Professional Norms and a Recent Incident


The norms that facilitate the behavior of our big shot Ivy-league professor piggy back on methods of doing philosophy that are under scrutiny now, that are reinforced by once popular conceptions of justice that now seem too limited (as the anonymous author nicely exhibits in her piece), that rely on a practice of professional bullying by philosophical enforcers that cannot be justified, and that rely on cultures of silence that are being destroyed by our courageous friends at Feministphilosophers. One of the most heartening facets of the last half decade is that all kinds of lousy institutional practices in professional philosophy are now being publicly reevaluated in blogs, on facebook, in workshops, and in department meetings.

Thinkers as diverse as Hobbes, Spinoza, Hume, and Wollstonecraft recognized that if one wants to promote social and political reform then the character of the philosopher as public figure needs to be beyond reproach, or, at least, consistent with the mores one prescribes to others. Our generation is discovering a version of their shared insight. Professional philosophers need to have their professional house in order. That is in the ways we conduct our profession, we need to accommodate ourselves to the demands of justice in a variety of fashion if we want to speak with ongoing authority on the world’s problems. Our status as something other than intellects for hire requires from us a way to integrate our concern with justice into shared best practices (that is, new norms).

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