Help Fund PIKSI!

For nine years, PIKSI, or the Philosophy in an Inclusive Key Summer Institute, has been helping students from underrepresented groups develop the skills, confidence, and community needed to pursue graduate study in philosophy. Our students include women, people of color, LGBT individuals, individuals with disabilities, and people from economically disadvantaged communities.

But PIKSI now needs financial help.

PIKSI has traditionally received two sources of funding. The program is housed at the Pennsylvania State University’s Rock Ethics Institute, who together with Pennsylvania State University School of Liberal Arts, have pledged to continue their partial financing of PIKSI, conditional upon funding from a partner organization. Until recently the American Philosophical Association (APA) has co-funded PIKSI, but beginning 2014, this is no longer funding we can count on.

Go here to help!

Chris Lebron Interviewed at 3:AM: “The Colour of Our Shame”

You can read the interview here.

“Chris Lebron is a philosopher who asks deep questions about theories of justice appropriate for race. He thinks about bridging the gap between abstraction and lived experiences, about American democracy and racial inequality, marginalisation and oppression, about the idea of character and how it helps explain racial inequality, about the problem of social value, about why Rawls isn’t enough, about ‘white power’, about despair and blame, about perfectionism and egalitarianism, about soulcraft politics, about three principles of racial justice and about the lamentable number of black philosophers currently working in the Academy. Give this one the time of day to sink in, then reboot…”

The rational high ground

“What I am not going to do is capitulate to a cyber mob that is exercised about issues that are irrelevant.” – Brian Leiter [my emphasis]

Brian Leiter has a tendency to describe his critics in the language of irrationality. He suggests that this current fracas is a ‘smear campaign’ put together by a ‘cyber mob’, for example. Mobs don’t think very carefully or very critically. Mobs have worked themselves up into a frenzy of groupthink and are not easily influenced by reason. (Though in this instance, the ‘mob’ of people signing on to a boycott of a Leiter-run PGR includes, inter alia, Elizabeth Anderson, Crispin Wright, Van McGee, Charles Mills, Ruth Chang, Bill Brewer, Beatrice Longuenesse and Gil Harman. That’s a fairly philosophically diverse – and a damn philosophically impressive – mob, as mobs go.)

Leiter often paints his own conduct as rational discourse beset on all sides by mob mentality and ‘tone policing’. (What’s a tough-talking New Yorker to do in these woefully PC times?) It must be difficult when so many of the people you have to work with are so irrational:

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But, of course, it isn’t that simple.

To begin with, it’s not that Leiter has a problem with internet campaigns – even those run by philosophers! – in general. He didn’t seem to think there was any mob mentality in the recent proposed boycott of the University of Illinois, nor did he attribute the petitions and boycotts related to the Synthese special issue to this kind of irrational groupthink, nor did he think it was a cyber mob mentality that warranted a poll to gauge whether Linda Alcoff should resign as president of the Eastern APA. So it can’t be that he simply thinks internet-based campaigns are, as a rule, a bad idea. Nor can it be that he always thinks any kind of corrective comment about ‘tone’ is inappropriate:

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Perhaps, in this instance, it is the nature of the perceived insults in question. Leiter has suggested that philosophers are overreacting to the messages he sent to Carrie Jenkins and Noelle McAfee. These emails were, if perhaps intemperate, prompted by attacks from these individuals that could not be ignored. Jenkins, Leiter claims, said on her blog that he was ‘unprofessional’, which he says in his email to her may count as defamation per se; McAfee said on her blog that he was not a philosopher. Let’s leave aside the issue of what Jenkins said, and consider the cases as Leiter presents them. One thing that’s striking here is that Leiter himself calls people unprofessional. And he also seems to insinuate that other academics with PhDs in Philosophy are not in fact philosophers. Given that, it doesn’t seem plausible that Leiter can perceive the insults (he thinks were) leveled at him to be so beyond the pale that the philosophical community is simply being irrational in its unwillingness to see that his response is merited.

So what’s going on? Why is it that this particular group of people boycotting the PGR – a group which is striking in its philosophical diversity – constitute a ‘cyber mob’ engaged in a ‘smear campaign’? I don’t know. I don’t know the reasons for Leiter’s attributions of mob mentality, and I don’t want to speculate. I’ll just register it’s very unclear to me why this particular boycott – which is very elegantly and not particularly mobbishly defended in this post at Daily Nous – is apparently so infused with irrationality.

CFP: Duquesne University Women in Philosophy Conference

Duquesne University Women in Philosophy Conference
March 21, 2015
Duquesne University

Violence and Embodiment
Keynote Speaker: Ann Murphy, University of New Mexico

Duquesne Women in Philosophy (D-WiP) invite philosophical papers that explore the relationship between violence and embodiment.  Given the enduring presence of violence in contemporary society as well as its lasting historical consequences, it is important to ask the question: How does violence shape both human existence and the meaning we associate with our experiences?  This conference will explore the connection between violence and embodiment, considering both past understandings and possible future directions for examining these issues.  We invite submissions that engage both contemporary philosophical discourse as well as those philosophical discourses that are primarily informed by perspectives grounded in the history of philosophy (or some combination of the two).  Please send full paper submissions to by December 1, 2014.  Each presentation will be allotted approximately 20 minutes.

Possible topics include (but are not limited to):

•       violence and coexistence/community, sociality, culture
•       violence and/in colonialism
•       violence and the constitution of the self
•       trauma and self-identity
•       built space and the natural environment, ecophenomenology, labor, globalization
•       shame, fear, empathy and violence
•       agency, power, control
•       vulnerability, intimacy, and violence
•       violence and the politics of expression
•       sexuality and violence
•       violence, bodies, and post-humanism
•       techniques, technologies, and structures of violence
•       violence and inequality (race, class, gender, LGBTQ, dis/ability, etc.)
•       the body, pleasure, and violence

When may I be rude?

[Note: I wrote this before recent events and, in light of them, hesitated to post it. I’ve overcome that hesitation so here goes.] Discussion on several blogs has lately seemed to entertain issues that cycle round the question: When may I be rude? I despair of this question since I think giving ourselves permission to be rude is quite hazardous and significantly elides the reality that we are not likely to constrain our rudeness to only those cases where we have cool-headedly identified a plausible warrant. It’s more likely that, having given ourselves inches, we will take miles. Still, there are conditions under which being rude may be quite tempting. I’m not sure when or whether these conditions would sanction rudeness, but maybe it’s useful to identify some cautions against easy assent to rudeness in any of them.Read More »

Coarse Realities

The early Chinese philosopher Xunzi remarks on the power of social environments to influence the attitudes we broadly hold toward others and toward ourselves. He importantly acknowledges that these influences often transpire below conscious awareness, our experiences working on us without our knowledge. He evocatively characterizes social atmospheres in terms of what one “rubs up against,” the tactile metaphor suggesting that our environments, when flourishing, can register like silk on skin, such that our interactions are smooth and pleasing, fostering companionship and fellow feeling. In the alternative, they can, like sandpaper, abrade, wearing away at us incrementally and rendering it tempting to become misanthropic, to eschew participation with others in favor of the protections afforded by solitude, or, worse, to become coarse ourselves, accommodating our environment by mirroring it in our own manner.


Our profession, I often think, favors sandpaper. It can create climates in which being in the company of others, whether in person or online, erodes confidence that others can be well-meaning, can cooperate toward shared ends, or that we are worth more than whatever fleeting measures of status we manage to secure. And I think the effects of this steal upon us slowly. The skin gradually toughens and one can begin to assume and replicate the feel of what one encounters.


In my own experience this was brought home when I was in graduate school and found myself at a bar with non-philosopher friends debating a philosophical issue. I cannot remember now what the issue was, but what stuck with me was how my most pugilistic friend reveled in my participation in this conversation, the way in which I “slayed” someone who disagreed with me. He noted approvingly that graduate school had turned me into “someone who brings a gun to a knife fight.” I was dismayed by this and remain so, and have since tried (with uneven success) to avoid this.


I have not been in the profession all that long, yet it does seem to me that the sandpaper has grown coarser as time has passed. Yes, I know that philosophers have throughout history found creative ways to insult their opponents. Likewise, I understand the hazards in administratively legislated civility (and, to be clear, my concern is with socially shared professional norms rather than enforced codes). But I cannot quite reconcile myself to thinking that philosophers calling each other names, employing scorn in place of argumentation, and, yes, even using vulgar language is the best we can do. I know we often alibi such modes by vaunting our “plain-speaking” ways and our freedom from the taboos and strictures that govern those less critical of staid polite convention. But polite speech can well be plain too, and efforts to claim we are socially subversive in our rudeness fall rather flat when you consider how tragicomically un-subversive the profession’s demographic profile is. Indeed, it sometimes feels as being polite is the most radical thing a philosopher can do.

Clarifying ‘sexual violence’

There are many forms of sexual and gender based violence. Some of them have only come to light in more recent history, and some we still tend, collectively, to fail to understand. However, the University of Michigan’s (otherwise seemingly wonderful) initiative to prevent and more effectively respond to domestic and intimate partner violence, has offered a very worrying example of sexual violence. The site reads:

Examples of sexual violence include: discounting the partner’s feelings regarding sex; criticizing the partner sexually; touching the partner sexually in inappropriate and uncomfortable ways; withholding sex and affection; always demanding sex; forcing partner to strip as a form of humiliation (maybe in front of children), to witness sexual acts, to participate in uncomfortable sex or sex after an episode of violence, to have sex with other people; and using objects and/or weapons to hurt during sex or threats to back up demands for sex.

Withholding sex and affection is not a form of sexual violence. Rather, too often, claims of failing to be sexually available and affectionate enough have historically been used to justify mistreatment of (and sometimes violence towards) partners–just think of the offensive (and mythical) stereotype of the ‘frigid wife,’ and the various ways in which it has been employed.

A clarification

I wanted to highlight a comment that Kate Norlock makes in a previous post:

I think the main reason this is all depressing to me is that at times like these, complexities in individuals are ignored for the sake of other ends. The ends are endorsed by admirable people. I hope they achieve good things. But I don’t want to forget that the conduct being argued against does not constitute the whole person.

I think Kate is absolutely right about this. So let me be completely clear: what I have been trying to do in these posts is draw attention to problematic patterns of behavior, and the negative effects those patterns can have. I make absolutely no claims about intentions, and – more importantly – about character. I’m not saying Brian Leiter is a bad person. People are really complicated, and no one deserves to have their character judged based on the small glimpse of it we see in an online persona.