Moving forward

Commenting on some recent news, Justin at Daily Nous reflects:

Whatever the reasons, things are now changing. Over the past couple of years, philosophers have witnessed the emergence of a new consensus—one that rejects acquiescence to abuses of power in philosophy, one that seeks to overturn rather than turn away from the profession’s problems, one that seeks to support rather than silence the vulnerable. At the same time, the consensus reinforces two very traditional pillars of philosophical practice: first, it recognizes that criticism is the currency with which philosophers pay respect to one another while insults are just cheap counterfeits, and second, that we should go wherever the arguments and inquiries take us, putting aside philosophical prejudices and erasing boundaries if need be.

This is, of course, the kind of thing Carrie Jenkins was talking about in her now-famous-sub-things-philosophers-talk-about-online blog post about being nice. It would be such a shame if the main thing people remember about that post is that Brian Leiter got really mad about it, since that’s far from the most interesting thing about it. We’ve had a lot of conversations recently about things in our profession that we don’t like, and what we don’t want our profession to include. Hopefully we can now also – following Carrie’s example – have some constructive conversations about what we do like and what we do want our profession to include.

With that in mind, I wanted to draw attention to a recent comment from David Manley on our old thread inviting people to take Carrie’s ‘Be Nice’ pledge:

Carrie, thank you for articulating these goals so incisively. I also take the pledge and would like to be held accountable. I find it far more effective to consciously commit myself to specific goals rather than relying on a vague background intention to be nice or civil. It’s too easy to allow the boundaries of the latter sort of rule to shift ‘in the moment’!

It took me too long to learn this. Back in graduate school I was one of those people who would have found this sort of thing unnecessary and likely to stifle the necessary ‘rough and tumble exchange’ of philosophical ideas. I have come to realize that I was just wrong–- the most productive philosophical exchanges I have witnessed are entirely consistent with these goals. And what I thought of as the ‘rough and tumble exchange of ideas’ was too frequently in fact a destructive clash of egos that obscured whatever real philosophy was at stake.

I’ve learned all this over the years largely due to the wonderful example of many of my friends and colleagues, as well as venues (like this one) that offer a space to discuss key issues like microaggression & stereotype threat, including first-person accounts of those who have had to deal with these things. Thanks to the folks here for this transformative service.

David Manley
University of Michigan, Ann Arbor

I suspect the experience David describes so well is a common one. It’s easy to confuse tough philosophy with aggressive philosophy. (I know I’ve done it in the past, and probably still do sometimes.) But they can and do come apart. Those of us who want a kinder, more hospitable profession aren’t delicate flowers afraid of getting our precious feelings hurt by your devastating counterexample. And we aren’t that worried about your tone. Norms of respect, kindness, inclusiveness, and consideration are something else entirely, and something we can strive for without sacrificing philosophical rigor.

On Halloween Costumes That Reinforce Sex Differences

“We need to sex-mark, and get socially confused when we cannot.  As Frye puts it, our utterances and interactions become unintelligible because “Sex-marking is not optional; it is as obligatory as it is pervasive.” And it is easiest to sex mark when we separate girls and boys so widely that there is no possibility for confusion.  Frye contends that “The pressure on each of us to guess or determine the sex of everybody else both generates and is exhibited in a great pressure on each of us to inform everybody all the time of our sex.” This, however, dramatically limits the dreams and fantasies of boys and girls, especially at Halloween which is precisely a time for liminality, for occupying the space between fantasy and reality …”

Seasonal reflections from Alison Reiheld.