Searle on Lennon on Searle on Lennon

Some time back we puzzled about John Searle’s review of a recent book by Boghossian which contained an attack on a paper by Kathleen Lennon.  Though Searle had not, as it turns out, actually read the Lennon piece, it was a target and springboard for his attack  on everything other than a firm belief that one can have completely objective knowledge of a fully independent world.  You are a hard core metaphysical realist or (gasp!) a relativist!

Lennon kindly came to our discussion and we suggested she reply to Searle.  Her reply and Searle’s rejoiner are in the  latest NY Review of Books. 

Here are two telling passages from the exchange:


… my paper was instead addressing how rational assessment of knowledge claims is possible, if we accept the situatedness of knowledge seekers. It points out that feminists cannot be relativists for “feminist criticisms aimed to challenge and discredit the masculine accounts they critiqued, not simply to add a further perspective. This requires the possibility of rational encounters between the positions.”

One of the problems with Searle’s characterization of his supposed opponents is a running together of different positions. Those who argue that historical, social, and material locatedness constrain what we can discover and make sense of are accused of relativism … Yet those who argue that we are the source of the frameworks in terms of which we understand the world do not have to claim that we do this in a way unconstrained by an independent reality, even while accepting that such reality does not dictate to us the single best way of making sense of it.


She says, correctly, that I had not read her article. I was reviewing Boghossian’s book, not her article. I have now read the article with some care, and I believe it contains a deep inconsistency. In her letter to me she denies that she is a relativist, and insists that the passages she quotes from her original article support her denial of relativism. But the key sentence in her original article is this: Theories cannot be assessed by reference to universal norms. This is an astounding claim, because it denies that there are universal norms such as truth, evidence, consistency, rationality, and coherence, by which we can assess theories.

In her original Aristotelian Society article (Suppl vol 71) Lennon looks at how the conditions creating one’s perspective may be invisible to one.  Relatedly, it takes a particular cultural location to think that gender doesn’t matter, for example.  It is interesting in this regard to see Searle as believing something quite similar; namely, that perspective does not matter, since we can hold  the view from nowhere.

The hard truth about soft covers?

A philosopher writes me:

I’m considering a book contract …  Part of the deal is that the book would only come out in hardcover initially, with the paperback version to appear on an on-demand basis a year later.  I’m nervous about this, because it would seem to make class adoption of the book far less likely.  But I’m starting to get the sense that this approach is more and more common. 

Do tell, philosophers: Is it increasingly the case that paperback editions are less likely to be offered by publishers than in the past?  (I hope it is not so, because if we are working to make it more likely that feminist texts are adopted for classroom use, then alas, it would seem such a trend is counter to our aims.)  Comments welcome, especially if you have a sense of the state of academic publishing.

Want to protect traditional marriage? Ban divorce!

John Marcotte shows what those who *really* want to save traditional marriage should be doing. He does a lovely job of echoing the arguments against gay marriage. For example:

We live in a pro-divorce culture. Our children are constantly being taught that divorce is “OK” by television, films and even our evening news programs. And now it is even taught in our children’s textbooks that getting divorces is not only a “right” — but actually preferable in some circumstances.

I’m Catholic. My faith teaches me that divorce is a sin. I don’t believe that the government should be indoctrinating our children — telling them that divorce is “cool” or “legally permissible.” That type of moral decision should be taught within the confines of the family. It is not the government’s job to teach our children what to think about the morality of divorce.

When my child read that Ronald Reagan had gotten a divorce in his history textbook, he cried for a week. Shame on you, public school system! It’s a parent’s responsibility to teach their child about reality — not the state’s.

Aggression, Testosterone, and Placebo effects

Or, as Boing Boing put it, “Hulk Smash Puny Placebo Effect!”:

Women who thought they were getting a dose of testosterone behaved more aggressively and selfishly–whether or not they’d really been given the hormone. Women who got testosterone and didn’t know it were actually more altruistic. The researchers suspect macho testosterone lore created a “license to misbehave” in the women who thought they were under its influence.

For a fuller discussion, see here. The author of the study concludes:

“Whereas other animals may be predominantly under the influence of biological factors such as hormones, biology seems to exert less control over human behaviour. Our findings also teach an important methodological lesson for future studies: it is crucial to control for subjects’ beliefs because the [effect of a pure substance] may be otherwise under- or overestimated.”

(Thanks, Mr Jender!)

Ugandan homosexuals to face death penalty

I can’t believe we haven’t blogged about this horrendous piece of news yet. In Uganda, homosexuality is already punishable by life imprisonment. However, a Bill that was put before parliament in October this year, makes homosexuality punishable by death in certain circumstances – e.g., if you are gay and HIV positive. It also broadens the definition of homosexuality, and makes it a punishable offence to aid and abet someone in their homosexuality, e.g., you can be imprisoned for three years if you know that someone is gay and fail to report it. You can read the Sexual Minorities Uganda report here.

Now, that’s pretty horrendous. But disgustingly, the authorities who drafted the bill were inspired by talks by a right-wing US Christian group called Family Life Network, who spread anti-gay hatred, linking homosexuality to paedophilia. They also claim that gay-ness can be cured. A book they draw on is Richard Cohen’s Coming Out Straight – a shabby mess of a tome, full of misinformation and anti-gay hatred.

Rachel Maddow has reported on these events, and you can watch her shows online. Here’s Rachel M interviewing Richard Cohen – or as Boing Boing nicely puts it, ‘tearing him a new asshole’.

UPDATE: reader Helena sent us this link to a news report covering the proposed Ugandan law. It also covers the ‘corrective rape’ of lesbians in South Africa. The link to US religious groups – particularly the Family Life Network – is highlighted.

Abortion and human rights

Three women in the Republic of Ireland (where abortion is a criminal act) are making a case to the European Courts of Human Rights that their human rights were violated due to the unavailability of abortion. The Independent reports that the women’s case is based on the claim that their health was threatened by being forced to go abroad for an abortion. This:

breached their human rights under Articles 2 (Right to Life), 3 (Prohibition of Torture), 8 (Right to Respect for Family and Private Life) and 14 (Prohibition of Discrimination) of the European Convention on Human Rights.

If they win their case, Irish law may have to change to permit abortion in some circumstances (it is currently only available where continued gestation means a substantial risk to the health or life of the woman).

More details from the Irish Family Planning association, which supports the women’s case, can be found here.

A Manifesto for Radical Masculinity

Sinclair Sexsmith, aka Sugarbutch, writes: “We need to continue struggling and stumbling into a new masculinity, a radical masculinity, a masculinity that is not painful for those who wear it or those who fall in love with it or for those who interact with it. Radical masculinity does not hurt. Radical masculinity is strong enough to be vulnerable and receptive enough to put his foot down. Radical masculinity is trans men and fairy fags and butches who do girly drag. Radical masculinity is straight women with cropped hair and tool belts marrying men, not apologizing, refusing to take the lesbian jokes personally. Radical masculinity is a new form of fatherhood, of manhood, of adulthood, of humanhood. Radical masculinity is feminist men doing real work for equality and liberation for everyone. Radical masculinity is football games with your daughter’s ballet class and ice cream sundaes with your high school son’s best friends. Radical masculinity is big cuddly bears and vicious hardcore dharma punx, urban c! owboys and the sexiest MMA fighters, yogis and your brother with his new baby and yes even sometimes your dad, showing everyone that you can teach an old dog new tricks. Radical masculinity is a way to present, perform, play with, celebrate, and liberate masculinity, in thousands of multi-dimensional expressions. It is still being created, recreated, formed, and reformed, and I want to be a part of its ongoing evolution.” The full manifesto is here.
rad masculinity

Nelson-Hatch Fails!

The situation is not perfect, and the problems are not over, but still it is a good moment.

WASHINGTON (AP) — The Senate has rejected an effort to stiffen abortion restrictions in the health care bill.

The vote was 54 to 45.

Democratic Sen. Ben Nelson of Nebraska and Republican Sen. Orrin Hatch of Utah wanted to ban any insurance plan that gets taxpayer dollars from offering abortion coverage. The stronger restrictions mirrored provisions in the House-passed health care bill.

The Senate bill currently allows insurance plans to cover abortions but tries to separate private funds from federal money. It specifies that abortion coverage can only be paid for with private dollars.

Majority Leader Harry Reid said the legislation is about access to health care, not abortion

Perhaps last sentence is related to the protest we described here.