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:

Screenshot 2014-09-28 18.40.10

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:

Screenshot 2014-09-28 18.44.31

Screenshot 2014-09-29 07.47.29

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