A philosopher elsewhere wrote seeking advice for an undergraduate student of hers interested in "conservative" political philosophy, but neither in the libertarian nor Thomist traditions. She explains:
My student is interested in exploring a kind of conservatism of which Burke is just one example – other examples might be John Kekes, maybe Roger Scruton, John Gray. His thinking is decidedly anti-liberal, but he is interested in constructive conservative thinking rather than mere anti-liberal critique. My student’s conservatism is not grounded in religion, so a Catholic-heavy institution might not be the best fit. Political science programs are not out of the question, but he’d be looking for programs where one can do serious political philosophy.
My sense is there isn't a lot of interest in Burke in philosophy departments with PhD programs, but correct me if I'm mistaken. Suggestions welcome; signed comments (full name) strongly preferred. And give some details/reasons, please, for the programs you recommend!
Several readers flagged for me this nicely done column by philosopher Karen Stohr (Georgetown) on the subject of "contempt" (it appears at the usually unreadable "Stone" blog at the NYT). It is well-written, smartly invokes some relevant philosophical concepts, and is broadly accessible to an educated reader.
I do think Prof. Stohr is largely wrong, however, and for reasons that may be worth explaining. I like that Prof. Stohr describes herself--no doubt accurately, but unusually honestly--as "a Midwesterner by birth and moral instincts." What I like about this confession of the relativity of moral sentiment is that it helps explain her column and makes clear that if you share her sentiments, then her points are probably compelling, otherwise maybe not. I would encourage lots of other philosophers to be as honest as Prof. Stohr: we are well past the point when kids whose parents were pastors, or kids from Toledo or South Dakota, should be able to pass off their local etiquette norms and associated feelings as morally obligatory. (Readers here know my moral sentiments: I'm from New York, I don't suffer fools or charlatans or "posturing preening wankers" gladly, and I enjoy a good evisceration of scoundrels and miscreants. I'm allergic to Kant, and an equal opportunity critic of anyone who enters the public sphere. But none of it's personal, it's all "business"!)
The difficult with Prof. Stohr's approach is that its argument rests on "armchair political science," a much feebler discipline than empirical political science. She is right, of course, that contempt generally "is directed at the entire person," and so involves "dismissing" the person as not worth engaging with. (How much it has in common with Strawson's "objective attitude," as she suggests, is an interesting philosophical question, which I will bracket here.) But she goes on to claim that:
Contempt expressed by the socially powerful toward the socially vulnerable is a much greater moral danger than contempt that flows in the opposite direction. As president, Trump occupies a position of exceptional social power. Contempt bolstered by such power becomes far more effective and hence, far more threatening to our grounding democratic values....
Trump’s [mocking] imitation of [disabled journalist] Kovaleski reinforced a specific social inequality that most people now recognize as morally abhorrent; namely, the marginalization of people with disabilities.....
It may seem as though the best response to Trump’s contempt is to return it in kind, treating him the same way he treats others. The trouble, though, is that contempt toward Trump does not function in the same way that his contempt toward others functions. Even if we grant that Trump deserves contempt for his attitudes and behaviors, his powerful social position insulates him from the worst of contempt’s effects. It is simply not possible to disregard or diminish the agency of the president of the United States. This means that contempt is not a particularly useful weapon in the battle against bigotry or misogyny. The socially vulnerable cannot wield it effectively precisely because of their social vulnerability.
If there is empirical support for these claims, I am not aware of it and none is cited. Take Trump's pathetic mockery of the disabled journalist: it damaged Trump, not the journalist, so much so that even Trump and his supporters had to deny that he was really mocking the journalist. Kovaleski was not marginalized, he won support from all corners and across partisan lines. Prof. Stohr's characterization bears no relationship to what actually transpired in the court of public opinion, as best I can tell.
Last fall, I attended “Ethics of Artificial Intelligence,” at which speakers pondered whether we must grant rights to sentient sex robots; whether super-smart robots will be nice to us; and whether we should let a trolley kill a dumb human rather than a smart robot. (If the human was a trolleyologist, I'd save the robot.) Everyone was having fun until Thomas Nagel, that killjoy, reminded us that millennia of philosophizing have yielded no consensus on ethical questions. [See Post-postscript.]
A few brave souls insist that “moral truth” is not an oxymoron, and moral philosophy still matters. Peter Singer, mentioned above, presents arguments for altruism—more specifically, for giving money to the poor instead of spending on stuff you don’t need--that I find disturbingly persuasive. [See Post-post-postscript.]
Derek Parfit, who died earlier this month, strove to prove the existence of objectively true moral laws. In a 2011 profile for The New Yorker, Larissa MacFarquhar writes: “Parfit believes that there are true answers to moral questions, just as there are to mathematical ones.” But Parfit is admired less for being right than for being “brilliantly clever and imaginative” (as Bernard Williams put it in a review of Parfit’s 1984 book Reasons and Persons).
Last year my philosophy salon pondered “Cognitive Homelessness” by Timothy Williamson. It’s a strange essay, crammed with what struck me as willfully obscure terms and assertions. It features an arcane argument, based on the so-called Sorites paradox, that you cannot know whether you are hot or not.
Or as Williamson puts it: “Feeling hot does not imply being in a position to know that one is hot.” Williamson concludes that we are “cognitively homeless,” by which he means that “nothing of interest is inherently accessible” to our knowledge.
Whoa. I wasn’t sure what Williamson’s aim was. A parody of philosophy? A demonstration that so-called rational analysis is futile, because if you’re sufficiently clever you can defend any crazy conclusion?
The more I pondered the paper, the more I liked it. I began to see—or think I saw—the world through Williamson’s eyes. The view fascinated me, in part because it’s odd. The paper also seemed ironic in the literary sense, seething with possible meanings. Then, an epiphany: Philosophy is poetry with little rhyme and lots of reason.
Mr. Horgan also replies at the end to a comment by Aaron Preston from our earlier thread.
Interesting survey. Of course, philosophers were never public intellectuals in the U.S. in the same way, and the ones that had some slight public impact weren't actually very good philosophers (e.g., Sidney Hook).
Philosopher Meena Krishnamurthy (Michigan) challenges the standard Anglophone narrative that nothing of note happened in political philosophy between Mill and Rawls--at least initially, the challenge is to the idea that nothing happened in "analytic political philosophy" of note between these two giants of the genre. But later Professor Krishnamurthy drops the "analytic," leaving me a bit uncertain about the claim she is making.
The clearly correct claim she makes is that there was a lot of theorizing about questions of political and moral importance by Dubois, Ghandi, King, and others during this period; it is less clear, however, that the contributions of these writers were a contribution to "analytic political philosophy," at least as one might have thought that stylistic genre is defined with Mill and Rawls as reference points (she returns to this issue near the end of her essay). But once we drop "analytic," then it seems even more parochial to notice Dubois and Ghandi, say, but not to notice Lenin and Luckas and Adorno and Marcuse. Now the latter, of course, are all figures of note in the broadly Marxists tradition of political thought, ones that are heavily disfavored in both Anglophone philosophy and in Anglophone philosophy's recent cyber-romance with identity politics. (The only identities that count are those related to gender, race, and ethnicity.) Indeed, while many top 25 departments have made a significant faculty investment in philosophy of race in recent years, not a single one of these departments has appointed anyone working in the Marxian traditions during this same time period--and not because they already had large numbers of experts with primary appointments in philosophy on staff (the only ones I can think of are Peter Railton at Michigan, Tommie Shelby at Harvard, Elliott Sober at Wisconsin, Daniel Brudney at Chicago, Richard Miller at Cornell, and Allen Wood at Indiana--and most of these philosophers have not written on Marx in ages, let alone on the Frankfurt School or other figures in the 20th-century Marxian traditions).
ADDENDUM: Professor Krishnamurthy writes (and kindly gave me permission to share):
First, I would like to thank you for engaging with my post. Second, as a point of clarification, I was focusing on “analytic political philosophy” throughout the post. Third, I would agree that Marxism has been ignored by analytic political philosophy to some extent, though I would argue this it is less so than the thinkers I mentioned. And, of course, I would think that the mechanisms underlying this exclusion are different. I’d be curious to hear from those who are more familiar with Marx about what these mechanisms might be. Why would Marxists be excluded?
Parochialism plays a role in both cases, I suspect; the lack of interest in Marxism strikes me as more startling, though, in part because many of the theorists noted above were clearly working in philosophical idioms, if not the usual analytic ones. But I agree that different considerations probably explain the relative neglect in the different cases. As the recent investment in philosophy of race by leading PhD programs, noted above, shows, it is a lot easier to be working on DuBois than Adorno these days in Anglophone philosophy! (I am in favor of both; the obvious relevance of the Marxian tradition to recent real-world developments would be a good occasion for departments to invest as much in those areas too!)
ANOTHER:A young philosopher (currently on the job market) writes with an interesting observation:
The people [Prof. Krishnamurthy] mentions are, I think, "philosophical", and so reasonably subject to discussion in a philosophy class without too much trouble, but not philosophers, so it's not surprise they are not discussed - it takes a lot of work to transform them into forms easily dealt with by philosophical analysis as main subjects or texts, and then you have to ask why to do so. I mean, it's not that much different from the fact that very few political philosophy classes read Tocqueville, or Ben Franklin, or Thomas Jefferson, or Thomas Paine, or Hobhouse, etc. (to take just a list of people who are included in the Cambridge History of Political Thought books.) So, I'm not sure that the sort of "parochialism" she has in mind is the clear explanation. (I should mention that I have read, enjoyed, and learned from not only Paine and Hobhouse, but also du Bois, etc. If we are going to complain about philosophers not reading or teaching du Bois, why not his teacher, Weber, who is also rarely taught in a political philosophy class?)
Reader Samuel Murray calls these interesting pieces to my attention, Part 1 and Part 2 (more coming), by regular SA writer John Horgan. Some striking remarks from Part 1:
So what makes good philosophy good? What makes it valuable? We wrestled with these questions last year in my philosophy salon when we considered a fascinating paper by David Chalmers, “Why Isn’t There More Progress in Philosophy?”
Chalmers is almost comically passive-aggressive in the paper, veering between defiance and doubt. He opens by insisting that “obviously” philosophy achieves some progress, but the rest of his paper undercuts that modest assertion.
He concedes that whereas scientists do converge on certain answers, “there has not been large collective convergence to the truth on the big questions of philosophy.” A survey of philosophers carried out by Chalmers and a colleague revealed divisions on big questions: What is the relationship between mind and body? How do we know about the external world? Does God exist? Do we have free will?
Philosophers’ attempts to answer such questions, Chalmers remarks, “typically lead not to agreement but to sophisticated disagreement.” That is, progress consists less in defending truth claims than in casting doubt on them. Chalmers calls this “negative progress.”
Chalmers suggests that philosophers’ methods keep improving, and that these refinements constitute progress of a kind. But if improved methods of argumentation still aren’t yielding truth, do they really count as progress? That’s like equating scientific progress with advances in telescopes and microscopes, regardless of whether these instruments discover viruses or pulsars. If philosophers can’t reach agreement on anything, why keep arguing?
And some notable observations from Part 2:
I’m often struck, watching philosophers interact, by their aggression. Scientists can be rough, but less so, on average, than philosophers. Why is that? Because philosophical clashes, unlike scientific ones, cannot be resolved by appeals to data; they are battles of wits.
In “Why Isn’t There More Progress in Philosophy?,” David Chalmers notes that science employs “the observational/experimental method,” which has “the power to compel agreement on the answers to big questions.” In contrast, philosophy relies on “the method of argument,” which does not compel agreement.
Chalmers acknowledges that millennia of philosophical debate have not yielded convergence on big questions. So why do philosophers keep bickering if they can’t arrive at a resolution?
Perhaps philosophy has devolved into mere competition, in which victors are rewarded with fame and glory--more specifically, grants, tenure, book contracts, invitations to Davos and appearances on Charlie Rose.
He concludes Part 2 by suggesting maybe the point of philosophy is like the point of a martial art.
I favor a more plausible hypothesis, due to Nietzsche perhaps unsurprisingly, namely, that philosophers are "advocates who resent that name," who defend their non-rational "hunches" and "inspirations" "with reasons they have sought after the fact" (sec. 5, Beyond Good and Evil). Maybe not all philosophers all the time are like that--some are like Nietzsche's "scholars" (Gelehrten), whose real interests in life lie elsewhere (in family or money or politics), and for whom it is a matter of indifference whether they become a good professional philosopher "or a fungus expert or a chemist" (sec. 6). But "every great philosophy" is "a type of involuntary and unself-conscious memoir" in which "the moral (or immoral) intentions...constitute the true living seed from which the whole plant has always grown" (sec 6). Kant at least had the decency to admit that (to limit reason, to make room for faith!).
Nietzsche to one side, I'm curious to hear what readers think of Mr. Horgan's observations. What is the point of philosophy, insofar as philosophy doesn't seem to make much or any progress?
Today I am launching the first episode in the 10-episode series of Hi-Phi Nation, a show that integrates narrative storytelling, journalism, documentary audio, and philosophy. The hope is that it will bring a lot of the public to philosophy that would not otherwise seek it out, and that it can serve as an alternative medium for doing public philosophy. The show is inspired by the best documentary audio, utilizing professional production techniques and soundtracking. Topics for the first season include posthumous harm, the morality of war, music aesthetics, philosophy of language, demarcating science and pseudoscience in the replicability debate, and more. Anyone can listen and subscribe for free here or here.
...from Peter Adamson (KCL/Munich). They seem fairly sensible. (I might quibble with #17, at least in the case of historical figures who have been subjected to exhaustive and sophisticated philosophical commentary--their the secondary literature may of co-equal importance with the primary text, at least for someone motivated by the philosophical issues.) What do readers who work in history of philosophy think? Submit your comment only once, they may take awhile to appear (busy day!).
This 61-page document is not a work in political philosophy, in any sense of the term. Political philosophy is a sub-discipline of philosophy. This is not a work of philosophy, in any sense of the term. While characterizing the distinctive features of philosophy in the Western tradition has itself long been a lively topic among philosophers, it is in every guise marked by a mode of argument the point of which is the discovery of general and abstract truths. That mode of argument is manifested in standard forms of reasoning, for example, in establishing, with evidence, a number of premises the acceptance of which logically requires the acceptance of the truth of a conclusion those premises support.
His correspondence with his brother. The difficult question for those who take Heidegger seriously as a philosopher is whether, and how, the vulgar Catholic prejudices of his upbringing that led him down the road of Nazism and anti-Semitism can be disentangled from his philosophical views: his hostility to philosophy, towards reason, towards modernity, and so on. As George Steiner and Walter Kaufmann, among others, have argued, it is not entirely obvious that they are wholly separable.
The book is, indeed, silly (and basically incompetent), but I've never seen the point put so succinctly:
It seems to me absurd to suppose that McCumber’s book comes within cooee of excellence . He argues that the triumph of the unduly disengaged school of analytic philosophy in the USA was due to McCarthyism. It is a moot point whether analytic philosophy IS unduly disengaged (Russell, Ayer and Hart, for example, were notable as as public intellectuals and one reason that so many logical empiricists had to flee to America was because of the anti-fascist tendencies of their thought) , but whether it is or not, McCarthyism can’t be the chief explanation of its triumph in America since analytic philosophy *also* triumphed in other Anglophone countries where McCarthyism was either muted or non-existent. The book is typical of one of the two ways in which American scholars tend to go astray. Because America is such a big, powerful and important country, they find it hard to keep the rest of the world in focus. As a result they are prone to two opposing errors: seeking a global explanation for what is mainly an American phenomenon or seeking a specifically American explanation for what is a global phenomenon. McCumber gives an American explanation for the triumph of analytic philosophy which is a global or at least a pan-Anglophone phenomenon (though one should not forget the triumph of analytic philosophy in countries such as Sweden and Finland). There is the further problem that analytic philosophy had largely triumphed in America BEFORE the political advent of McCarthy whose glory days were from 1950-1954. Now you can get around this difficulty by defining McCarthyism more broadly to encompass the red-baiting anti-radical and anti-Communist hysteria (often with an anti-New Deal agenda) that began in the nineteen-thirties and found institutional expression in the House Un-American Activities Committee which began its sessions in 1938 as well as the its predecessors such as the McCormack-Dickstein Committee whose co-chair, Dickstein, turns out (hilariously) to have been in the pay of the NKVD. But in that case the theory becomes even more bizarre as the most high-profile victim of this kind of proto-McCarthyism was Bertrand Russell, one of the founding fathers of analytical philosophy, who was blocked from a job at CUNY in 1940 because of his social and sexual radicalism and his anti-religious writings, reducing him temporarily, to near destitution. So McCumber’s thesis metamorphoses into the claim that philosophers sought to avoid the fate of Bertrand Russell by philosophizing in the style pioneered by -– Bertrand Russell. Well that’s not quite right (someone might reply); the point is that the triumph of analytical philosophy is to be explained by the fact that philosophers sought to avoid the fate of Bertrand Russell a) by philosophizing in the style of Bertrand Russell whilst b) *eschewing the public role that Russell had played for so many years as an activist for left-wing causes*. But then it seems that what McCarthyism (in this extended sense) explains is not the triumph of analytic philosophy (which was well on the way by 1940 and which happened elsewhere without the aid of McCarthyism) but the relative silence of left-leaning philosophers on social issues that was characteristic of American philosophy in the forties and fifties. In other words, what McCarthyism explains is not the triumph of analytic philosophy in America but the retreat of those triumphant analytic philosophers to the ‘icy slopes of logic’ . (This is confirmed by the fact that in other countries, where McCarthyite tendencies were relatively weak, you get the triumph of analytic philosophy without the retreat to the icy slopes: Russell, Ayer and Hart were all pretty vocal on social issues in the forties, fifties and sixties.) But this is not McCumber’s thesis but Reisch’s thesis as developed in ‘How the Cold War Transformed the Philosophy of Scince’. I have reservations about Reisch’s book but at least it isn’t as obviously silly as McCumber’s.
So it turns out that equally silly thread on Babette Babich's fantasies about the Continental traditions in philosophy produced several useful comments!
...but in a world with lots of blogs run by people with varying levels of knowledge, sometimes stupidity finds an audience, and innocents need to be warned. The only thing that Babette Babich knows less about than the Continental traditions in post-Kantian European philosophy is what is going on in Anglophone "analytic" philosophy, but on neither topic is she an informed or reliable commentator. As one commenter correctly remarked:
I think you do the Continental Philosophy tradition a serious disservice by raising this (to my mind very important) topic in the context of a rant by Babich and one of her acolytes. She’s well known to try to discredit speakers at Continental Philosophy conferences by insulting them on Twitter (sometimes with the retort that they are secretly “Analytic”, and sometimes with more mundane insults). She’s barely taken seriously by Continental Philosophers anymore, except for a small die-hard crop of apologists who are thankfully diminishing in numbers fast.
And another patient commenter, Jonathan Mitchell, responds effectively on the "merits" of this intellectual muddle:
As someone who writes on Nietzsche I find much of what Babich has to say quite poorly motivated (for reasons I will explain below). But first I want to start by quoting Babich’s definition of ‘continental philosophy’:
The question the interviewer sets up is this:
“CC If, as I am suggesting, logical argumentation is at the heart of the analytic methods, can you express the essence of the continental practices in philosophy?”
“BB: Continental philosophy includes a historical sense, a sense of historical context which it does not name ‘the history of philosophy.’ If Heidegger writes about Anaximander he is not reflecting on philosophy’s history as if this were a thing once done, passé, whereas we now, today, do some other sort of thing when we ‘do’ philosophy. At the same time the continental tradition also emphasizes everything that has to do with context, with interpretation, as a difference that makes all the difference.”
For starters, there is no obvious reason why one can’t study philosophy with a ‘historical sense’, where this involves paying due attention to historical context, and at the same time be involved in ‘logical argumentation’, if by the later one is taken to mean providing reasons, arguments and evidence for the claims one makes (especially, but not least, claims of exegesis). The two would only seem mutually exclusive if one had an incredibly narrow understanding of what ‘logical argumentation’ amounted to (i.e. equivalent to applying the most abstract of formal logical methods which is not the trend in Nietzsche studies!).
According to the Times article, Rorty thought that when his prediction came true, some of the blame would go to academics, who would be at least partially to blame because "in universities, cultural and identity politics replaced the politics of change and economic justice." If academics do bear some responsibility for Trump's election, it must be because adherents of "cultural and identity politics" in the universities have some influence on the agendas of the political activists and candidates who overlooked what Trump saw. Perhaps they do. But if so, this raises the questions why so much of political philosophy -- in which questions of equality and distributive justice have been the focus of intense interest since the publication of A Theory of Justice -- has had so little impact and of how it might have more.
I have some idea of how ideas get translated into agendas and policies through a network of think tanks on the right. At a time when what passes for the left in American politics is trying to figure out how to speak to the discontent Rorty described, is there an opportunity for political philosophy to contribute? And if so, how? Perhaps philosophy's lack of influence is explained, in part, by the fact that I and many others have no idea how to answer these questions. But it would be interesting to hear from people who do.
A couple of observations of my own, but comments are open for reactions and thoughts about Prof. Weithman's question. First, I'm not sure Rorty's causal hypothesis is accurate: the cultural and identity politics rampant in parts of the academy in the 1980s (and now having even reached academic philosophy) had a separate life outside the academy, and a pre-history outside the academy, with, e.g., civil rights movements for women, African-Americans and gays. Second, what has been influential with right-wing think tanks has not been normative political philosophy, but certain economic theories, which presented themselves as identifying means for purportedly uncontroversial ends. Of course, the triumph of "Chicago school" economics in the Reagan era had more to do with the fact that it matched the short-term interests of the ruling class, not with its intellectual merits. Third, there are few if any examples I can think of where normative political philosophy had a direct impact on policy, but perhaps some readers will have examples. Again, other responses to the issues raised by Prof. Weithman are welcome.
I'd be curious to hear from readers about the "other fields not mentioned" (it occurs to me religion or theology may have been a common one). Natural sciences accounted for 26% of the responses, social sciences for 22%, and the humanities for 25%. English got the most votes (14%) followed by Law (12%) (the latter result may be skewed by my readership, which may be higher among law & philosophy faculty and students than some other subfields, though this is just a guess). I strongly suspect that if we looked only at faculty at top PGR-ranked departments, we would find the skew in favor of natural sciences even higher, but that's just based on what I know about many but not all faculty at those departments.
Thoughts from readers? Those who chose "other fields," what fields? Comments may take awhile to appear (busy day), so please submit them only once. Thanks. (UPDATE 2 pm CST: Typepad has been having problems today, so if you've been unable to submit a comment, please try again a bit later.)
The recent interview with Prof. Moss--in which she noted "I was a math major in college and was all set to go to math grad school"--reminded me of a familiar pattern in Anglophone philosophy, namely, that it appears to be full of almost mathematicians and physicists: hence this poll. Please only answer if you are presently a philosophy faculty member or philosophy PhD student at an English-speaking program. If you hadn't gone into philosophy (either as an undergraduate or graduate student), what field would you have pursued? So, e.g., if you majored in philosophy undergraduate, but almost went to law school, choose 'law.' If you were going to major in physics, but then majored in philosophy, choose "physics." If you were a math major before getting a PhD in philosophy, choose "math." If you in fact pursued a double major, or a double PhD, or a PhD and another postgraduate degree, choose the other field (e.g., I would choose law). And so on.
The book was Gellner's scathing attack on ordinary language philosophy, Words and Things (1959), which included criticism of Ryle. Bertrand Russell, who had written a preface for the book, wrote to The Times protesting Ryle's decision, which sparked many letters in reply, including from Ryle. They are all collected here. The series culminates with an editorial about the dispute:
Unsurprisingly, some philosophy teachers think so, but that's just self-serving nonsense. Anyone who spends a little time studying philosophers under Nazism, including all the Kantians who came out for National Socialism, will realize right away that, to quote Nietzsche, philosophers "are all advocates who do not want to be called by that name, and for the most part even wily spokesmen for their prejudices which they baptize 'truths'" (Beyond Good and Evil, sec. 5)
(Thanks to Michael Swanson for the pointer.)
UPDATE: You can get a sense of the irrelevance of philosophers by looking at how some are rearranging deck chairs on the Titanic as a putative "response." I have a radical suggestion: how about philosophy teachers design their curriculum and syllabi with an eye to making sure students master the subject-matter? Altering the curriculum because of Trump is as pointless as altering it to pander to this or that supposed constituency.
ANOTHER: One adult philosopher has some more concrete suggestions (see Prof. Wolff's blog generally for others, as well as sensible analysis and commentary).
I know some philosophers find telling laypeople that they are philosophers or explaining what philosophy is tiring. On the other hand, some philosophers give a veritable conference paper to the simple question, “What do you do?”
It’s nice to be invited back, and I want to thank Brian for letting me blog on his site again. For those of you interested in a follow up story to the elimination of the Western Illinois University philosophy major and the closing of the Department of Philosophy and Religious Studies, let me get you all up to date.
The Philosophy and Religious Studies department has been eliminated along with its two majors. What is left are minors in both philosophy and religious studies and about two dozen philosophy majors that need to be taught out. Over the summer the Provost tasked the faculty in the eliminated departments with finding academic homes. The Religious Studies faculty voted to join the faculty in the eliminated programs and departments of Women’s Studies and African American Studies to become the Department of Liberal Arts and Sciences pending IBHE approval. The four remaining philosophers, not including our dean, were keen to find an academic home where we would fit academically AND retain some identifiable presence on campus. Not an easy task, and other departments in our college weren’t particularly interested in taking on four additional faculty members when layoffs were (and are still) a concern. The chair of Mathematics, however, offered to do just that--provide an academic home and a visible presence on campus.
How? The chair, presumably to signal his support of philosophy and its importance to a university education, submitted a request to the Provost to change the department name to: “Mathematics, Logic, and Philosophy.” We are awaiting approval, but if it is approved, philosophy will still have some visibility on campus.
It’s all a bit strange, and being in a new department is like starting a new job. Also I’m no longer recruiting students and discussing the benefits of a major in philosophy, even so, we do realize we need to market our minor. Some readers may remember this. Unfortunately this doesn’t have quite the same ring: “Thinking about a minor, minor in thinking.”
I am opening comments on this thread so that people can share and discuss successful programs and strategies for promoting philosophy minors.
ADDENDUM: Just to be clear, think of this as a prize for philosophical excellence, however you understand that. There are no further constraints, as there appear to have been with the Berggruen (e.g., relevance to public life).
ANOTHER: Two readers have already pointed out one error of omission, Gilbert Harman. Unfortunately, once the poll starts, I can't add names.
ALAS: Two more omissions: Harry Frankfurt, Judith Jarvis Thomson (sigh). Would any of these folks made the top ten? Hard to say.
The first winner is--yawn--Charles Taylor, who has previously received the Kluge Prize, the Templeton Prize, and the Kyoto Prize, among others. (This isn't as peculiar a choice as the first Kluge Prize, however, far from it!) But, seriously, was it necessary to give one million dollars to an already rich apologist for Catholicism who has a somewhat uneven reputation among professional philosophers (see, e.g., here)? (Taylor was independently wealthy, even before his other millions in prizes.) The prize is supposed to recognize "a thinker whose ideas are of broad significance for shaping human self-understanding and the advancement of humanity. It seeks to recognize and encourage philosophy in the ancient sense of the love of wisdom and in the 18th Century sense of intellectual inquiry into all the basic questions of human knowledge. It rewards thinkers whose ideas are intellectually profound but also able to inform practical and public life across the range of world civilizations." The funder, Nicolas Berggruen, is quoted as observing that, "Ideas have had a greater impact on human history than anything else. We still live in a world that was shaped by Socrates, Confucius, Jesus Christ, Mohamed and Karl Marx, to name a few." That is a very weird list of names for a philosophy prize, though the inclusion of two religious figures whose influence is due not to their philosophical contributions but mass movements (and, if Nietzsche is right, certain kinds of psychological malaise) is perhaps telling, and may help explain why the first awardee is best-known as a nuanced opponent of naturalistic modernity and an apologist for religion. And what is the evidence that Taylor has had any influence on "practical and public life across the range of world civilizations"? He has played an important role in the public life of Canada, to be sure, but elsewhere?
The other keynote speaker controversy making the rounds concerns a talk by philosopher of religion Richard Swinburne (Oxford) at a regional meeting of SCP at Evangel University in Missouri. This appears to be a sympathetic account of what transpired from someone in attendance. Briefly: Swinburne offered the usual awful arguments for anti-gay bigotry that "natural law" theorists and Christian philosophers usually trot out. No one outside the sect takes the arguments seriously, because they aren't serious arguments, but put that to one side. This talk was given inside the "sect": should anyone have been surprised that a keynote address at a Christian philosophy conference included familiar arguments rationalizing anti-gay bigotry? Many self-identified Christian philosophers reject such arguments, but many others plainly do not. As philosopher Chris Swoyer (Oklahoma) noted:
A substantial portion of Christians hold views like those attributed to Swinburne and do so on the basis of their understanding of Christianity. So it's surely not surprising for him to express such views in the setting he did.
That is surely right, and poses a difficult question for those Christian philosophers who repudiate such views about whether they want to be in that "setting" as it were.
In the case of the other keynote speaker controversy du jour, Professor Shelby was asked by a Black woman in his Q&A why he had not cited or discussed any Black feminist authors; Professor Shelby, unsurprisingly, was dismissive of the question, calling it a request for a "bibliography" and indicating he was just trying to do philosophy. He, correctly, supposed that a question of the form, "Why didn't you mention authors with particular racial and gender attributes?" is not a serious philosophical question, in contrast to, say, the question, "Why didn't you address the following argument by author X [who is also a Black feminist]?", which is an appropriate question. (Readers should review the full statement by the aggrieved audience member at the end of this post.) Other audience members shared this aggrievement as well. The organizing committee, instead of taking the opportunity to educate the aggrieved philosophy graduate student about the intellectual norms of the profession she plans to enter instead sent out a missive to all those who attended the conference stating that,
In particular, we apologize for the effects of the Saturday keynote address [by Prof. Shelby] and for our failure to do more about a situation in which SAF members felt personally and collectively hurt. When members identify effects including the erasure of Black women’s bodies and words, then we have to do better. What was said was wrong, and inappropriate at a feminist conference, and we take responsibility for our roles in the events that took place.
So one initial difference between the two cases is that Professor Swinburne's views really are a philosophical embarrassment, whereas Professor Shelby's views and his response to an inappropriate question were not. Indeed, the philosophical embarrassment is that the organizing committee of a philosophy conference caved in to meritless aggrievement by someone who apparently does not know what constitutes an appropriate philosophical question. The other difference involves the "official" SCP response to the Swinburne talk. Michael Rea (Notre Dame), the President of SCP, made the following public statement in the wake of attention being called to the Swinburne talk:
I want to express my regret regarding the hurt caused by the recent Midwest meeting of the Society for Christian Philosophers. The views expressed in Professor Swinburne's keynote are not those of the SCP itself. Though our membership is broadly united by way of religious faith, the views of our members are otherwise diverse. As Preisdent of the SCP, I am committed to promoting the intellectual life of our philosophical community. Consequently (among other reasons), I am committed to the values of diversity and inclusion. As an organization, we have fallen short of those ideals before, and surely we will again. Nonetheless, I will strive for them going forward. If you have thoughts or feedback you would like to share with me, I would welcome hearing from you via email or private message.
Like the SAF conference organizers, Prof. Rea rebukes the speaker to the extent of feeling the need to apologize for the effects of the talk (both statements apologize for "hurt"). Unlike the SAF conference organizers, Prof. Rea at least does not pronounce "what was said" to be "wrong" and verboten "for a Christian conference," which would, for the reasons noted by Prof. Swoyer, be a difficult position to defend in this "setting." Prof. Rea's response would have been better had it just consisted in the statement that "The views expressed in Professor Swinburne's keynote are not those of the SCP itself. Though our membership is broadly united by way of religious faith, the views of our members are otherwise diverse." If he'd left it at that, this would not be notable at all.
The comical sanctimony of certain segments of the philosophy "profession" is a regular topic of conversation and head-shaking among adults, but the insulting treatment of philosopher Tommie Shelby (Harvard) after his keynote at the meeting of the Society for Analytic Feminism (SAF) sets a new low. Justin Weinberg (South Carolina), who always has his finger on the racing pulse of the hyper-sensitive, offers this account:
At the SAF, some members of the audience found the keynote talk by Tommie Shelby (Harvard), drawn from his forthcoming book Dark Ghettos, highly objectionable. My understanding (which may not be entirely accurate) is that the controversy concerned some remarks in the talk about procreative ethics, how (as he puts it in an earlier article), “basic duties are not suspended or void because one is oppressed,” and whether what he said was disrespectful to poor, black women. Some attendees apparently thought that an apology was in order, perhaps from the organizers. (UPDATE: two days after the SAF conference ended, its organizers sent an email to the participants issuing an apology, and requesting feedback from them regarding the event and future conferences.) (UPDATE 2: further details regarding Shelby’s talk can be found in the comment below from “a poor black woman who was there.”)
I suppose Professor Shelby (and everyone else) has learned an important lesson here, namely, that the meeting of the Society for Analytic Feminism is not really a philosophical conference, but one in which failure of ideological purity (which is marked by giving "offense"--heavens!) is verboten and results in an "official" repudiation by the organization.
Again, if we were dealing with professionals--it appears we are not--then we would expect SAF to issue an apology to Prof. Shelby for this shameful treatment at what was supposed to be a philosophical event. (I should add that the sins of SAF should not be visited on those who work in feminist philosophy, though there is, of course, some overlap in the two groups. But I guess if I were a job candidate, I would get SAF off my CV, lest the sins of the SAF organizers be visited on the innocent.)
UPDATE: Philosopher Kate Norlock (Trent) tells me that Professor Weinberg's account is not accurate, and therefore the inferences I have drawn from it are not warranted. She writes:
Tommie Shelby spoke to an attentive and quiet audience without interruption.the question-and-answer period afterward involved many members of the audience providing substantial and critical comments and questions to him. I can attest, since I was there, that their objections were not to the notion that the oppressed can have moral duties.
Interestingly, one of the more unfortunate moments in the discussion period was a moment when Shelby attempted to deflect a robust criticism with the comment that he was "just doing philosophy." Since the unfortunate implication of this ill-chosen deflection is that his questioner may not be trying to do the same, I found myself asserting, as I closed the event, that I appreciated the extent to which we all, including our keynote speaker, remained engaged and did philosophy together. It is therefore disappointing to read your statement that "the meeting of the Society for Analytic Feminism is not really a philosophical conference."
Presentations at our conference included the works of philosophers from 30 different states and 3 countries. I provide you the link to our program so that you may be better informed as to the philosophical content of our conference:
I know you care about truth and fact more than your post indicates. I believe that you wish to be accurate and right. Your post about SAF is neither. It is not reflective of actualities and instead seems to merely echo Justin Weinberg's likewise uninformed post at Daily Nous. Your recommendation that my organization should not appear on a philosopher's CV may be well-intended but is predicated on misunderstanding on your part.
Last, please provide me with any proof that I or my organization officially repudiated Tommie Shelby or owes him an apology. Proof should include more than your repetition of Justin Weinberg's gossip. That the blogs cite each other does not constitute proof. Again, I know that you know this, or would ordinarily know this.
I appreciate the additional detail, but I am, I confess, still puzzled. I am surprised that Prof. Weinberg's posting would remain uncorrected on these points after more than a day and despite dozens of comments including from members of SAF. (UPDATE: Prof. Weinberg's post was updated to reflect this point after I posted this.) I have asked Prof. Norlock for the apology e-mail organizers allegedly sent to members; Prof. Norlock's message to me was silent on tHis. When I have more information, I will post more.
ANOTHER UPDATE: Another SAF meeting attendee has forwarded me the e-mail sent out by the organizers, which confirms the crucial part of Prof. Weinberg's original account:
We write to all participants in the SAF 2016 conference so that those of us not on Facebook or social media have the same access to our acknowledgement of the harms some participants have already identified, and opportunities to participate in addressing them.
In planning this conference, we wanted to create a safe and nurturing space for feminist philosophers and feminist philosophies. We recognize that this was not the case for everyone present, and for that we apologize. In particular, we apologize for the effects of the Saturday keynote address [by Prof. Shelby] and for our failure to do more about a situation in which SAF members felt personally and collectively hurt. When members identify effects including the erasure of Black women’s bodies and words, then we have to do better. What was said was wrong, and inappropriate at a feminist conference, and we take responsibility for our roles in the events that took place.
Continental Philosophy Farhang Erfani, a philosopher at American University, provides a useful set of links to news, events, interviews, reviews, videos, etc. related to "Continental philosophy" (broadly construed)