Lively Possibilities for Fall Teaching

With fall semester approaching, remember the new teaching resource, The Deviant Philosopher. If you’re looking for ways to liven up your courses with work from diverse philosophical sources, check out some of the possibilities included there. Even better, as you’re preparing your courses, if you have “deviant” approaches already in play, consider submitting them to The Deviant Philosopher – share your strategies with others!

Everything you need to know and a contact tab for any questions can be found here.  Submitting work is easy and, since you’re already preparing, you should share your wealth!

Some highlights from the existing database:

A spectrum of possibilities for teaching women philosophers in Greek philosophy from Jerry Green.

Ways to enhance your class on Modern philosophy with Modern women from Liz Goodnick.

A full unit from Robin Zheng on teaching sexual preferences.

A creative approach to setting students onto diverse research paths from Kate Norlock.

Teaching Marilyn Frye’s “Oppression” as a critique of hedonism from Emily McRae.

There’s much more there and we hope you’ll submit more!

Musings from a Prospective Miscreant (Updated)

Brian Leiter has posted my name on a list of people he claims tried to “destroy” Hypatia. I write here under a pseudonym but I am Amy Olberding. I’ve outed myself before, also under provocation from Leiter, and I now do so again for two reasons.

First, I protest Leiter’s characterization of me and want to provide people an opportunity to judge for themselves. Because I do blog under a pseudonym, I have no idea if Leiter’s accusations about my role in Hypatia using my name will associate for many with who I am on this blog – i.e., “Prof Manners.” So, for the record, all of my public comments on the Hypatia situation are here, here, and here. In them, my consistent plea was for greater calm and kindness to all involved. Moreover, for clarity, I made no social media posts or otherwise communicated about the issue other than what you see in these public statements – i.e., my private conduct is reflected in the public statements.

Second and far more importantly, I do not wish to talk here about Hypatia. I want to talk about Brian Leiter. Upon my posting the “Have Mercy” entry (second link above), he sent me an email with the subject heading “your latest dishonesty.” Since I was unaware of having any earlier “dishonesty” to which he could refer, this came as some shock, as did his remarks about my “general rudeness.” I did not reply. However, now I find that he has included me by name on a list of bad actors he says tried to “destroy” Hypatia and I am not content to forego reply.

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The crisis at Hypatia is just the latest occasion to have people in philosophy attesting to being fearful. Fear has become a driver in philosophical discourse, particularly online. The proliferation of pseudonymous participation, anonymous participation, and the entire logic of the various metablog phenomena speak to this. People want to talk but are uneasy and fearful of doing so with their names attached. People also shy away altogether, participating only as readers and, presumably, fleeing philosophy’s online spaces altogether. With the crisis at Hypatia, fear is re-fueled and amplified. People now attest to fear not just of participating in online spaces but of having their work itself exposed to others. Many worry that one effect of the Hypatia situation is that less diverse work will appear in journals because authors won’t be confident writing it and journal editors won’t be confident publishing it. Fear will contract the field yet more.

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Have Mercy

Brian Leiter has now posted a list of the names of the signatories to the petition to Hypatia regarding Rebecca Tuvel’s article. He characterizes the petition as outrageous and invites them to either explain themselves or retract.

I would like to enjoin the profession as a whole to cease with these degrading displays. Shot through far too much of these debates is an eagerness to treat other people as shiny objects we can publicly display for the comment and opinion of others. And each new presentation of a shiny object detracts from long overdue attention to systemic issues in the profession, indulging instead in treating individuals as culpable for collective action problems and challenges associated with our unhappy professional culture. Aside from the offensive futility in managing our problems in this way, there is something deeply disingenuous in characterizing one group of people as a mob and then holding them up to mob reaction. If you don’t like “mobbing,” then don’t contribute to this and don’t invite it.

More generally, surely there can be more than the comically simplistic presentation of two sides here. The tendency to present these complex systemic (systemic!!!) issues as bifurcating into nameable good guys and bad guys insults us all, and some far more than others. We do not need to create demons when they haunt us all via the long legacies of awful in our profession. It is possible to feel great concern and humanity for all who have been affected by this. It is possible to see all of the issues raised here as incredibly vexed and radically difficult to address. It is possible not to want anyone involved to suffer more or to be held up to further opprobium. None of these possibilities will be realized if we don’t stop looking for shiny objects to sully and start talking about the systemic issues involved.



Symbolic Conscription

I’ve watched the last few days as philosophy social media and now blogs lit up with the crisis at Hypatia over Rebecca Tuvel’s article on transracialism. (Summary of some of the commentary here.) Throughout, I have been dismayed by the way that people I respect or whose work I admire have taken out after each other, engaging in pugilistic, hostile, sneering interactions that now apparently pass for debate. Along the way I acquired a more current insult vocabulary by osmosis. I learned that calling someone “Becky” is an insult, among other things.

There are a host of thorny and complex issues attached to the debates raging on social media and blogs elsewhere. I do not want to engage those here. But here is something I do want to say, a plea, if you will… And, given the heat that surrounds all of this, I feel obliged to render explicit that I here speak only for myself, not for any other bloggers on this site.

The profession of philosophy has a host of problems that are amply in evidence in all of these debates. This list would, in my opinion, include: a long history of exclusionary practices coupled with free theorizing about lives utterly unlike those led by people allowed into the professional guild; self-serving myths about quality control and the quality of arguments, a set of standards we regularly fail to fulfill even as we suspiciously trot them out whenever something new (to “us”) comes down the pike; demographic narrowness that should provoke serious worry that our efforts to address philosophical issues is compromised by homogenous experiences, epistemic patterns, and social situation; journal practices that are sub-optimal in more ways than can readily be summarized; quasi-professional spaces – social media and blogs – that operate like the wild west and leave many misanthropic and alienated, and too often target the vulnerable; failures to address or acknowledge how philosophy and activism can intersect or, at the very least, how philosophical commitments and activism legitimately operate in a recursive loop for at least some philosophers; how dubious gate-keeping practices are a perennial phenomenon within the profession and one we too often refrain from analyzing carefully, much less address coherently; a climate in which philosophers across the spectrum of values and identities attest to be fearful of the ire and contempt of peers, of being subject to conversational and professional practices that savage; and… there is more.

Here, then, is my plea: Please stop symbolically conscripting Rebecca Tuvel into the role of personifying all of these systemic issues that attach to the profession at large. I here do not wish to weigh in on the quality of Tuvel’s scholarship; what I want is to urge that we cease treating her article and her as the personification of issues that are all over the discipline. I here issue no judgment of Tuvel’s work but ask that we all recognize this: Even if you judge Tuvel to have done all of the things that have been laid at her door, she would not be unique in any of them. The problems that have been attached to her, that she has come to singularly personify in all these debates, are ones that her own critics would, I think, freely acknowledge exist all over the discipline. Yet she has been uniquely singled out for public opprobrium.

Behaving as if solving the “Tuvel problem” will alter the deep problems we have conscripted her into personifying is, I believe, to wrong her. But even if you disagree with me about that and imagine that what she has likely endured the last few days is wholly warranted by what she wrote, consider the litany of problems above, consider the litany of systemic problems we have conscripted her into personifying and ask whether addressing her solves any of those problems. I don’t think it does. Worse, it risks certifying as acceptable laying the mountain of our profession’s problems on one untenured scholar. To be clear, we heap burdens on scholars in inequitable ways with a disturbing frequency – our professional gate-keeping is one iteration of how we do this. Treating one scholar, one untenured woman scholar, as the symbolic personification of the profession’s ills – raising petitions against her work, engaging in public insult of her (see: Becky), and so forth – will not fix what ails us. It is a symptom of what ails us. And what ails us is legion.

Dear Fellow White Dudes…

Ethan Mills has a post, “Dear Fellow White Dudes” on his Unexamined Worlds blog.  Mills begins his post by noting, “Man, it’s pretty awesome to be a white dude!  But you’d never know it if you listened to a lot of white dudes these days, which as a white dude myself I find kind of weird.”

He then explores and addresses the contradictions, tensions, and confusions underwriting a particular stance toward the world – he calls it being a “white dude,” but it may cover both less and more than that on the reasoning that not all whites dudes sign on to the culture he describes and more than white dudes may do so.  That’s neither here nor there.  The main thing is to point you to the post itself, which is well worth a read and very astute about the strange cultural moment we occupy.  Mills writes with sympathy and sensitivity, even as he critiques.   Read it here.

Syllabi and Diversity

Luvell Anderson and Verena Erlenbusch have a really useful article, “Modeling Inclusive Pedagogy: Five Approaches,” appearing in the Journal of Social Philosophy. In it, they canvass five conceptually distinct approaches to making syllabi, and thereby course content, more diverse. Their taxonomy of approaches clarifies the advantages and disadvantages of each, but also illuminates the metaphilosophical aspects of diversifying courses. E.g., are diverse practitioners principally being employed as critics of the standard fare and approaches? Is the conceptual architecture itself reflective of diverse philosophical concerns or are diverse voices being brought to bear on a traditional core set of questions?

The essay as a whole does much to clarify what sorts of embedded assumptions or concerns can render diversifying a syllabus challenging. Anderson and Erlenbusch don’t provide any quick or easy resolution to these challenges, but that’s sort of the point. This is one of those cases where simply mapping out the landscape of possibilities and naming the rough terrain in each helps a lot. Do check it out!

Bright on Inconsistency

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.


A Tentative Explanation of “the kids today”

In Cheshire Calhoun’s “The Virtue of Civility,” she articulates a standard for civil conduct that I think is remarkably useful: We ought be civil to views that social consensus has not yet taken “off the table” – i.e., views that we collectively via consensus have not yet settled. This makes practicing civility quite experientially hard of course – there will be many views I personally think ought to be settled that are not – but its logic resides in recognizing the areas where we need very much to keep talking. Civility is the mechanism that keeps dialogue going and can enable persuasion. Implicit in this is that a social-moral goal is consensus seeking, with a priority on recognizing that none of us are well equipped to sort things out on our own, using only our own moral frameworks. So we display respect and toleration for views we can’t endorse in an effort to maintain humility and engage in the long, arduous persuasive work social-moral progress would require.

In teaching Calhoun in the current political atmosphere, it seems increasingly to me that there is something of a crisis in consensus formation. It isn’t simply that we do not enjoy consensus but that many are foundationally cynical about what consensus means. “Consensus” is perceived by many to belong to them, to some group of people other than me and mine. Because of this, uncivil conduct and speech is not simply protesting views with which I disagree, but protesting the systems by which views get “settled” or “taken off the table.” Here’s a little of what I mean.Read More »

The Work (again)

Eric Schliesser has taken another pass at discussing philosophy with reference to The Work – that is, with reference to the seriousness with which we take philosophy. I agree wholeheartedly with what he says here and find his irony especially cheering. But I also want to set out a little more plainly what I meant in distinguishing between “a bit of work” and “The Work.” People’s responses made me think this through more, and more carefully, for whatever it’s worth.

Most of the reactions to my earlier post and to Eric’s were, I think, responding in part to the ambiguity attached to discussion of “philosophy.” There is a) philosophy qua profession and academic discipline; b) philosophy qua historically situated tradition of reflection, investigation, and reasoning; and c) a form of philosophy that transcends even history – call it the “love of wisdom.”

These overlap experientially for some, and for some likely more easily than others. My own sensibilities regarding philosophy not being The Work (for me) have to do with how the a) version often experientially swamps the b) and c) versions and can seem quite incompatible with them. Some of this is a matter of earning a living: working in the a) version entails much scutwork, to be sure, but it also entails engaging with institutional structures that, for my own part, are ill-fitting, often alienating and demoralizing.

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