Friday, May 02, 2014

Political correctness and the search for academic freedom

Discussed in a post by Lydia McGrew here. 

HT: Steve Hays

29 comments:

im-skeptical said...

McGrew's take on the situation: "Some of you may not have heard that the Philosophy department at the University of Colorado has been subjected to a bizarre and extreme administrative takeover designed to force a more welcoming atmosphere towards women. The accusations involved are all unstated or vague (or covered by the veil of secrecy that attends intra-university complaints of harassment). I am not even saying that no professors in the department have done anything wrong. (The one publicly available report accuses some unspecified number of "ogling" female students.) But the sanctions are terrifying and, if applied, some of them are arguably illegal."

Actual news report on the situation: "The University of Colorado Boulder released a damning report Friday revealing rampant sexual harassment and bullying in the university's department of philosophy. The scandal has already led to the removal of the department chairman and a suspension within the department of all graduate student admissions until 2015."

http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2014/02/04/sexual-harassment-colorado-philosophy_n_4725583.html

Victor Reppert said...

This sort of thing does happen in philosophy departments, sad to say.

B. Prokop said...

Sexual harassment and even assault on university campuses seems to be an epidemic in the US right now. That is beyond dispute. I doubt that philosophy departments have any sort of corner on this market. Absolutely shameful and beyond excuse or rationalizing.

That said... It seems to me that, assuming Lydia McGrew is reporting this correctly, there are at least two aspects to the University of Colorado's response that are quite troubling.

1. The prohibition against disputing various point of view. Huh? Isn't disputing disparate ideas the whole point of philosophy? What's left for the department to do?

2. The total prohibition against all socializing. That's like saying because some drivers break the speed limit, we ought to ban all cars.

Victor Reppert said...

Let's see how this recommendation sounds with one word changed:

If some department members have a problem with people doing non-Christian philosophy or doing Christian philosophy (or being engaged in any other sort of intellectual or other type of pursuit), they should gain more appreciation of and tolerance for plurality in the discipline. Even if they are unable to reach a level of appreciation for other approaches to the discipline, it is totally unacceptable for them to denigrate these approaches in front of faculty, graduate or undergraduate students, in formal or informal settings, on or off campus.

Suppose some Christians were to complain about the denigration of their religion by teachers who, let us say, claimed that their beliefs were delusional. The APA were to get involved to oppose this kind of "harassment" and were to issue a statement like the above. Do you think for one moment that atheists wouldn't scream their heads off?

Even on the assumption that there was rampant sexual harassment going on in the department, this is no solution.

Crude said...

Bob,

The prohibition against disputing various point of view. Huh? Isn't disputing disparate ideas the whole point of philosophy? What's left for the department to do?

I once talked with a professional philosopher who insisted that any philosophical discussion of the morality of same-sex sexual behavior should be banned by the APA, because A) he thought it was moral, and B) he thought the very act of asking the question was insulting to people who engage in such, and the feelings of his family and friends trumped mere philosophical inquiry.

Dustin Crummett said...

1. The prohibition against disputing various point of view. Huh? Isn't disputing disparate ideas the whole point of philosophy? What's left for the department to do?

What the report actually suggests is not that people not dispute other people's views, but rather that they not denigrate the fields that their colleagues work in. It should be possible to think your colleague is doing respectable work while also thinking they're totally wrong.

I actually thought Victor's rephrasing was supposed to be *sympathetic* to the report's recommendation, until I read the second half of the comment. Prejudice against religious people and philosophers of religion is a problem in professional philosophy that ought to be addressed (though not one on a par w/ the gender climate.)

2. The total prohibition against all socializing. That's like saying because some drivers break the speed limit, we ought to ban all cars.

I think it's hard to say without access to specific details which the Site Visit committee had and we don't. I can imagine situations where the sort of socializing in question was systematically problematic enough that it might be better to do away with it altogether, at least until the situation stabilized.

I once talked with a professional philosopher who insisted that any philosophical discussion of the morality of same-sex sexual behavior should be banned by the APA, because A) he thought it was moral, and B) he thought the very act of asking the question was insulting to people who engage in such, and the feelings of his family and friends trumped mere philosophical inquiry.

I find this a little bit hard to believe, since it clearly wouldn't be possible for the APA to do such a thing. How on earth would they enforce it? What exactly did this person have in mind?

Anyway, while I wouldn't support that proposal even if it was a live option, I do think it's reasonable, in general, to have professional norms that effectively rule out defending certain positions. One wants to respect academic freedom as much as possible, but a purely formal sort of freedom winds up hollow if it means that people who are in vulnerable groups wind up being driven out of the profession. It's a difficult issue.

Crude said...

Dustin,

I find this a little bit hard to believe, since it clearly wouldn't be possible for the APA to do such a thing. How on earth would they enforce it? What exactly did this person have in mind?

It's an anecdote, with all the power an anecdote should have. Take it with a grain of salt. I only report my firsthand experience.

This was the position of the philosopher, not the APA. Their blog has since done that 'only friends of this philosopher may comment here' thing, or I'd link you to it.

Anyway, while I wouldn't support that proposal even if it was a live option, I do think it's reasonable, in general, to have professional norms that effectively rule out defending certain positions.

Like?

And in theory, I have no problem with that, believe it or not. But at that point I think they should be explicit: their organization opposes free thinking on these or those views. This is the dogma they subscribe to, and demand their members subscribe to.

Make it clear: no dissent. Dogma.

One wants to respect academic freedom as much as possible, but a purely formal sort of freedom winds up hollow if it means that people who are in vulnerable groups wind up being driven out of the profession. It's a difficult issue.

I really don't think so. Be as clannish as you like, just make it clear a clan is what you are. Of course that requires bluntly acknowledging one's biases and prejudices openly. For philosophers that would mean eschewing all that 'we are free thinking sorts who question everything and invite challenge!' stuff.

Besides, pardon my cynicism, but 'being driven out of the profession'? Philosophy isn't a profession. Academia is. Academia could die tomorrow, and philosophy would survive.

Dustin Crummett said...

Like?

Well, to pick an easy example, if someone dedicated his career to arguing that white supremacism was morally justified, I would view that as a totally adequate reason not to hire him, whatever his other merits. You could give a sort of strictly academic justification for that--such a project isn't "philosophically interesting." But I also wouldn't want for minority students to have to be taught by such a person, would worry about the impact such a person would have on the department's environment, etc.

And in theory, I have no problem with that, believe it or not. But at that point I think they should be explicit: their organization opposes free thinking on these or those views. This is the dogma they subscribe to, and demand their members subscribe to.

Make it clear: no dissent. Dogma.


I was actually thinking about informal professional norms, rather than anything being done on an organizational level. But, yeah, if "supporting free thinking" is supposed to mean something like "supporting people (by giving them jobs, etc.) with absolutely no regard for what questions they work on, what views they take, etc." then of course the profession will "oppose free thinking" sometimes. Someone who wanted to spend his career examining arguments for and against the view that 417 is the best number of blades of grass to have on your lawn would have trouble finding employment at a research university, and rightly so, since such a project would be incredibly stupid.

Besides, pardon my cynicism, but 'being driven out of the profession'? Philosophy isn't a profession. Academia is. Academia could die tomorrow, and philosophy would survive.

Professional philosophy is a profession. I can't see how questions of academic freedom, decisions made by professional philosophical organizations, etc. would make any sort of direct difference to a non-professional philosopher?

B. Prokop said...

Victor could help me out here with my failing memory, but wasn't there a philosophy professor at Arizona State named Starsky who was fired while we were there (in the early 1970s) solely on the grounds of his being a Marxist?

Admittedly, my memory's quite fuzzy on this after so many years, but I seem to recall a tremendous controversy over this at the time. I can't even recall whether or not he got his job back or not. Do you have any recollection of this event?

B. Prokop said...

Ahh.. I should have looked before I leaped. I had forgotten the magic of Google. HERE is a Wikipedia article on Professor Morris Starsky. Seems the technical excuse for his firing was his protesting ASU's participation in sports competitions with the then-racist Brigham Young University. I'll bet you dollars to donuts that there was probably some not-so-far-under-the-surface antisemitism as well in the decision to get rid of him.

Interesting footnote: Starsky became the first ever person to file a claim under the Freedom of Information Act. According to the Wikipedia article, by doing so he learned that "the FBI attempted to facilitate his dismissal from ASU by sending an anonymous letter to university officials accusing Starsky of fomenting violence."

Dustin Crummett said...

Incidentally, Victor's title for this post baffles me. I suppose sexually harassing people, sexually assaulting people, denigrating the work of your colleagues who are already marginalized due to their gender or sex, etc. is "politically incorrect," but that's underselling it a bit, yeah?

Victor Reppert said...

No, the problem I am raising is not the problem, which is more than serious, but the proposed "cure" for it.

Dustin Crummett said...

What do the site visit's recommendations have to do with political correctness?

Crude said...

Dustin,

Well, to pick an easy example, if someone dedicated his career to arguing that white supremacism was morally justified, I would view that as a totally adequate reason not to hire him, whatever his other merits. You could give a sort of strictly academic justification for that--such a project isn't "philosophically interesting." But I also wouldn't want for minority students to have to be taught by such a person, would worry about the impact such a person would have on the department's environment, etc.

Sure, but what makes this reasonable beyond 'well that view is tremendously unpopular'? I hope it isn't 'everyone would get really angry and there would probably be riots', because if that's the case, we're done for.

I was actually thinking about informal professional norms, rather than anything being done on an organizational level. But, yeah, if "supporting free thinking" is supposed to mean something like "supporting people (by giving them jobs, etc.) with absolutely no regard for what questions they work on, what views they take, etc." then of course the profession will "oppose free thinking" sometimes. Someone who wanted to spend his career examining arguments for and against the view that 417 is the best number of blades of grass to have on your lawn would have trouble finding employment at a research university, and rightly so, since such a project would be incredibly stupid.

What if she spent, say, 90% of her time talking about popular issues in the Philosophy of Time, but 10% arguing for (pick-your-race) supremacy? 5%? 1%?

I don't think the blades of grass example does the situation justice, since whatever its merits, few people care about the conclusion of that argument, few would be offended, etc. But those are essential when it comes to various other thoughts that are just Bad Thoughts in philosophy.

And like I said, I am fine with that. I really am, admittedly with various other caveats about the role of the university. But at that point it's time to straight up admit: ours is not a free-thinking organization. We have dogma. We reject some thoughts, some manners of inquiry, outright and without argument, period. On the upside, our dogma may well be really popular right now.

Professional philosophy is a profession.

Sure, I'm just drawing a distinction between philosophy and professional philosophy. The former doesn't need the latter. In fact, given this conversation, the latter may not help the former so much as harm it, in a broad sense, at least in some situations.

Crude said...

What do the site visit's recommendations have to do with political correctness?

I believe number 2 is operative here: "If some department members have a problem with people doing non-feminist philosophy or doing feminist philosophy (or being engaged in any other sort of intellectual or other type of pursuit), they should gain more appreciation of and tolerance for plurality in the discipline. Even if they are unable to reach a level of appreciation for other approaches to the discipline, it is totally unacceptable for them to denigrate these approaches in front of faculty, graduate or undergraduate students, in formal or informal settings, on or off campus."

Not a fan of feminist (or non-feminist, but really, feminist) philosophy? Think that their approach is wrong from the get go? Well, it's unacceptable to denigrate it... ever.

Who wants to bet that 'or any other sort of intellectual or other type of pursuit' is, putting it mildly, not a sincere rule at the end of the day anyway?

Dustin Crummett said...

Sure, but what makes this reasonable beyond 'well that view is tremendously unpopular'?

The same thing that makes anything else reasonable, presumably. Not sure what you're after.

What if she spent, say, 90% of her time talking about popular issues in the Philosophy of Time, but 10% arguing for (pick-your-race) supremacy? 5%? 1%?

I still wouldn't want minority students to have to take her, would worry about her effect on the dept. climate, etc.

And like I said, I am fine with that. I really am, admittedly with various other caveats about the role of the university. But at that point it's time to straight up admit: ours is not a free-thinking organization. We have dogma. We reject some thoughts, some manners of inquiry, outright and without argument, period. On the upside, our dogma may well be really popular right now.

I'm not sure how you could *have* a functional organization, discipline, whatever, that was free-thinking in your sense. So, yes, the profession isn't free-thinking in your sense.

(I actually think that there are plenty of legitimate criticisms of professional philosophers for being close-minded in various ways. But this isn't one of them.)

Not a fan of feminist (or non-feminist, but really, feminist) philosophy? Think that their approach is wrong from the get go? Well, it's unacceptable to denigrate it... ever.

Yeah, again--you're obviously allowed to disagree with your colleagues or students, the thought is just that you shouldn't denigrate their work, especially if they're already marginalized for other reasons. That doesn't have anything to do with political correctness, it just has to do with not being an asshole.

Crude said...

Dustin,

The same thing that makes anything else reasonable, presumably. Not sure what you're after.

And I'm not sure what you're saying. You said that this was an easy example of a reasonable exclusion. Specifically in a field that supposedly prides itself on asking questions and entertaining possibilities, no matter how unsettling, what makes exclusion here 'reasonable'? In particular, reasonable particularly in light of philosophy, as opposed to 'well a mob of people would go nuts'?

I still wouldn't want minority students to have to take her, would worry about her effect on the dept. climate, etc.

Okay, so this isn't a question of 'well she spends all her time on this question' or even 'she doesn't do work on fields we find desirable'. But then I'm left asking why it's reasonable here - and in particular, why this reasonableness doesn't cash out to, frankly, an eschewing of free thought, an embrace of dogma, or even an assent to mob rule.

I'm not sure how you could *have* a functional organization, discipline, whatever, that was free-thinking in your sense. So, yes, the profession isn't free-thinking in your sense.

Seriously? You don't see how you could have a functional organization or discipline if you don't make sure to bar people purely on the basis of the views they intellectually advance?

I know you say you don't find this criticism compelling, but I really fail to see why. I don't want to chalk it up to 'well it's just obvious' and leave it at that. Even if you were right that every organization must discourage free thinking, must have a certain amount of dogma that goes unquestioned - I don't think that's the case, or at least it isn't the case in the way you seem to be defending here - I'd be happy with that being acknowledged. As it stands, it seems like people want to both have a dogma, utterly bar some topics from consideration or dispute or dissent, but still say 'Oh we're open-minded, tough questions or troubling conclusions don't shake us'.

Yeah, again--you're obviously allowed to disagree with your colleagues or students, the thought is just that you shouldn't denigrate their work, especially if they're already marginalized for other reasons.

I don't think it's all that obvious, since it's pretty easy to interpret criticism or disagreement as denigration. Likewise, I think rules like this not only have the danger of having uneven enforcement - assholisms or not - but they really tend to in practice. Especially when we've also got in play the idea that 'some things you just can't question, even in a wholly intellectual way'.

Dustin Crummett said...

And I'm not sure what you're saying. You said that this was an easy example of a reasonable exclusion. Specifically in a field that supposedly prides itself on asking questions and entertaining possibilities, no matter how unsettling, what makes exclusion here 'reasonable'? In particular, reasonable particularly in light of philosophy, as opposed to 'well a mob of people would go nuts'?

Are you asking a normative question, an epistemic question, or a procedural question?

The answer to the normative question is something like: this person holds and proclaims intellectually indefensible views that are likely to irrationally bias him against some of his students and colleagues, make some of his students and colleagues rationally feel uncomfortable interacting with him in a way that harms the academic environment, etc.

The answer to the epistemic question is just whatever general story you want to tell about moral epistemology.

As for the procedural questions, presumably you just work as democratically as possible through whatever the relevant institution is (hiring committee or whatever.) Obviously the potential for abuse, mob think, etc. is there, but I don't know how better to avoid it among us fragile creatures made of clay.

Seriously? You don't see how you could have a functional organization or discipline if you don't make sure to bar people purely on the basis of the views they intellectually advance?

Nobody has the ability to bar people from philosophy, nor should anyone. What people do have the ability to do is make decisions about who to hire, who to invite to speak at colloquia, and so on. And, yes, if you make those decisions without the slightest regard for whether someone is likely to treat the most vulnerable members of your department fairly, how their presence is likely to impact the dynamics of your department, whether the views they defend in print are intellectually defensible and philosophically interesting, etc., you won't have a very healthy department.

Even if you were right that every organization must discourage free thinking, must have a certain amount of dogma that goes unquestioned - I don't think that's the case, or at least it isn't the case in the way you seem to be defending here - I'd be happy with that being acknowledged.

What, exactly, do you take "free thinking" to be?

Dustin Crummett said...

As it stands, it seems like people want to both have a dogma, utterly bar some topics from consideration or dispute or dissent, but still say 'Oh we're open-minded, tough questions or troubling conclusions don't shake us'.

I think philosophers are usually happy to admit that there are some positions they regard as so repugnant or ridiculous as to not be worth engaging with. If you try to give a department talk arguing that Hitler was a great guy, it will not be well-received.

I don't think it's all that obvious, since it's pretty easy to interpret criticism or disagreement as denigration.

This is probably true in general, but I think analytic philosophy is combative enough that people pretty quickly learn to tell the difference between "your view is insane" (which is, verbatim, often considered a totally socially appropriate thing to say) and "your work sucks, your field isn't 'real philosophy,'" etc. (People from other academic disciplines tend to be horrified by Q&As at philosophy talks because they think everyone's being mean.)

Likewise, I think rules like this not only have the danger of having uneven enforcement - assholisms or not - but they really tend to in practice.

I actually tend to think this is fine, when the enforcement leans towards favoring the people who are most vulnerable and most harmed by such denigration (and when, as would presumably be the case here, "enforcement" would be something incredibly mild and informal. I'm actually pretty doubtful that the report is even recommending any kind of "enforcement" at all, rather than just suggesting a non-assholish way to behave.)

Crude said...

Dustin,

The answer to the normative question is something like: this person holds and proclaims intellectually indefensible views

So do a whole lot of other philosophers. I suppose we'd disagree on which. But we still let them make their case.

that are likely to irrationally bias him against some of his students and colleagues, make some of his students and colleagues rationally feel uncomfortable interacting with him in a way that harms the academic environment, etc.

Nope. Big problems going up here.

Why should I believe holding an intellectually indefensible view should 'irrationally bias' someone? And why is the feel of discomfort A) rational right away, and B) not something the colleagues should get over and deal with?

Obviously the potential for abuse, mob think, etc. is there, but I don't know how better to avoid it among us fragile creatures made of clay.

I understand your caveat here, but I think it's time for us to start admitting we're made of clay then. Let's stop pretending we're made of iron. At least a church calls its dogma dogma. Maybe it's time for academics to call their dogma what it is too.

And, yes, if you make those decisions without the slightest regard for whether someone is likely to treat the most vulnerable members of your department fairly,

I question this talk of 'most vulnerable' in this context.

What, exactly, do you take "free thinking" to be?

A willingness to explore ideas and risk radical conclusions in an intellectual environment bereft of dogma, save perhaps for the dogma that said exchange is intrinsically valuable.

I think philosophers are usually happy to admit that there are some positions they regard as so repugnant or ridiculous as to not be worth engaging with.

And when you point out that they are in fact close minded and given to dogma, they throw a fit. People seem to be under the impression that so long as you think you're right, being close-minded or dogmatic does not make one close-minded or dogmatic. Doubly so if the view is popular.

This is probably true in general, but I think analytic philosophy is combative enough that

Internal dissent within a very tight realm of political or metaphysical view is not a good guarantee of being able to sort out bias. That's like saying that so long as a political party has some internet dissent, the party itself can be regarded as minimizing groupthink. It doesn't work when they agree about 95% and fight about an inconsequential 5%.

I actually tend to think this is fine, when the enforcement leans towards favoring the people who are most vulnerable and most harmed by such denigration

What is the metric for judging 'most vulnerable' and 'most harmed' anyway? This keeps coming up, but it largely seems to mean making other people more vulnerable and open to harm.

Furthermore, it's not a munitions factory we're talking about. It's a philosophy department. If an idea can do harm, then slaughter it with another idea. And if you can't, well, sometimes truth hurts. Or does dogma trump truth and the pursuit of it here?

Dustin Crummett said...

So do a whole lot of other philosophers. I suppose we'd disagree on which. But we still let them make their case.

Sure. There's no harm in this, so long as there's no harm in this. But this isn't a case where there's no harm in this.

Why should I believe holding an intellectually indefensible view should 'irrationally bias' someone?

Recall that the hypothetical philosopher in question is someone who has, in print, defended white supremacism. Are you honestly claiming you can't understand why you have reason to think that an avowed white supremacist is likely to be irrationally biased against some people?

And why is the feel of discomfort A) rational right away, and B) not something the colleagues should get over and deal with?

Recall that the hypothetical philosopher in question is someone who has, in print, defended white supremacism. Are you honestly claiming you can't understand why some people would understandably be made uncomfortable having him as a colleague or teacher?

I question this talk of 'most vulnerable' in this context.

Then you're poorly informed.

A willingness to explore ideas and risk radical conclusions in an intellectual environment bereft of dogma, save perhaps for the dogma that said exchange is intrinsically valuable.

What do you take dogma to be?

Dustin Crummett said...

And when you point out that they are in fact close minded and given to dogma, they throw a fit.

Calling someone close-minded or dogmatic implies that they hold their position for arbitrary reasons, that they won't respond properly if confronted with new evidence, etc. This isn't in evidence if someone refuses to hire a white supremacist or refuses to humor such a person by engaging them in debate.

Internal dissent within a very tight realm of political or metaphysical view is not a good guarantee of being able to sort out bias

What? My point was that philosophers, due to the social norms of the field, are good at distinguishing between attacking a position and attacking someone's ability as a philosopher, the worthwhileness of their field, the quality of their work, etc. Obviously that doesn't have anything to do with weeding out bias.

What is the metric for judging 'most vulnerable' and 'most harmed' anyway?

Have you spent any time in academia?

This keeps coming up, but it largely seems to mean making other people more vulnerable and open to harm.

Yes. Telling people they shouldn't tell students that their colleagues' work is worthless really makes those people vulnerable.

If an idea can do harm, then slaughter it with another idea. And if you can't, well, sometimes truth hurts.

Yes, of course. If you can't convince a white supremacist that his view is wrong, that probably means he's actually right. Of course.

Crude said...

Dustin,

Sure. There's no harm in this, so long as there's no harm in this. But this isn't a case where there's no harm in this.

That's open to debate, and that alone is a significant problem.

Are you honestly claiming you can't understand why you have reason to think that an avowed white supremacist is likely to be irrationally biased against some people?

Not in any way that picks out the white supremacist as particularly special as compared to an avowed feminist, an avowed materialist, and other avowed anythings (including theist, yes) being irrationally biased against some people.

On the same token, I don't see why believing white people or black people or this culture or that culture as being superior automatically means 'irrational bias' either.

As for your other question - sometimes, the proper response to feeling uncomfortable is to goddamn get over it, and join the intellectual fight.

Then you're poorly informed.

Or you're flat out wrong. But wait, we can't offer that possibility, because 'someone may feel uncomfortable', right?

What do you take dogma to be?

That thing you're endorsing. ;)

Let's try: assumption, without the possibility argument or opening to challenge, of certain claims which are taken as true.

Calling someone close-minded or dogmatic implies that they hold their position for arbitrary reasons, that they won't respond properly if confronted with new evidence, etc. This isn't in evidence if someone refuses to hire a white supremacist or refuses to humor such a person by engaging them in debate.

It is certainly in evidence. Do you think you found a loophole about being 'confronted with new evidence' by means of ruling out offering that evidence from the outset?

My point was that philosophers, due to the social norms of the field, are good at distinguishing between attacking a position and attacking someone's ability as a philosopher

And you called me poorly informed.

Have you spent any time in academia?

As a student, plenty. Please, good sir, deign to answer my question to I, the lowly commoner outside your gates.

Yes. Telling people they shouldn't tell students that their colleagues' work is worthless really makes those people vulnerable.

The last thing academia needs is people giving their frank assessments - ever. Right?

Yes, of course. If you can't convince a white supremacist that his view is wrong, that probably means he's actually right. Of course.

If this is supposed to be an example of the power of academics to self-police themselves with regards to fair interpretations of words, consider this commoner underwhelmed.

planks length said...

I'm finding it interesting how so many conversations nowadays seem to go off the rails by one or the other party bringing in what I'll call the "race analogy". We've seen it on every single debate on this forum about same sex marriage. The "pro" side will inevitable (and quickly) turn the conversation to one about racism - despite the fact that the original topic of discussion had nothing to do with it.

And now in this debate, Dustin is trying to make everything revolve around how we should deal with a white supremacist. Does race always trump everything?

I propose a new internet law, similar to the "no Hitler analogies" rule. The first side that attempts to turn the conversation into one about race, loses.

Crude said...

planks,

And now in this debate, Dustin is trying to make everything revolve around how we should deal with a white supremacist. Does race always trump everything?

It shouldn't, but you know what? I'm actually going to take a different angle here. Not necessarily a popular one.

I think the proper way to deal with race supremacists is to argue against them. I think they are dead wrong, I think their views are harmful - but you know what? I think the same thing about plenty of people. That consideration alone is not sufficient to make me want to fire them (when it's a view expressed off the job or in their private lives), and their arguments are certainly not things I think should be banned from a "profession" or organization that prides itself on, you know - asking questions about the world, and potentially coming to disturbing conclusions.

On the same token, I am entirely in favor of an organization embracing a dogma, rejecting free thought, etc. I just kindly request they make it clear they have a dogma, that some thoughts go beyond the pale and cannot be argued for. I like transparency.

I think Dustin's reasoning is flawed here, and I think he brought up the supremacist example largely because he realizes we all probably think such people have wrong, even deplorable views - and surely we'd agree that those with views we judge to be deplorable should be fired and excluded and shunned from a philosophy job or organization, right?

Dustin Crummett said...

Not in any way that picks out the white supremacist as particularly special as compared to an avowed feminist, an avowed materialist, and other avowed anythings (including theist, yes) being irrationally biased against some people.

On the same token, I don't see why believing white people or black people or this culture or that culture as being superior automatically means 'irrational bias' either.

As for your other question - sometimes, the proper response to feeling uncomfortable is to goddamn get over it, and join the intellectual fight.


"I do not want to argue with him; he shows a corrupt mind."

Though I would like to direct everyone's attention to this:

On the same token, I don't see why believing white people or black people or this culture or that culture as being superior automatically means 'irrational bias' either.

Let me repeat it, just in case it didn't sink in:

On the same token, I don't see why believing white people or black people or this culture or that culture as being superior automatically means 'irrational bias' either.

Now. Deep breath. Moving on.

Or you're flat out wrong. But wait, we can't offer that possibility, because 'someone may feel uncomfortable', right?

We can offer that possibility and then, if we are at least minimally informed and rational, shoot it down with abundant evidence. Here's *lots and lots and lots* of anecdote:

http://beingawomaninphilosophy.wordpress.com/

If you want statistical evidence, it exists, in the form of climate surveys conducted by many different departments. Unfortunately, those results aren't publicly available (for legal reasons, I suppose.) But what they tend to show is an open not-really-even-secret in the profession. I can also offer my own experiences as confirming all this, though I shouldn't go into details (especially since I'm posting under my real name.)

Of course, in order for any of that to mean anything, you have to trust the multitude of women who are telling these stories. I suspect you don't.

Dustin Crummett said...

Let's try: assumption, without the possibility argument or opening to challenge, of certain claims which are taken as true.

Yeah, look, so there are two possible ways this could happen. One is that you have a prejudice such that, even if confronted with overwhelming reasons to reject your position, you wouldn't budge. The other is that you regard the matter as already settled (you're morally certain, is one way to say it) and so, for practical purposes, aren't likely to encounter such reasons either way because you're not likely to entertain much in the way of new arguments or evidence.

The first seems bad. The second might be bad. But if you actually do have extremely good reasons for thinking a given issue is settled, and are unwilling to entertain further argument because of, say, the finitude of human life, or the fact that talking to someone who holds the opposing position is likely to trigger your PTSD, or because you're not willing to humor someone who thinks something like that, then you're not being epistemically irresponsible, you're just being pragmatic.

So--it's a free country, use the word "dogmatic" however you want, but there's at least one kind of "dogmatism" which is totally fine and which, I imagine, no one has ever seriously denied adopting. There are all sorts of things I regard as settled issues: whether astrology is reliable, whether 417 is the best number of blades of grass, whether the holocaust really happened, whether inflicting agony on innocent people is intrinsically good, whether white supremacism is correct, whether the earth orbits the sun, etc. I might argue with somebody over one of these things because I was bored, or because I thought I might convince them, but obviously I wouldn't go into the conversation thinking that changing my mind was a live option--I would be totally irrational (and in some cases, immoral) if I did. Obviously, people who hold those views would claim I'm being dogmatic in one of the objectionable senses, since they wouldn't think I have sufficient reason to regard my position as morally certain. But that would be fine, since they would be wrong.

And you called me poorly informed.

I said I could tell the difference. I didn't say I didn't do both. :)

As a student, plenty. Please, good sir, deign to answer my question to I, the lowly commoner outside your gates.

I was actually just wondering about your personal experiences. Academics presumably are in a privileged position to know what happens *in academia.* (New Yorkers are in a privileged position to know what happens in New York, etc...) This doesn't mean they're better equipped to handle these questions in general (I'd actually be a little surprised if they were.)

And now in this debate, Dustin is trying to make everything revolve around how we should deal with a white supremacist. Does race always trump everything?

Crude asked for an example. I gave an example. We then discussed the example. Obviously I want discussion of my example to revolve around my example. We can use a different example if you'd like.

I think Dustin's reasoning is flawed here, and I think he brought up the supremacist example largely because he realizes we all probably think such people have wrong, even deplorable views - and surely we'd agree that those with views we judge to be deplorable should be fired and excluded and shunned from a philosophy job or organization, right?

I mean, yeah, obviously I picked it because I thought that, if anything was an uncontroversial example, that would be. Which is to say, it's an easy example. Which is why I prefaced giving it with "Well, to pick an easy example..." Picking examples that people might object to for reasons other than the point at issue is generally bad practice since people might object to them for reasons other than the point at issue. But, like I said, pick a different example if you'd like.

Crude said...

Dustin,

"I do not want to argue with him; he shows a corrupt mind."

So, disagreeing with someone strongly, thinking they are dead wrong, cashes out to 'they have a corrupt mind'? They can't simply be wrong?

Though I would like to direct everyone's attention to this:

I'd like to direct everyone to the fact that Dustin had no reply to my point other than emoted histrionics. Sorry Dustin, but you're going to need a little more than 'I-I-I'm b-b-breathing f-funny now!'

The difference between you and me is that I allow someone can be wrong about something, even gravely wrong, but not have crazy 'irrational bias' against people. I believe someone can be strongly opposed to the state of Israel and not have an irrational bias against Jews. I likewise believe someone can be strongly in favor of the state of Israel and not have an irrational bias against Palestinians.

In your world, opposition means irrationality. Not encouraging.

We can offer that possibility and then, if we are at least minimally informed and rational, shoot it down with abundant evidence. Here's *lots and lots and lots* of anecdote:

Oh boy, a blog filled with anecdotes. Better yet, as near as I can tell, anonymous anecdotes. Some of which include stories like a department head saying, upon a woman leaving the philosophy department, 'Some people aren't cut out for philosophy.'

Seriously, Dustin? These are your big guns?

Of course, in order for any of that to mean anything, you have to trust the multitude of women who are telling these stories. I suspect you don't.

A multitude of women telling these stories would be reason to investigate the matter and see exactly what's going on. On its own, it's shaky stuff - and it would be if men were reporting as much as well.

then you're not being epistemically irresponsible, you're just being pragmatic.

And you're also being dogmatic, and ruling out free thought. Like I keep saying - that's more than fine. Do it, give your reasons for it. But you don't get to both be dogmatic and crack down on free thought for reasons X Y and Z, but then get to say you are not doing those things BECAUSE you have reasons.

Admit to as much. As I keep pointing out, the churches call their dogma 'dogma'. They reject free thought on some matters. Do the same: it's the honest thing to do, and it keeps people from fooling themselves.

I mean, yeah, obviously I picked it because I thought that, if anything was an uncontroversial example, that would be.

The problem with your example, Dustin, is that what's operative there is not reason or argument, but emotion. You seem to be under the impression that because I regard X as wrong, even foul, that I am therefore committed to never, ever allowing anyone to argue for it or discuss it, and using their belief in or willingness to argue for X as an excuse to fire them. I'm pointing out how ridiculous that is, particularly among philosophers.

But so far you're capitulating: yes, you are all in favor of dogmatism in philosophy, you oppose free thought, you are willing to fire people for holding beliefs other than you, based largely on irrational suspicions that people who disagree with you about X or Y cannot possibly think rationally or keep from despising people. You literally offered up emotional huffing as a sole response to me there.

Like I said - not impressive.

Crude said...

Also, I can't resist highlighting this:

There are all sorts of things I regard as settled issues: whether astrology is reliable, whether 417 is the best number of blades of grass, whether the holocaust really happened, whether inflicting agony on innocent people is intrinsically good, whether white supremacism is correct, whether the earth orbits the sun, etc.

And with the exception of the blades of grass and the holocaust? Once upon a time an opposing view of each and every one of those was a 'settled issue'. Astrology was viewed as reliable by 'the experts', inflicting agony on what we'd call innocent people was regarded as just, white supremacism was correct, the sun orbited the earth, etc.

In fact, Dustin, I wonder what you'd say if a physicist told you that, according to general relativity theory, there is no preferred reference frame - and thus the claim that 'the sun orbits the earth' was wrong, and required heavily qualification?