What Railton Really Said

Some important points are raised in this post over at Up@Night about Peter Railton’s Dewey Lecture.

I’ve also been noticing that Railton didn’t just give a talk about depression in philosophy. He used depression as an example while making a bigger point. And it’s occurred to me to be concerned that, as a discipline, it is all too easy for us to hear only the elements of Railton’s message that are most comfortable for us to hear, and/or relatively easy for us to act upon without challenging too much of the status quo.

Railton’s lecture came in an era in which an unprecedented number of philosophers have started working towards making our profession one that offers basic respect and dignity to its most vulnerable members, and regards them as valuable, instead of expecting them to tolerate degrading treatment and working conditions as a matter of course, and rewarding only the ones who survive this. Unprecedented numbers of philosophers have started to worry about the intellectual deficits we may be creating for philosophy by acting without any awareness of, or any solidarity with, those who are most professionally vulnerable. And of course, here as in any similar movement, others push back against any effort for change, using the language of “excessive political correctness” and like rhetoric to present solidarity as unreasonable, and activism as ridiculous.

It is in that context that Railton makes statements like this one:

If the philosophical profession can show solidarity with our most vulnerable members, even as they show solidarity with the many communities they aspire to serve, then Dewey will look down upon the philosophical world and smile.

We do Railton — and the discipline — a disservice if we overlook what he really said.

2 thoughts on “What Railton Really Said

  1. I read exactly the same message in Railton’s address. As a recently former adjunct, I heard this as a call to fight against the adjunctivization and the marginalization of much of our profession.

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