Liam Kofi Bright has a blog post from November that seems useful to raise today in light of some of the responses to newly publicized allegations regarding sexual harassment against John Searle (story here). Originally posted to register how concerns regarding racism in the US election were addressed, Bright’s post also captures the way responses to sexual harrassment allegations too often transpire, particularly in the philosophy blogosphere.
Informal Omega Inconsistency is when people agree to a general claim but will stubbornly deny or remain absurdly sceptical as to every particular instance of it you produce. So, somebody may well agree that there are bad drivers in Pennsylvania — but every time one points to a particularly erratic person on the road in the state they will say that, no no, this is not a bad driver, this is somebody whose car has suddenly and inexplicably stopped working, or is cursed, or at least they will not believe it is a bad driver till these possibilities have been ruled out, or… whatever. Just for some reason every instance that might witness the existential claim granted turns out not to be granted as an actual instance, no matter what lengths must be gone to deny as much.
Sounds wacky, right? Maybe, but I think it will be easily recognised as a very common by anybody who has ever argued about racism. Of course everybody will agree there are racists, certainly, it’s still a terrible problem and there are lots of liberal pieties I could complete this list with that would gain equally near universal assent in my social circles. But this or that particular instance? Oh no, you have to understand, he’s a very kind soul, you must be misinterpreting what he meant by “All coloureds must die” — maybe he was talking about a novel method of rendering crayons reusable? And, look, he really likes dress up even months after halloween, so that was probably just a ghost costume, and of course he’s a very devout man so he likes to build crosses wherever he goes, but alas he’s a smoker (nobody’s perfect!) so he probably was getting his lighter out then he tripped and fell and it just happened to set the cross ablaze, and….
I parody, but not by as much as you’d like. Lots of people are Informally Omega Inconsistent and it’s super annoying. I think what prevents more general recognition of this fallacy is two things. First, it’s a fallacy that is only recognisable in aggregate. On any one occasion it’s consistent to deny that this witnesses one’s general claim — it only becomes Informal Omega Inconsitency once it’s apparent that this is a matter of policy, that this is how the person always responds to apparent instances of the general claim being made. Second, for reasons that are a bit opaque to me, we tend to think that people `want’ to make the strongest claim they can, so it seems that if somebody wanted to make the general claim they’d be only too happy to grant some instances — but not so, as this experience has taught me.