for example, refuses to use 'Islamic' in connection with the Islamic State or 'Muslim' in connection with Muslim terrorists. But he has no problem with pinning the deeds of crusaders and inquisitors on Christians.
10. Or you mendaciously engage in self-serving anachronism, for example, comparing current Muslim atrocities with Christian ones long in the past.
11. Or you routinely slander your opponents with such epithets as 'racist,' 'sexist,' etc.
12. Or you make up words whose sole purpose is to serve as semantic bludgeons and cast doubt on the sanity of your opponents. You know full well that a phobia is an irrational fear, but you insist on labeling those who oppose homosexual practices as 'phobic' when you know that their opposition is in most cases rationally grounded and not based in fear, let alone irrational fear.
13. Or you bandy the neologism 'Islamophobia' as a semantic bludgeon when it is plain that fear of radical Islam is entirely rational. In general, you engage in linguistic mischief whenever it serves your agenda thereby showing contempt for the languages you mutilate.
14. Or you take the side of underdogs qua underdogs without giving any thought as to whether or not these underdogs are in any measure responsible for their status or their misery by their crimes. You apparently think that weakness justifies.
15. Or you label abortion a 'reproductive right' or a 'women's health issue' thus begging the question of its moral acceptability.
On each of these points and many others I could write a book demolishing the hard Left position that underlies the points and that dominates the universities, the mainstream media, the courts, and our current government. So what's to discuss? What conceivable motive could a conservative have to enter into debates with people who, from a conservative point of view, are willfully wrongheaded and demonstrably mistaken? There are open questions that need discussing, but the above aren't among them.
Presumably, to indoctrinate is to teach one doctrine as if it is true, as opposed to presenting a variety of different doctrines on the same topic without endorsing any one of them. In general, indoctrination ought not be done at the college level: Competing positions should be presented fairly and objectively and students should be encouraged to think matters through themselves and form their own opinions. But this point demands careful qualification.
For surely indoctrination is legitimate in some subjects such as mathematics and the hard sciences. No one could fault a math or science teacher for failing to give equal time to the views of numerologists, alchemists, astrologists, flat earthers and geocentrists. And in political science classes short shrift should be given to 9-11 'truthers' and other conspiracy enthusiasts. Their views may be discussed in passing, but to present them as if such theories are serious contenders in the arena of ideas makes a mockery of the search for truth, which presumably is what universities ought to be about. Certain views are beyond the pale and ought not be dignified by being taken seriously, e.g., Holocaust denial, the allegations made in the protocols of the Elders of Zion, the views of NAMBLA members, and so on.
But even in philosophy some indoctrination could well be justified, in logic, for example. One is justified in teaching introductory standard logic dogmatically without bringing in Hegelian and Marxist and dialetheist critiques of the law of non-contradiction, say. But not only in logic. To borrow an epithet from Arthur Collins, eliminative materialism is a 'lunatic" philosophy of mind. I would cover it in a philosophy of mind course, but I would not present it as a possible view that one might justifiably hold; I would present it as not merely false but as incoherent. And I would take myself to be justified in doing so. Of course, I would present the doctrine and the arguments thought to support it accurately; but I would not present it as if it were one epistemically possible view among others. So in that sense I would be engaged in legitimate indoctrination: if not by the promotion of the true view, at least by the rejection of false or incoherent ones.
If one were to oppose all indoctrination, then one would have to present every extant view on every issue as if it had a legitimate claim on our attention. But this would encourage the view in students that all views are equally good, which is obviously not the case. For example, in the philosophy of mind, eliminative materialism, behaviorism, and type-type identity theory are all very bad theories with eliminativism being the worst and the identity theory being the best of the three. But nothing hinges on this example. I could give many from different areas of philosophy. The point is that a pedagogic posture of studied neutrality with respect to every view is as bad as an extreme doctrinalism in which contentious positions are tendentiously promoted.
One can see from these sketchy remarks that the issue is not easily sorted out. Teaching that promotes relativism and skepticism, that leaves the student with the notion that all views are equally good or that nothing can be known is bad teaching. Equally bad is teaching that merely foists opinions on students without inculcating habits of critical thought or without fairly presenting the debates surrounding reasonably debatable issues. (Not all issues, however, are reasonably debatable.) Navigating between the Scylla of of the one and the Charybdis of the other is no easy task.
Only 100 semolians? Get out of here, and take your crappy journal with you.
If you need to pay to publish, then you shouldn't be publishing. It is not that difficult to publish for free in good outlets. If I can do it, so can you. Here is my PhilPapers page which lists some of my publications. My passion for philosophy far outstrips my ability at it, but if you have a modicum of ability you can publish in decent places. When I quit my tenured post and went maverick, I feared that no one would touch my work. But I found that lack of an institutional affiliation did not bar me from very good journals such as Nous and Analysis.
Here are a few suggestions off the top of my head.
1. Don't submit anything that you haven't made as good as you can make it. Don't imagine that editors and referees will sense the great merit and surpassing brilliance of your inchoate ideas and help you refine them. That is not their job. Their job is to find a justification to dump your paper among the 70-90 % that get rejected.
2. Demonstrate that you are cognizant of the extant literature on your topic.
3. Write concisely and precisely about a well-defined issue.
4. Advance a well-defined thesis.
5. Don't rant or polemicize. That's what your blog is for. Referring to Brian Leiter as a corpulent apparatchik of political correctness and proprietor of a popular philosophy gossip site won't endear you to his sycophants one or two of whom you may be unfortunate enough to have as referees.
6. Know your audience and submit the right piece to the right journal. Don't send a lengthy essay on Simone Weil to Analysis.
7. When the paper you slaved over is rejected, take it like a man or the female equivalent thereof. Never protest editorial decisions. You probably wrote something substandard, something that, ten years from now, you will be glad was not embalmed in printer's ink. You have no right to have your paper accepted. You may think it's all a rigged wheel and a good old boys' network. In my experience it is not. Most of those who complain are just not very good at what they do.
I read John D.Caputo years ago, in the late '70s, in connection with work I was doing on Heidegger. I read a couple of his early Heidegger articles and a couple of his books. One of them, The Mystical Element in Heidegger's Thought, is in my library. Caputo seemed worth reading at the time. But he appears to have gone off the deep end. This from a New York TimesOpinionator interview entitled "Looking White in the Face":
John D. Caputo: “White” is of the utmost relevance to philosophy, and postmodern theory helps us to see why. I was once criticized for using the expression “true north.” It reflected my Nordo-centrism, my critic said, and my insensitivity to people who live in the Southern Hemisphere. Of course, no such thing had ever crossed my mind, but that points to the problem. We tend to say “we” and to assume who “we” are, which once simply meant “we white male Euro-Christians.”
Postmodern theory tries to interrupt that expression at every stop, to put every word in scare quotes, to put our own presuppositions into question, to make us worry about the murderousness of “we,” and so to get in the habit of asking, “we, who?” I think that what modern philosophers call “pure” reason — the Cartesian ego cogito and Kant’s transcendental consciousness — is a white male Euro-Christian construction.
White is not “neutral.” “Pure” reason is lily white, as if white is not a color or is closest to the purity of the sun, and everything else is “colored.” Purification is a name for terror and deportation, and “white” is a thick, dense, potent cultural signifier that is closely linked to rationalism and colonialism. What is not white is not rational. So white is philosophically relevant and needs to be philosophically critiqued — it affects what we mean by “reason” — and “we” white philosophers cannot ignore it.
This is truly depressing stuff. It illustrates the rarefied, pseudo-intellectual stupidity to which leftist intellectuals routinely succumb, and the level to which humanities departments in our universities have sunk. We speak of 'true North' in distinction from 'magnetic North,' which is what a compass needle points to. The difference in location between the two is called declination and must be taken into account for accurate navigation. The phrase 'true North' has nothing to do with Nordo-centrism or insensitivity to those who live in the Southern Hemisphere. It is just a physical fact that compass needles track magnetic North, and that magnetic North is not the same as true North.
I feel as if I should apologize for pointing out something so obvious, but in the lunatic precincts of the postmodern, the obvious gets no respect. Does Caputo perhaps imagine that the Earth and its magnetic properties are social constructs? I hope not. One wonders what is going on in his head. Perhaps he is afraid of hurting the feelings of people who live in the Southern Hemisphere by his use of 'true North.' But for them to take offense at that phrase would be like a black person taking offense at 'black hole,' which, mirabile dictu, has actually happened. The phrase is from cosmology. Roughly, a black hole is a region of spacetime from which nothing can escape including no form of electromagnetic radiation such as light. Black holes have nothing to do with people of African-American descent or with black whores: 'hos' in black street idiom. And this is the case even when 'black hole' is used metaphorically to refer to, say, a windowless office.
It is the same with 'true North.' If used literally, it does not mean that the North is 'true' and the South 'false' or any such nonsense. And the same goes for the phrase used metaphorically.
People with basic common sense know that there is such a thing as taking inappropriate offense and that one should not cater to the whims of the absurdly sensitive. In this connection I remind you of the case of the poor schlep who lost his job because of his use of the perfectly innocuous English word 'niggardly,' which, of course, has nothing to do with 'nigger.' By the way, I just mentioned the word 'nigger'; I did not use it. I said something about the word; I did not apply it to anyone. (Is your typical Continental philosopher aware of the use-mention distinction?)
The purveyors of POMO need to be reminded that thinking is not association of ideas: if you associate 'niggardly' with 'nigger,' that is your problem and no basis for an argument to the conclusion that a user of 'niggardly' is a racist.
Should we question our presuppositions? Of course. That is essential to the philosophical enterprise. But one ought to do this without absurd exaggerations ("the murderousness of 'we' ") and double standards. I say we ought to question our presuppositions. Who am I referring to with my use of 'we'? To those of us who aspire to be reasonable and to seek the truth. I am afraid I don't see the "murderousness" of that. And I don't see how a white person is barred from referring to rational truth-seekers by his use of 'we' just because he or she is a white person.
Now to our title question. Is pure reason a white male Euro-Christian construction? This is just nonsense and is really beneath refutation. But given the sorry state of things, refutation is needed. Caputo is alluding to Kant's 1781 (2nd ed. 1787) Critique of Pure Reason. And Caputo must know that for Kant 'pure' means: free of empirical elements (CPR B 3) and that pure reason is the faculty that "contains the principles whereby we know anything absolutely a priori." (CPR A 11 B 24) This has nothing to do with racial purity.
Caputo is here instantiating the role of Continental mush-head: he is not thinking but engaging in argument by association, which is not argument at all, any more than another Continental favorite, argument by incantation, is argument at all.
But it is worse than this because Caputo is engaged in a sort of philosophical smear job. Here we have a great philosopher, Immanuel Kant, who is undertaking to evaluate the cognitive 'reach' of pure reason. His project is to assess the capacity of reason unaided by sensory input to secure knowledge in special metaphysics (metaphysica specialis) whose main objects are God, the soul, and the world as a whole. Corresponding to these objects are the highest concerns of humanity: God, freedom, and immortality.
And what does Caputo do? He conflates the purity that Kant speaks of with racial purity and then goes on to associate, scurrilously and irresponsibly, pure reason with "terror and deportation" and "colonialism." This of course is right out of the cultural Marxist's playbook.
For a leftist, anything a reasonable person says is 'code' for something else. The leftist cannot take anything at face value as meaning what it obviously means. He is out to debunk and deconstruct and unmask. As cultural Marxists, they are out to cut through 'false consciousness' and 'bourgeois ideology.' Theirs is the hermeneutics of suspicion. So 'pure reason' cannot mean what Kant says it means; it has to mean something else: it is a "cultural signifier" for terror and deportation and what all else. Or if I speak of truth and of seeking truth, then my use of 'truth' really signifies power and white privilege and what all else.
And when I refute the POMO nonsense and show that it is self-contradictory, that too cannot be taken at face-value as meaning what it manifestly means and showing what it manifestly shows; it has to be 'deconstructed' as masking some sort of power play or re-affirmation of 'white privilege.'
Is Caputo trying to convince us of certain truths? Then he presupposes truth, in which case truth cannot be a social construct. It is not that there are no social constructs; the point is that not everything can be. Truth, for example. Who constructs it? White males collectively? But if this is so, then that is the case beyond all constructions, in which case truth cannot be a white male construction or a construction by any person or persons. Truth is absolute by its very nature.
Could reason be a social construct? When Caputo tries to convince us of something he appeals to our reason to convince us of what he takes to be reasonable and true. He gives arguments and adduces various considerations. He makes assertions that purport to be true. (And, of course, in purporting to be true, they purport to be objectively and absolutely true, which is to say: not merely true for me or for us or for this social class or that historical epoch.) But how can Caputo, who is a white male who enjoys all sorts of perquisites and privileges, appeal to reason if reason is a white male Euro-Christian construct?
Of course, it may be that Caputo has no intention of appealing to reason. It could be that his POMO verbiage is nothing but obfuscatory rhetoric that masks a bid for power for him and his ilk. I prefer not to believe this, if possible; I met the man once and he seemed like a decent human being.
Is Caputo appealing to a 'true reason' that is not a white male Euro-Christian construct? But he can't do this by his own constructivist, relativist principles. For then he would have to put a different construct in its place, say reason as a black female Afro-Islamic construct. But then he won't be able to convince us or himself of anything rationally. For that different construct would just be another contingent, unbinding framework. If there is a 'true reason,' then it cannot be any sort of contingent human construct vriable across races andf sexes, regions and religions.
The problem, very simply, is that if reason is culturally or racially or in any way relative, then there is no such thing as reason. Reason is like truth in this respect. Truth is absolute by its very nature; talk of relative truth is nonsense. Similarly, reason is normative and impartially adjudicative by its very nature. Talk of reason as reflective of class interests or racial biases is nonsense. So either there is no reason or it is not a social construct. And if it is not a social construct, then of course it is not a white male Euro-Christian construct.
There is some interesting material here. Certainly contemporary academic philosophy in the Anglosphere and elsewhere is over-specialized and hyper-professionalized. A critique is needed. I have given the APP effort only a cursory reading, so I won't say anything more about it now except to observe that the contributors are anonymous.
I should think that if one is serious about what one maintains and wants to be taken seriously, one should show some civil courage, speak in one's own name, and witness to the truth as one sees it. And this especially in the case of one of the contributors, Z, who describes himself as follows: "Z is a 50-something cosmopolitan anarcho-philosopher, and previously was a tenured full professor of philosophy at a public university somewhere in North America, but still managed to escape with his life." Why so coy?
Really, is there any more pertinent sign for most colleges and universities? Cigarettes manufacturers are required to ornament their wares with all manner of alarming advisories, why shouldn’t institutions of higher education face similar requirements? After all, the noxious atmosphere they diffuse is perhaps even more dangerous than cigarette smoke, which harms only the body. A college education threatens to eat away at a student’s soul and capacity for a healthy, robust, adult emotional life. “You Are Leaving the American Sector.” For many, perhaps most colleges and universities today, that about sums it up.
Both. Here is a liberal professor, writing (not very well) under a pseudonym (of course!) who says he or she is terrified of his or her liberal students. But he or she does make a good point when he or she points to the consumerist mentality that prevails among students. That's been in place for a long time now and is one of the reasons I gave up a tenured position in 1991.
One of the phrases one increasingly hears these days is 'comfort zone.' I humbly suggest that if you are not prepared to leave said zone on a regular basis you will never really live.
One needs stress to grow, mentally, physically, and in every way. Stress is not to be had in a 'safe space.'
Glaubt es mir! – das Geheimnis, um die größte Fruchtbarkeit und den größten Genuß vom Dasein einzuernten, heißt: gefährlich leben!For believe me! — the secret for harvesting from existence the greatest fruitfulness and the greatest enjoyment is: to live dangerously! Build your cities on the slopes of Vesuvius! Send your ships into uncharted seas! (Friedrich Nietzsche, The Gay Science, sec. 283, tr. Walter Kaufmann)
There is a website by the name of The Philosophers' Cocoon. You read that right: cocoon. On the masthead: "A safe and supportive forum for early-career philosophers."
Years ago I answered a reader's e-mail on line, providing his full name. The topic was technical and non-political. A while back he contacted me because he wanted his name removed from an arcane post buried deep in my archives. I did so. But then he started worrying about his name's occurrence in the ComBox . . . .
Now I sympathize with the young and unestablished. We live in nasty, illiberal times. I've made mine, so it requires no great courage to speak the truth under my real name. But it requires some, and more need to 'man up' and 'woman up' to confront the fascist scum on the Left. There is such a thing as civil courage without the exercise of which by large numbers we are done for as a free republic. Click on the link for another example of a reader who requested that his name be removed from my weblog.
And if you are unfamiliar with the disgusting Laura Kipnis affair, bang on this. Dreher's piece ends ominously.
UPDATE: A nationally known conservative college professor, a man who is well into his career, and protected by tenure, just wrote to say “it’s worse than you think,” then sent evidence. He said this has definitely had a chilling effect on the lectures he gives, for fear of triggering a Little Empress or Emperor, who will set out to ruin his academic life. I’m not going to quote his post, because I want to protect him and his position on his campus. But he adds:
If I had to do it over again, I would have never, ever entered academia. I cringe when I think of the few young, ambitious, and bright conservatives who are entering the academy now who have no idea of how even uttering their viewpoints will be turned against them to destroy them.
A safe and supportive forum for early-career philosophers. - See more at: http://philosopherscocoon.typepad.com/#sthash.d68YIgKt.dpuf
A safe and supportive forum for early-career philosophers. - See more at: http://philosopherscocoon.typepad.com/#sthash.d68YIgKt.dpuf
A safe and supportive forum for early-career philosophers. - See more at: http://philosopherscocoon.typepad.com/#sthash.d68YIgKt.dpuf
The only kind of diversity liberals care about is politically correct diversity, diversity in respect of skin color and reproductive plumbing, not a diversity of ideas.
I've been pinching myself a lot recently. Am I awake? Is this stuff really happening?
Last night at five I turned on the TV to see blacks rioting in Baltimore. I should think that crapping in one's own pants is not the most effective way of protesting something. Where are the adults? Abdication of authority. Clowns and fools, race-baiters and liars, in high places.
At the same time, fascist abuses of authority as in theJohn Doe raids in Wisconsin.
UPDATE 1: Joshua Orsak tells me The Onion is a joke site. Spencer Case, NRO journalist, said the piece is "accurate." I am tempted to go Hillarious: In this POMO age, what difference does it make? The Prez and the Veep are jokes, Nancy Pelosi is a joke, our foreign policy is a joke, the universities of the land . . . . In this day and age jokes are realities. 'Trigger warnings' for example.
UPDATE 2: Elliot writes,
Regarding your 28 April post on the Lively Exchange of One Idea: it sure looks like a joke, but I also fear this type of thinking is present in American higher education.
I've had a university administrator tell me and fellow instructors during a faculty meeting that, when grading papers, we should be less concerned with providing educative feedback and more concerned with providing feedback that "makes students feel warm and fuzzy and comfortable." This is just a sample of many similar comments I've heard over the years.
I sometimes suspect that (at least some) universities seek to pamper rather than educate students. This coddle-desire puts instructors who actually want to educate in a difficult spot.
I also worry that educational confusion is widespread at the elementary school level. You may have seen the following article.
The merger of Philosophy Research Index into PhilPapers has now been completed. More than half a million items have been added to the PhilPapers index, greatly improving our coverage of older publications and print publications not available online. At 1.75 M items, our index is now three times the size of the nearest commercial alternative. We thank our colleagues at the Philosophy Documentation Center for their ceaseless efforts to collect relevant data.
My PhilPapers page sports some new entries though in several cases the bibliographical information is incomplete.
Now all of this sort of thing is what Heidegger would dismiss as Betriebsamkeit and with some justification. Fascinating our capacity to distract ourselves from the essential and lose ourselves in all sorts of busy-ness. Which is not to deny some value to this sort of frenetic scholarly industriousness. But let's hope that a further layer of Leiterization is not added. What this might consist in I'll leave it to you to imagine.
This from a graduate student whose paper I posted:
Shortly after you posted my paper, I got an email from a friend who also reads your blog. My friend wondered if this was, all things considered, bad for my chances on the job market. He thinks in this age of Google searches, having my name come up on your blog will be viewed negatively by some hiring committees, given that most are leftists. It is completely absurd to me that someone might chuck my application in the trash just because they see a serious metaphysics post on a blog that defends conservative views some of the time, and I'm quite happy to have my name associated with yours, but I was wondering what you thought.
Might it be better to change the post and title a little so it doesn't mention my full name? If it is indeed true that some departments would not hire me because of this post, there is a significant part of me that doesn't want to work with such people anyway, but then there is another part of me that loves teaching philosophy enough that I'd be willing to try to put up with such people, at least for a while. I don't know. I'm not terribly worried about it at this moment, since I won't be on the job market until fall of 2016.
I did remove the author's name out of concern for his prospects. I suspect his friend has a better understanding of how bad things have become than he does. The universities have become leftist seminaries. The few exceptions prove the rule. And where there are leftists there is political correctness and the party line. Anyone who refuses to toe it, anyone who thinks independently and critically and speaks out against leftist excesses and outright inanities runs a serious career risk. But even if one does not speak out, and is only tenuously associated with a website that publishes some conservative material, one is at risk.
I've made mine, so I can afford to speak the truth. A little courage is involved, but not much. I cannot recommend that people who are young or starting out take career-destroying risks. And I ought not expose them to danger. Never underestimate how vicious and vindictive leftists can be. The case of Brian Leiter is very instructive. Details of some of his recent antics here.
And don't ever underestimate the lengths of lunacy to which lefties will go. Recent example: CUNY. Morris Raphael Cohen must be rolling over in his grave.
Graduate students in a philosophy department somewhere in the English-speaking world did some online sleuthing about a job candidate for a position in their department, and learned that the candidate seems to hold views they find offensive. In particular, they found reports (including alleged quotes) that the candidate had expressed in online fora the view that homosexual acts and premarital sex are immoral.
It is a good thing Immanuel Kant did not apply to this department. He holds that "Every form of sexual indulgence, except in marriage, is a misuse of sexuality and so a crimen carnis." (Lectures on Ethics, tr. Infield, Hackett, p. 169.)
. . . if you do not share the universities' values, it could be a big mistake to send your children to college before they are intellectually and morally prepared for the indoctrination-rather-than-education they will receive there. Therefore, prepare them morally and intellectually and, if possible, do not send them to college right after high school. Let them work for a year, or perhaps travel . . . . The younger the student, the less life experience and maturity they have, the more they are likely to embrace the rejection of your values.
The sad fact is that if you love education, revere the life of the mind, care about the pursuit of truth, think young people need to receive wisdom from their elders, and value moral clarity, the university is the last place you would want to send your 18-year-old.
He's baaack, bearing 'gifts.' Professor Christian Munthe has the story:
Remember The September Statement from earlier this year, signed by 648 academic philosophers in North America and elsewhere against Chicago philosopher and law professor Brian Leiter's unacceptable treatment of his UBC colleague Carrie Ichikawa-Jenkins, ending in Leiter's statement of resignation from the institutional ranking operation he had founded and coordinated up till then, the Philosophical Gourmet Report? If not, a recapture of some of the essential of this sad and disgraceful story is here (start at the bottom to get the adequate chronology). This detailed chronological account is also rewarding.
One would have thought that after this, Brian Leiter would prefer to lay dead and lick his wounds for a while, waiting for the memory of the scandal and his own disgrace to settle, and maybe find new pathways to having himself feel good about himself besides bullying and threatening (apparently mostly female) academic colleagues for one of the other, more or less fathomable, reason found by him to justify such behaviour. Maybe do something meriting a minimal portion of admiration and respect from academic colleagues, perhaps?
Not so at all.
As revealed on Christmas eve by Jonathan Ichikawa-Jenkins, Carrie's husband, Leiter has recently had a Canadian lawyer send a letter to them both, threatening with a defamation lawsuit unless they publicly post a "proposed statement" of apology to Leiter, with the specifically nasty ingredient of a specific threat that such a suit would imply " “a full airing of the issues and the cause or causes of [Carrie’s] medical condition;”. Moreover, the letter asks the Ichikawa-Jenkins to apologise not only for the personal declaration of professional ethos that made no mention of Brian Leiter whatsoever but that for some reason – to me still incomprehensible as long as a deeply suppressed guilty conscience or outright pathology is not pondered – to to be an attack on his person, but also for the actions of other people, such as this post at the Feminist Philosophers blog, and The September Statement itself – implying obviously that all the signatories to that statement would be in the crosshairs of professor Leiter. The full letter of the lawyer setting out these threats is here. The (expected) response from the Ichikawa-Jenkins' lawyer is here, stating the simple and obvious claim that all that's been publicly communicated on this matter – such as making public bullying emails of Leiter – is protected by normal statutes of freedom of speech.
Via John Pepple, I just learned that John McAdams, a tenured associate professor of political science at Marquette University, has been suspended with pay and barred from campus for criticizing a graduate student philosophy teacher who shut down a classroom conversation on gay marriage. As McAdams puts it at his weblog Marquette Warrior:
This incident further illustrates what I mean when I say that the universities of the land, most of them, have become leftist seminaries and hotbeds of political correctness. The behavior of the philosophy instructor illustrates the truth that there is little that is classically liberal about contemporary liberals.
I have taught high school and college-aged kids for many years, and am very often lobbed the relevance question. The logical coherence of the concept of God. Theories of space and time. Classic questions in epistemology and metaphysics. "How is this relevant," they ask. It annoys me. I make an impotent gesture toward the intrinsic value of knowledge, but am always left frustrated by having to defend what is so obvious to me --and to everyone else prior to the mid twentieth century--the indelible importance of these topics. Maybe you can help me out?
I don't know how much help I can be, but here are some thoughts.
1. The philosophy teacher has a problem the calculus instructor, say, does not. The latter does not have to show the relevance of his subject or motivate an interest in it. Perhaps two thirds of the students before him are engineering majors who need no convincing of the relevance of higher mathematics to their career goals. They are interested in mathematics, if not for its own sake, then for the sake of its use. The philosophy teacher, however, has not only to teach his subject but also, unlike the mathematics professor, to argue its relevance and motivate interest.
Philosophy is an end in itself. This is why it is foolish to try to convince philistines that it is good for something. It is not primarily good for something. It is a good in itself. Otherwise you are acquiescing in the philistinism you ought to be combating. [. . .]
To the philistine's "Philosophy bakes no bread" you should not respond "Yes it does," for such responses are patently lame. You should say, "Man does not live by bread alone," or "Not everything is pursued as a means to something else," or "A university is not a trade school." You should not acquiesce in the philistine's values and assumptions, but go on the attack and question his values and assumptions. Put him on the spot. Play the Socratic gadfly. If a philistine wants to know how much you got paid for writing an article for a professional journal, say, "Do you really think that only what one is paid to do is worth doing?"
3. "I make an impotent gesture toward the intrinsic value of knowledge, but am always left frustrated by having to defend what is so obvious to me . . ." Most of the people who need to have this explained to them are not equipped to appreciate any explanation. So we humanists are in a tough spot. One of the conclusions I came too early on was that philosophy simply cannot be a mass consumption item at the college level. Although I didn't mind, and actually enjoyed, teaching logic courses, which can be of some use to the masses, I loathed teaching Intro to Philosophy and other philosophy courses designed to satisfy breadth requirements.
Part of the problem is that college level is so low nowadays that it has become a joke to speak of 'higher education.' People are not there to become educated human beings but to garner credentials that they believe will help them get ahead economically and socially. Nothing wrong with that, of course, but then why waste time on the pursuit of truth for its own sake? The average person has no intellectual eros; what he wants and needs is job training.
4. There is an irony here. People like you and me and thousands of others would never have had the opportunity to make a living from teaching philosophy if the level had not sunk so low, not so much because our level is low, but because there would simply have been no jobs for us if 'higher' education had not metastazised in the 1960s and beyond. So while we complain about the low level of our students, we ought to bear in mind that we have students in the first place and are not selling insurance or writing code because of the democratization of 'higher' ed.
5. I am an elitist, but not in a social or economic or racial sense. Everyone who has what it takes to profit from it ought to have the opportunity to pursue real education -- which is not to be confused with indoctrination in leftist seminaries -- in institutions of higher -- no 'sneer' quotes -- education. Equality of opportunity! But of course there will never be equality of outcome or result because people are not equal.
Philosophy -- the real thing, not some dumbed-down ersatz -- cannot be a mass consumption item. It is for the few. But who those few are cannot be decided by criteria of race or sex or age or religion or national origin. High culture is universal and belongs to all of us, even though we individually and as members of groups are not equal in our ability to contribute to it.
He finally went too far. For years he got away with vicious out-of-the-blue personal attacks on conservatives and white males, but when he turned on females, such as Prof. Carrie Ichikawa Jenkins, the Left turned on one of its own. (Be sure and click on the link to get the full flavor of Leiter's thuggishness.)
See my Brian Leiter category for more on this sorry specimen. I wouldn't be mentioning this status-obsessed careerist and academic gossip monger at all if it weren't for his attack on me which you can read about, if you care to, in the category just mentioned.
Had enough yet? If not, there is more below.
UPDATE (10/11): You've read the September Statement. Here is the October Statement. What's needed is a November Statement the gist of which would be: forget the despicable Leiter and his antics, and all this rating and ranking nonsense, and the hyperprofessionalization and politicization of this noble and beautiful calling, Philosophy, and return, if you can, to meditation on the questions and problems that ought to have led you to philosophy in the first place -- assuming that your goal is wisdom and insight and not the life of a status-obsessed academic functionary like Leiter.
UPDATE (10/11):Here is a surprisingly detailed and regularly updated archive of Brian Leiter's ongoing collapse with links galore.
A commenter here penetrates to the essence of Leiter (emphasis added):
Her [Jenkins'] original post, which essentially celebrated her happy ascension to being a professor in a treasured field, was instantly stalked and trolled and attacked by a prominent professional in her field who put her on notice that nothing she wrote or published would happen without his eye falling on it, that whatever she wrote could be construed as legally actionable, that he would be watching her to make sure that she steered clear of the sin of ever impinging on his gaping wound of an ego. In other words: she’s minding her own business and an important, touchy, asshole turns out to be stalking her and turning her private and professional life into a legal cause of action.
In an instant she went from being a person celebrating and engaging with her field and her colleagues into, apparently, the enemy of a person with zero sense of proportionality and restraint–a person so narcissistic that they go out of their way [he goes out of his way] to threaten legal action against a perfect stranger for a perfectly innocuous post that doesn’t reference Leiter at all. [. . .]
That's exactly right. No reasonable and decent person could object to Jenkins' statement of her principles and ideals. And even if it is too earnest for the jaded, only a scumbag like Leiter would call her a "sanctimonious asshole" for writing it. And only an egomaniac like the Ladderman could take it as directed at him.
You see, the problem with Leiter is not that he responds uncivilly to people who attack him; the problem is that he initiates vicious attacks on, and threatens, people who haven't mentioned him at all simply for stating something with which he disagrees.
Leiter is a strange study in self-destruction: he craves status and recognition and yet behaves in a way that any fool can see will lead to his loss of reputation. Chivalry may be moribund, but it is not entirely dead. To attack a woman who has made it in a male-dominated field as an "asshole" for simply announcing her values and ideals is not only morally offensive but profoundly foolish for someone for whom status and standing are everything.
And how 'philosophical' is such behavior? How can one call a philosopher one who places a premium on status and standing? Leiter fancies himself a philosopher, the real thing, while I, according to him, merely "purport" to be a philosopher. But he does not enjoy an appointment in a philosophy department! So by his own entirely superficial criterion of what makes one a philosopher he himself is not a philosopher. His criterion, it goes without saying, is absurd on the face of it, excluding as it does Socrates and Spinoza and so many others as philosophers, including his master Nietzsche, another profile in self-destruction.
The man is without substance, devoid of wisdom and decency, a two-bit self-promoter and academic functionary, in no way a Mensch, in some ways a Macher, and in most ways a blight upon academic philosophy. It is good that he has decided to self-destruct. May he complete the project and emerge with a metanoia, a change of heart and mind.
We who are now witnessing his self-induced unravelling may wish to ask ourselves: is this Schadenfreude, or righteous satisfaction at his comeuppance?
As to Professor Leiter himself, I wish to say as little as possible (we have had our run-ins, to put it mildly). But I think everyone should acknowledge that Brian Leiter is not solely responsible for Brian Leiter: he has been pandered to, encouraged, and enabled by large segments of the philosophy profession, especially in the United States. The reasons for this have been essentially corrupt. It is time for people to wake up to their own complicity. He has no more power than the power people have given him. I look forward to a post-Leiter age in philosophy.
Keith, one of Leiter's early victims, goes on to report his satisfaction at Leiter's humiliation.
Here's hoping that Leiter's self-defenestration does indeed usher in "a post-Leiter age in philosophy."
The following portion of an interview by Richard Carrier of Susan Haack puts one in mind of Brian Leiter whose main disservice to academic philosophy has been his contribution to its hyperprofessionalization.
S.H.: I had begun to express concern about the condition of professional philosophy well before 2001; and I’m sorry to say that our profession seems to me in even worse shape now than it did then. It has become terribly hermetic and self-absorbed; bogged down in pretentious and pseudo-technical jargon; in the thrall of those dreadful “rankings”; and splintered into narrow specialisms and—even worse—cliques identified, not by a specialty, but by a shared view on a specialized issue. A friend of mine put it in a nutshell when she described professional philosophy as “in a nose-dive.”
The reasons for the over-specialization are no doubt very complicated. But one relevant factor, I’m sure, is departmental rankings by area; and another is the ever-increasing pressure to publish, now extending even to graduate students. And behind this, there’s that ever-growing class of professional university administrators who have long ago put their academic work on permanent hold and, unable to judge a person’s work themselves, can only rely on surrogate measures like rankings, “productivity,” grant money brought in, citations, and such. Inevitably, many professors and would-be professors soon internalize the same distorted values; and many soon realize that a relatively easy way to publish a lot, fast, is to associate yourself with some clique, to join a citation cartel, to split your work into minimally publishable units, and of course to repeat yourself.
. . . if this pathetic piece can be believed. But it so reads like a parody of POMO rhetoric that it negates itself. The writer is an alumna of the UC Boulder Philosophy Department. One hopes that she is not representative of the sort of graduate the department 'produces.' If she is, then perhaps here is the real indictment of said department.
Wes Morriston, recently retired after 42 years of service to the department and the university, responds here.
His response is rational and fact-based. But one wonders about the efficacy of responding in such a way to a delusional screed. It is like responding rationally to someone who accuses you of being a racist for pointing out certain truths the subject matter of which is race. Recent example: Bruce Levenson's 'racist' e-mail.
More on the Boulder witch hunt in my Feminism category. Note the ambiguity of 'witch hunt.' Are witches the hunted or the hunters?
Morris Berman, The Twilight of American Culture (Norton, 2000), p. 122:
Latin mottoes adorn the crests of many of these schools, boasting of "light" and "truth." [BV interjects: Harvard's crest shows Veritas] The reality, however, is something very different, as thousands of these institutions have literal or de facto open admissions policies in the name of "democracy." The democratization of desire means that virtually anyone can go to college, the purpose being to get a job; and in an educational world now subsumed under business values, students show up -- with administrative blessing -- believing that they are consumers who are buying a product. Within this context, a faculty member who actually attempts to enforce the tradition of the humanities as an uplifting and transformative experience, who challenges his charges to think hard about complex issues, will provoke negative evaluations and soon be told by the dean that he had better look elsewhere for a job. Objecting to a purely utilitarian dimension for education is regarded as quaint, and quickly labelled as "elitist" (horror of horrors!); but the truth is that there an be no genuine liberal education without such an objection.
I agree completely.
You may recall Obama opining that everyone should go to college.* A preposterous notion. It is a bit like maintaining that everyone should receive Navy SEAL training. To profit from such training one must be SEAL 'material.' It is the same, mutatis mutandis, with college: you must be 'college material.' The very fact that that phrase is no longer heard speaks volumes. I heard my seventh grade teacher apply it to your humble correspondent, but that was in the early 'sixties.
So perhaps we can add to Berman's 'democratization of desire,' 'democratization of potentiality' as if we are all equal in our powers and capacities.
Student teaching evaluations contribute to the consumer mentality to which Berman refers. Students ought to have a way to register legitimate complaints about faculty, but the use of teaching evaluations in tenure and promotion decisions and in the apportionment of merit pay leads to a further erosion of standards and to abdication of authority.
A confession. On the eve of tenure, the semester before the decision, I was conducting a seminar in the library while we were all seated at a big beautiful table. I observed one of my students carving into its surface. I said not a word: I needed strong teaching evaluations for my final academic hurdle. Succeed or fail -- for good. It was a bad market. Up or out. I made it easily with a 9 to 3 vote. But shame on me for not objecting to the defacement of common property. A clear case of abdication of authority.
The irony is that, for a number of reasons, not the least of which was the increasing political correctness of the university, I resigned my tenured position seven years later. Psychologically, there is of course a huge difference between being given the boot and leaving of one's own free will.
*Dennis Monokroussos supplies documentation. Scroll down to the final three quotations from Obama.
The high school I attended required each student to take two years of Latin. Years later the requirement was dropped. When a fundraiser contacted me for a donation, I said, "You eliminated Latin, why should I give you a donation?" He replied that the removal of Latin made room for Chinese.
What I should have said at that point was something like the following. "While the study of Asian languages and cultures and worldviews is wonderfully enriching, it must not come at the expense of the appropriation and transmission of our own culture which is Judeo-Christian and Graeco-Roman."
And then I could have clinched my point by quoting a couple of famous lines from Goethe's Faust, Part I, Night, lines 684-685:
Was du ererbt von deinen Vätern hast, erwirb es, um es zu besitzen!
What from your fathers you received as heir,
Acquire if you would possess it. (tr. W. Kaufmann)
The idea is that what one has been lucky enough to inherit, one must actively appropriate, i.e., make one's own by hard work, if one is really to possess it. The German infinitive erwerben has not merely the meaning of 'earn' or 'acquire' but also the meaning of aneignen, appropriate, make one's own.
Unfortunately the schools and universities of today have become leftist seminaries more devoted to the eradication of the high culture of the West than its transmission and dissemination. These leftist seed beds have become hot houses of political correctness.
What can you do? You might think of pulling your children out of the public schools and home-schooling them or else sending them to places like Great Hearts Academies.
I am critical of giving feminism and race the extra attention and insulation from criticism that comes from designating these topics as “entire sub-disciplines of philosophy.” Given that it’s considered impolitic to criticize “entire sub-disciplines of philosophy,” we should vigorously debate what deserves to be considered as such. Knowledge, ethics, and being-qua-being deserve that distinction. It’s not obvious that feminism and race do.
As many suspected, I am an expert in neither philosophy of race nor feminist philosophy. I need not be. One could have principled reservations about a discipline called “conservative studies” without being an Edmund Burke scholar. If you know that conservatism is a position in political philosophy, you might reasonably think it shouldn’t also be a discipline unto itself.
That is essentially the point I’m pressing against feminism as a sub-discipline of philosophy. Let feminism be discussed alongside conservatism, libertarianism, liberalism, fascism, and socialism in political-philosophy classes. Why must feminism, alone among these “isms,” also have its own brand of epistemology, ethics, literary theory, and biology? I doubt feminists would tolerate libertarian counterparts to any of these.
I think Case is making two logically distinct points here, points that ought to be explicitly distinguished.
The first is that, just as conservatism is not a philosophical subdiscipline unto itself, neither should feminism be. The second is that, whether or not feminism is its own subdiscipline, it is dubious to suppose that it entails its own epistemology, ethics, and ontology.
The second point invites parody. If Jewish philosophy implied its own epistemology, etc., what would that look like?
Jewish epistemology: Your mother has privileged access. Jewish ethics: ‘can’ implies ‘don't.' Jewish logic: if not p, what? q maybe? Jewish decision theory: maximize regret.
What principles would a feminist ontology include? That male entities are entia non grata? That they are unnecessary posits? I am tempted to make further jokes about razors and nomological danglers, but I'll leave that to the reader.
Surprisingly, Brian Leiter adopts a civil tone in his discussion of Case. Perhaps the taste of his own medicine administered by me and others has had a salutary effect on him.
In his latest NRO column, Spencer Case argues that "The feminist left is politicizing philosophy." I would add that this is but a special case of the general truth that the Left politicizes everything.
But, while David has never aspired to put the world right by philosophy, the world for its part has not been equally willing to let him and philosophy alone in return. Quite the reverse. His tenure of the Chair turned out to coincide with an enormous attack on philosophy, and on humanistic learning in general: an attack which has proved to be almost as successful as it was unprecedented.
This attack was begun, as everyone knows, by Marxists, in support of North Vietnam’s attempt to extend the blessings of communism to the south. The resulting Marxisation of the Faculty of Arts was by no means as complete as the resulting Marxisation of South Vietnam. But the wound inflicted on humanistic learning was a very severe one all the same. You could properly compare it to a person’s suffering third-degree burns to 35 per cent of his body.
After the defeat of America in Vietnam, the attack was renewed, amplified, and intensified, by feminists. Their attack has proved far more devastating than that of the Marxists. Lenin once said, “If we go, we shall slam the door on an empty house”; and how well this pleasant promise has been kept by the Russian Marxists, all the world now knows. It is in exactly the same spirit of insane malignancy that feminists have waged their war on humanistic learning; and their degree of success has fallen not much short of Lenin’s. Of the many hundreds of courses offered to Arts undergraduates in this university, what proportion, I wonder, are now not made culturally-destructive, as well as intellectually null, by feminist malignancy and madness? One-third? I would love to believe that the figure is so high. But I cannot believe it.
David did all that he could have done, given the limits set by his position and his personality, to repel this attack. Of course he failed; but then, no one could have succeeded. What he did achieve was a certain amount of damage-limitation. Even this was confined to the philosophy-section of the front. On the Faculty of Arts as a whole, David has had no influence at all—to put it mildly. In fact, when he spoke at a meeting of the Faculty, even on subjects unrelated to the attack, you could always have cut the atmosphere with a knife. It is a curious matter, this: the various ways inferior people have, of indirectly acknowledging the superiority of others, even where no such acknowledgment is at all intended by the inferior, or expected by the superior.
By the end of 1972, the situation in the philosophy department had become so bad that the splitting of the department into two was the only way in which philosophy at this university could be kept alive at all. In this development, David was the leading spirit, as his position and personality made it natural he should be. Of course he did not do it on his own. Pat Trifonoff’s intelligence and character made her an important agent in it. Keith Campbell’s adhesion to our side, after some hesitation, was a critical moment. But while I and certain others were only casting about for some avenue of escape, David never gave up. He battled on, and battled on again, and always exacted the best terms, however bad, that could be got from the enemies of philosophy.
The result of the split was far more happy than could have been rationally predicted at the time. In fact it was a fitting reward for David’s courage and tenacity. For the first twenty years of the new Department of Traditional and Modern Philosophy have been fertile in good philosophy, to a degree unparalleled in any similar period in this or any other Australian university. The department has also enjoyed a rare freedom from internal disharmony. As I have often said, it is the best club in the world, and to be or have been a member of it is a pleasure as well as a privilege.
There will certainly be no adequate official acknowledgment, from anyone inside the university, of what is owed to David. What could someone like the present Vice-Chancellor possibly care about the survival of humanistic learning, or even know about philosophy, or history, or literature? Anyone who did would never have got a Vice-Chancellor’s job in the first place. If there is any acknowledgment forthcoming from the Faculty of Arts, David will be able to estimate the sincerity of it well enough. It will be a case of people, who smiled as they watched him nearly drowning in the boiling surf of 1967–72, telling him how glad they were when, against all probability, he managed to make it to the beach.
But anyone who does know and care about philosophy, or does care about the survival of humanistic learning, will feel towards him something like the degree of gratitude which they ought to feel.
My recent anti-Leiter posts may give new readers the impression that I am doing the same sort of thing he does, namely, hurling abuse and name-calling. Not so. He attacked me out of the blue in November of 2004, and I ignored him. But given his recent attack, it is time to supply the context of my recent responses to him, and to explain that I am engaged in a legitimate defense against an unprovoked series of attacks. My motive is to set the record straight, but also to defend the graduate students, the untenured, and others who fear to respond to Leiter's attacks on them.
It all started when I posted the following on the first version of MavPhil. The entry is dated 4 November 2004 and I reproduce it verbatim:
Theocracy and the Left
Nobody wants a theocracy in the U.S. except the Islamo-fascists, and they want it everywhere. The fear among some leftists that the re-election of G.W. Bush is moving us towards theocracy shows just how delusional their thinking is. The problem with leftists is not so much stupidity as their ideological fixations. The latter prevent their minds from functioning properly. They see threats that aren't there and fail to see the ones that are. They ignore the very real theocratic threat of militant Islam, all the while fabricating a Christian theocratic threat.
Hostility to religion, especially institutionalized religion, is a defining characteristic of the Left. We've known that since 1789. What is surprising, and truly bizarre, is the Left's going soft on militant Islam, the most virulent strain of religious bigotry ever to appear. It threatens all of their values. But their obsession with dissent is so great, dissent at all costs and against everything established, that they simply must denounce Bush and Co. as potential theocrats, all the while cozying up to militant Islam. Their hatred for Bush is so great that they will sacrifice their defining values just to oppose him. In their perversity, they think the enemy of their enemy is -- still their enemy.
The above post got Leiter's goat even though there is no reference to him and no link to his website. But being the sort of vain and self-centered fellow he is, he took it personally as directed against him in particular. So taking it, he replied with a personal attack on me in Paranoid Fantasies of the Right:
In keeping with my general policy of not linking to noxious mediocrities--who, experience has shown, crave any attention--I am just going to quote a posting that is interesting not because of who said it (though he purports to be a philosopher), but because of what it reveals about the right-wing mindset (it resonates with rhetoric one hears from Andrew Sullivan, Christopher Hitchens and others of that slimy ilk). The author was reacting (badly, it appears) to my reference to Bush & co. as fascist theocrats. Our right-winger comments: [Leiter goes on to quote me.]
Note for starters the man's huge ego: he thinks I am responding to his post. Not so. Second, what I have to say is just "rhetoric" of the sort spewed by Sullivan, Hitchens "and others of that slimy ilk." The suggestion, of course, is that I am of the same ilk. Third, I "purport" to be a philosopher. The suggestion is that I represent myself as being a philosopher when I am not a real philosopher like Leiter. Leiter is a philosopher (in his own mind), while I merely purport to be one. We will have to consider the criteria for being a real philosopher in a separate post.
Fourth, I am one of those who "crave any attention." How could Leiter have known this? (We have never met.) I am an introvert, an INTP in the Myers-Briggs classification and such types do not "crave any attention." To the contrary. Note also how Leiter appears to be engaged in psychological projection: he most assuredly craves attention, he recognizes at some pre-conscious level that this is unacceptable and an indicator of immaturity, and so to prevent this realization on his part he projects the unacceptable attribute into others. Projection is a defense mechanism the purpose of which is to reduce anxiety. So in Leiter's view I am the one who craves attention, which is why my name cannot be mentioned or my site linked to. Having projected his craving into me, he alleviates the anxiety he subconsciously feels at being an attention whore. What's more, Leiter wouldn't want to give me what I "crave" and he wouldn't want any one to be influenced by ideas that are on Leiter's index idearum prohibitarum.
There is apparently a link between psychological projection and bullying, a link we may follow up in a separate post.
Fifth, I am a "noxious mediocrity." In one sense of the term, 'mediocre' is not a pejorative; it just means of average ability. But then we are both mediocrities in philosophy if we are held to a truly rigorous standard. Why then is one of us "noxious"? Because he is not the other? And then there is the question as to how Leiter could know that I am a mediocrity in philosophy. Has he studied any of my papers published in such journals as Analysis, Nous, Philosophy, History of Philosophy Quarterly, The Monist, Dialectica, and numerous others? Has Leiter published in any of these journals? Some of my papers are listed on my PhilPapers page.
To sum up. Leiter is a leftist ideologue first, and a philosopher second, if at all. Philosophy for him is but a means for the advancement of himself and his ideology. This explains the personal nature of his attack on me cited above. A good leftist, he seeks to destroy those who disagree with his ideas. It is all about power and it is all about winning. It is right out of Alinsky and the CP. Don't forget, PC is from the CP. You shout down your opponent; you ridicule him; but if the opponent replies in kind, then you protest that he is a hypocrite who doesn't live up to the standards he professes. Alinsky: Make the enemy live up to their own book of rules. Another rule of lefties: Always invoke the double standard: Treat your opponents like dirt but then protest the "sick viciousness" of a reply in kind.
I'll end with part of an e-mail from a young philosophy professor:
I hope that you are wearing Leiter's attack on you as a true badge of honor. The fact that Leiter deems you worthy of an attack post means that his grotesque, opportunistic, tyrannical mind is squirming at the fact that you are not assimilating into the proper politically correct hierarchy of contemporary academia. But this why I, and so many others, love your blog. Keep up the great work!
Immanuel Kant was born on this date in 1724. He died in 1804. My dissertation on Kant, which now lies 36 years in the past, is dated 22 April 1978. But if, per impossibile, my present self were Doktorvater to my self of 36 years ago, my doctoral thesis might not have been approved! As one's standards rise higher and higher with age and experience one becomes more and more reluctant to submit anything to evaluation let alone publication. One may scribble as before, and even more than before, but with less conviction that one's outpourings deserve being embalmed in printer's ink. (Herein lies a reason to blog.)
So finish the bloody thing now while you are young and cocky and energetic. Give yourself a year, say, do your absolute best and crank it out. Think of it as a union card. It might not get you a job but then it just might. Don't think of it as a magnum opus or you will never finish. Get it done by age 30 and before accepting a full-time appointment. And all of this before getting married. That, in my opinion, is the optimal order. Dissertation before 30, marriage after 30. Now raise your glass with me in a toast to Manny on this, his 290th birthday. Sapere aude!
A U. K. reader made mention in an e-mail of a feminist philosopher with a high H index.
"What is this? It's a measure of citation apparently. Is that good? Or is it a bunch of useless people citing each other -- a sort of walled garden? Interested in your thoughts."
To tell the truth, it wasn't until this afternoon that I had even heard of it. A metric like this is the kind of thing that excites status-obsessed careerists and gatekeepers like Ladder Man, a. k. a. Brian Leiter, who is so-called because of his obsession with rankings and ratings. Can you imagine a real philosopher such as Spinoza caring about these trappings of professionalism gone wild?
Here is the way I understand it. Let N be the total number of a scientist's or scholar's publications. A scientist or scholar has index h if h of his N publications have at least h citations each, and the other (N − h) publications have no more than h citations each. (See here.)
To illustrate, I will use myself as an example and attempt to calculate my h value based on the data provided by Google Scholar here.
#9 (International Philosophical Quarterly) 8 citations #10 (History of Philosophy Quarterly) 7 citations
and so on, with all the rest of my 50 or so publications having no more than 8 citations each.
The value of h for me is 8 because 8 of my publications have at least 8 citations each and the rest have no more than 8 citations each. If I had published only #1, then h would be 1. If I had published only the first two, then my h would be 2 because each has at least two citations. If I had published only the first three, then my h would be 3 because each of the three has been cited at least three times. And so on. If I had published only the first eight, then my h would still be 8.
So does this make me a better philosopher than Edmund Gettier? He published exactly one very short philosophical paper. H for him is 1. Am I eight times better than him? And what does 'better' mean? More influential? Then he is better than me. But influential on whom? Is 'influential' a descriptive or a descriptive-cum-normative predicate? Gettier cooked up a counterexample to the justified-true-belief analysis of propositional knowledge. How important is that whole debate? Nietzsche and Ayn Rand are highly influential. Is that good or bad?
Socrates is supposed not to have published anything. His h = 0. Socrates Jones over at Whatsammatta U. is his latter-day acolyte. So far he has published nothing and may never publish anything. But he is an inspiring teacher and as keen a dialectician as the master himself with many of the same moral attributes.
But poor Socrates Jones was denied tenure despite his philosophical gifts because the lunkheads who evaluated him, lacking phronesis and obsessed with the calculable, and needing to justify themselves to know-nothing administrators, were obsessed with a dubious and well-nigh meaningless metric.
Our man in Boulder, Spencer Case, here interviews Roger Scruton. I have reproduced the whole piece, bolding those portions I consider most important. To my pleasure, I find myself in agreement with what Scruton maintains below, though he ought to have avoided the "ideological concentration camp" exaggeration. I reproduce the whole of the interview to preserve it in case the link goes bad or the site goes down.
In this exclusive interview with The College Fix, globally renown British philosopher and polemicist Roger Scruton addresses the decline of the modern university.
Scruton, a highly respected, decorated scholar and author of more than 30 books, including his recent How to Think Seriously About the Planet: The Case for Environmental Conservatism, suggests colleges today have become more like “closed, ideological … concentration camps.”
He explores why that happened, why it’s wrong, and offers solutions. The interview was conducted by College Fix contributor Spencer Case last week at the University of Colorado – Boulder.
SC: So, I want to know how you would describe the state of the university. And I’m thinking in particular about the United States, but in other places as well. Do you see things generally moving in a positive direction or a negative direction, and why?
RS: I’m unusual in that I’m somebody with an academic status but who’s not part, not really part, of a university. I’ve been twenty years freelancing, supporting myself through writing and various small business-type activities, because I value my own independence, really. So I have observed it from the outside, but I do have the impression that there are things which are going wrong.
One is the way in which the difficult topics, the difficult subjects, rather, in the humanities, are being displaced by purely ideological subjects. It used to be the case that at the heart of the humanities there were difficult things like the classical languages, modern languages, literature –read properly and critically discussed – and so on, the “Great Books” and all the rest, in music the study of harmony and counter-point, in philosophy the analytical discipline that we know about so well. All those were real intellectual disciplines. But I see more and more they’re being replaced by gender studies and other forms of essentially ideological confrontation with the modern world.
SC: Now since you’re on that, that’s a great segue to another question. The question is: there is a kind of tension between, I think, more traditional type philosophers and people who are into feminism, gender studies, this kind of stuff. I’m sort of the mind that these fields inject politics and political activism too much into philosophy. But they have responses to that. One of their responses is: “We’re concerned about justice, we’re concerned about authority, and these really are perennial philosophical issues.”
RS: Yeah, sure. There is plenty of room for people to include as part of the philosophical discussions of justice the whole question about the relation between man and woman, all the questions that feminists consider. There’s absolutely no reason why that shouldn’t be included. But, if the assumption is that one has to be a feminist, one has to arrive at a particular conclusion as a result of studying this, then what is involved is not philosophical discussion but ideology. The whole defining nature of philosophy is that you start from free inquiry and you don’t actually know what you’re going to come up with as a result of your arguments. To think that you have to have the conclusion prior to the investigation is effectually to say that this is a form of indoctrination.
SC: I mean, don’t you think that you hold certain conclusions in advance of investigation? I mean, you probably knew in advance of investigation that you weren’t likely to become a global skeptic, for instance.
RS: Of course there are certain things. All of us hold certain premises on which our world view rests and we find it very difficult to question those premises. But we also know that there are controversial areas in which other people do not agree with us, and when we enter those areas it is our obligation as philosophers to open our minds, consider the arguments, and perhaps arrive at conclusions that we didn’t expect. And surely, this area about the nature of the relation between the sexes and so on is one of those. It’s quite clear that the feminist position is not accepted by everyone in the world around us, that it isn’t something that you have to have as a premise for your worldview if we are to see the world in which we live as it is. It’s not like the morality which tells us “Thou shalt not kill” and so on. And there is a kind of a closing of the mind that has happened here which excludes those that disagree with a particular position. And considering that some of those are highly intelligent people who don’t just wallow in their own prejudices, this is obviously a threat to our academic freedom.
SC: When you look at the current state of higher education, is there one philosophical mistake that you see implicated in getting us to the current sorry state of things?
RS: Well, yes. I would say that … [pause] yeah, I think there is one basic weakness in all the developments that I most would criticize. And that is that they are based upon embodying an ideological conclusion into the curriculum rather than a method of inquiry. And I think all of the humanities that have made our university so important and so great and made them contribute to the surrounding civic order, they all had this idea in their hearts of free inquiry into a subject matter, a defined subject matter, real intellectual questions, and a body of literature that helped people to understand the area. But I think what has happened is that new subjects, or new disciplines, so called, have come into being which do not require methods of inquiry, but they do require adherence to a particular conclusion.
SC: Alright, well I want to ask you about the thesis of a book I’m reading now by Robert Nisbet. The book is The Degradation of the Academic Dogma. And he basically argues that the university is the last medieval guild, the last medieval institution, to have survived the influences of modernism. And it requires certain things, like the respect for seeking truth for its own sake and scholarship, and it requires a kind of authority structure and it requires things that are really sort of out of place in the modern world. And he sees that the university is now being eroded by a cultural outlook that is incompatible with the values it requires. And I’m wondering if you could comment on that.
RS: Yes. I haven’t read this book, but I do have a tendency to agree with Robert Nisbet when I read him. I think the universities have certainly changed from what they were, from what they were when I was educated, actually. It is no longer possible to see them as uniquely involved in the dispassionate pursuit for truth for its own sake. That is something that is gone, for the reasons that I’ve said earlier, that in the humanities at least disciplines which pursued truth for its own sake have been replaced with disciplines that pursue political conformity. And the indoctrination of a specific worldview which is that of a very small minority, which has, I think, no relation to the way that normal people live. So in a sense he’s right.
But I don’t think – after all, the university isn’t entirely dominated by the humanities. On the contrary, the humanities have had a dwindling role to play for the very reason that they’ve become politicized. So they’ve become uninteresting to many students. A good university has a flourishing science section, and flourishing professional sections devoted to medicine and law and so on, and that’s always been the case, since the Middle Ages.
SC: Now, that’s great that you segue into the humanities. If you’re looking at the university today and the trends that are affecting it – even superficially – one of things that you’re going to notice is this decline in the humanities. And I’ve noticed that there are really two different components to this trend. There’s a sort of “bottom-up” trend of students not being as interested in it, fewer choosing to take up the topic. And there’s also a “top-down” component to it. The top-down component is administrators seem hostile to the humanities …
SC: … and it seems philosophy in particular. So if there are funding cuts, we know who’s going to bear most of the brunt of that. And I wonder, do you think that they are simply responding to the desires of the students, the preferences of the students, or is there some greater ideology or something behind that?
RS: I’m not sure, because I don’t know the situation in American universities as well as you do. I would say that administrators are obviously very concerned to raise funds for the university, and if it’s a question of closing down a department, they’re not going to close down a department that brings in funding. And of course, the humanities departments, on the whole, don’t bring in funding in the way that science departments do, or law departments. So, they are vulnerable. And, having become vulnerable, they make themselves more vulnerable, of course, if they simply become centers of trouble-making ideological conformity. That inevitably will have a negative impact. But I don’t know whether the administrators have an ideological motive.
In the university where I taught part-time recently, at St. Andrews in Scotland, they have closed down departments because of lack of funding, and it has been entirely on financial grounds. But it’s interesting that the department they closed down first was music, while keeping open business studies and things like that which are, on my view, complete non-sense, really, for a university to be involved in. But the business studies departments produce money, the music department didn’t, even though, of course, music, from Plato’s day, has been the fundamental discipline in the humanities. Plato made it fundamental to the university when he invented the academy, and it should have remained so. But it is vulnerable because it’s expensive to run and doesn’t bring in money. And yet, it seems to me, a university that doesn’t have a flourishing music department doesn’t really deserve the name.
SC: Final question. Also in Nisbet’s book he makes the point that the decline of the university doesn’t necessarily mean the decline of higher learning. The decline of the university could herald the dawn of new institutions that fill the same role, and perhaps may do the same things even better. I think of things like the Khan Academy and the Teaching Company, and the Teaching Company allows people to buy cds of lectures on various topics. And it seems to me that if you want to be an autodidact this really is the best time in which to live. You just have the ability to learn a lot on your own, and pretty cheaply. And I wonder if that is encouraging to you.
RS: It is, in a way. I would hate to see the universities disappear because they are fundamental institutions in Western society. They have been symbols of intellectual freedom, symbols of the civic virtue which I think most distinguishes us. Namely, the ability of people of different views to live together and to discuss their differences. That is a fantastic thing, and the university is a symbol of that. But I agree that the more universities become these closed, ideological sort of concentration camps, the more people will look for their education outside. With the internet and everything, nothing there can stop them. And one has to accept that. And maybe that will force universities to become a bit more realistic about what they’re offering.
SC: That’s all I have. Is there anything you would like to add?
RS: Oh, what would I like to add? [laughter] I think I would like to add one thing, which is it seems to me that universities need to make an effort to reach out to those who disagree with the general liberal ideology, that they ought to be more self-knowing about all this. They ought to ask themselves the question “how is it that we got into this position, where only one point of view is represented, and also that any other point of view is persecuted?” which seems to be the growing reality. And I think universities do need to go through a period of self-criticism where they ask themselves that, and whether an effort shouldn’t be made simply to open things again.
Fix contributor Spencer Case is a philosophy graduate student at the University of Colorado. He is a U.S. Army veteran of Iraq and Afghanistan and an Egypt Fulbright alumnus.
Brian Leiter is known for his academic gossip site, Leiter Reports. He is also known for his careerism, thuggishness, and political correctness. Some call him Ladder Man because of his obsession with rankings and status. (One of the meanings of the German Leiter is ladder; another is leader as in Gauleiter.) Others call him Brianus Climacus because he is a climber and careerist. For others he is just the Academic Thug. Recently, however, some on the Left have been turning on him. This from a reader:
I don’t know if you’ve been watching all this develop, but some people are more and more willing to come out publically against Leiter (though I don’t mean to suggest that I approve of the position they are siding with in order to do so). See the second paragraph in particular for background (with links):
At the moment it does indeed seem that Leiter is being devoured by the world he created, the hyper-professionalized world of academic philosophy. The conception of philosophy as a “profession” (and all the b.s. that entails) combined with the PC tendencies of academia at present have given birth to an ugly sort of monster, and Leiter has inadvertently stumbled into its labyrinth. But he does conceive himself as a sort of Theseus in this context, and he has promised a long reply to his critics. In this one specific instance I think he is in the right against many of those attacking him—their attacks coming from an even more radical version of PC than his own. But still he’s in the wrong overall (and your description of him is spot on), and this is what he gets.
I had asked: Is pushback against Leiter a case of the Left eating their own? When do these feminists and their fellow travellers actually do philosophy? Methinks too much of their time is occupied with issues of professional status and standing, 'diversity,' careerism, and the like. That is what I can't stand in Leiter as well, that corpulent apparatchik of political correctness.
Unquestionably philosophy is among of the most male-dominated disciplines in universities today, but inviting outside review by the American Philosophical Association's (APA) Committee on the Status of Women was guaranteed to produce a finding as predictable as the Salem Committee to Investigate Witchcraft in 1691. The irony of this situation is the unacknowledged reversal of the presumption of "privilege" that was at the heart of the original (and justified) feminist complaint about sexism a generation ago. While it may still be justified in the case of academic philosophy, it should not be beyond question whether mere statistical "underrepresentation" should be regarded as prima facie evidence of guilt, and therefore allowing the APA report to assert damning findings about the whole department while disclosing virtually no concrete facts.
One of the few meager facts in the APA report is that there have been "at least" 15 formal complaints to the University's Office of Discrimination and Harassment (ODH) out of the Philosophy department. "At least" 15 complaints? Is the actual number higher? Over what time period? How does this compare with the rate of complaints from other departments? How were these complaints disposed? How many were regarded as serious offenses? The report nowhere says, beyond a few vague hints that a handful of instances drew reprimands of some kind. Without a time frame or baseline against other departments it is impossible to make a relative judgment.
The APA can't be wholly blamed for this terminal vagueness, as the disposition of formal harassment complaints is handled confidentially for the most part. Unlike police departments whose arrests and investigations are a matter of public record, ODH does not disclose the data or details of their cases, and complaints, once made, require a virtual lockdown of discussion among bystanders and affected parties. This No-Persons-Land of university self-policing stems from the erosion of robust due process that would be intolerable in criminal and civil complaints outside university grounds, and campus feminists have been the prime mover in the erosion of due process standards.
Likewise the report's finding that "some male faculty have been observed 'ogling' undergraduate women students" should require something more substantial than was offered. Count me as shocked, shocked, that faculty ogling would occur. I am sure this has never happened before. Is there a relative scale for judging degrees of "ogling," by the way? Is "ogling" a more or less serious offense than a leer? I get it that the "power relationship" of a professor over a student makes this kind of behavior more serious than the normal private behavior of frat boys on a Saturday night, but are undergraduate women presumed to be so helpless or defenseless as to be unable to process and fight back against the lecherous leers of an analytical philosopher?
Likewise the APA report punts on offering any details about "bullying" in the department because it would "reveal... the perpetrators." Instead it offers general characterizations of a department that could easily be confused with the Miami Dolphins locker room, with an after-hours culture that is a poor imitation of Monty Python's "Philosopher's Song." Is the majority of the department faculty complicit in this, or just two or three bad actors? If the latter (as most people strongly suspect), why not name them? And rather than require the entire department to submit to a re-education camp, why not make it easier for the department or the administration to fire the bad actors? Nothing will spur better behavior faster than the prospect of termination.
The report complains that "The Department uses pseudo-philosophical analyses to avoid directly addressing the situation." Does this mean that philosophers actually philosophized about the problem? Again, shocking. The APA may be right that this approach is inadequate, but how would this differ essentially from the mode of reaction from feminist professors about complaints made in a women's studies program, where complaints would be run through the filters of gender theory?