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Mark Lance
Washington DC
philosophy professor, anarchist, activist
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Loved the post Catarina, and I agree with all your main points. I think the tendency to raise normative questions - whether meta-philosophy or not - in abstraction from historical and cultural context is a terrible one, sadly endemic to much analytic normative theory. As my teacher and strong influence Sellars quipped, "philosophy without the history of philosophy, if not blind, is surely dumb." fwiw, when I commented on this on fb, I was thinking of a different normative/descriptive distinction in meta-philosophy. That is, one meta-philosphical question is how to understand the nature of certain broad first-order philosophical claims. Specifically, one might wonder what a metaphysical claim is, what sort of speech act one is engaged in when one makes a specifically metaphysical claim. (Of course we have to identify which instances we are counting as "metaphysical" and which of those we take to be substantive.) In the paper I mentioned, Andy Blitzer and I argue that an important class of metaphysical claims are normative in a way that is not noticed by most philosophers. (I'll send that soon. We are revising at the moment.)
This is really important. It seems to me to be pretty trivial to say that there are lots of uncomfortable conversations that we have a duty to stay in and lots that we ought to leave. If the discomfort is being caused by people challenging our power or behavior in ways designed to improve things, we need to stay however unpleasant it is. If someone is just being a jerk, then it is a waste of time to participate. I think a few things about this distinction: No crafting of the legislative rule is going to help much. This is fundamentally a matter of judgment and it is rather silly to think we can formulate an explicit rule that will draw this distinction well. It is really easy to deceive yourself - on either end. That is, it is easy for one who is made uncomfortable for good reasons to think that someone is just being a jerk - that's part of the point of the OP. But it is also easy for someone who has legitimate grievances to just let any jerky impulses run wild on the grounds that they have an aggrieved status. (Everyone has jerky impulses. Sometimes the political is just personal.) In the end, I think we need to cultivate social virtues - that is skillful and productive habits of engaging with one another, including in ways that help us all grow and change and recognize undeserved privilege. And a big point of the original post is that laying down rules will very rarely get us much progress towards this. (fwiw, I have a paper intervening in a different but closely related issue, that discusses this in more detail. It is called "fetishizing process" and is on my page. It is written for activists not professional philosophers, but I take that to be the relevant context of discourse here, even among professional philosophers.)
I have nothing particularly interesting to say on the topic, but this account of recent science on the migration of people to the Americas is fascinating. What is most cool is the way that three distinct scientific routes - genetics, archeology, and linguistics - are converging on an account. Continue reading
That last was a response to 46. I've been on a plane.
I literally have no idea why you think any of this is a response to me, but I agree with everything you say here, and have been pretty consistent in trying to make these points visible for several years. I still don't see why anyone is saying anything that challenges the claim that there is a defeasible norm against being an asshole to anyone ever. People point out quite rightly that one should call out powerful people for bad behavior and do so forcefully. Of course. Again, I've been doing it here pretty consistently and made lots of enemies. (And yes, suffered in material and psychological ways. That non-tenured people have much more to lose is certainly true - that's part of why I try to be the visible defender of unpopular views so often - but that needn't blind us to the obvious fact that for many of us being cursed, denounced, lied about, etc. is pretty unpleasant. I'm not going to go into the list of places I will never be invited to as a result of standing up for various issues, and again, I don't remotely equate this to the risks of non-tenured folks or other marginal members of the profession. But it is real.) The point is that a defeasible rule is one that can be defeated by good reasons. ANd there are lots of good reasons for forceful call-outs. But reasons are called for. but that was a remark about the thread in general. Since you explicitly say that you don't endorse punching, I repeat that I agree with everything you say.
I really don't see how, given how many times both in this thread and elsewhere I have explicitly talked about the implicit and explicit punching down, that you can say my endorsing a default "don't punch" norm is covering that up. It just isn't. As for your "Why not?" re the rhetorical punching, I already gave my reasons. Can we all agree that Leiter has more power than most of us? I don't think that is a useful summary of a complex situation.
anonladygrad: Thanks - i find this clarification very helpful. I do think the problematic thing is the use of power in ways that are contrary to the reasonable conversation. Of course in practice it is hard to sort this out, but then so is everything. And then you point, if I get it right, is that both shitty tone - the sort of dismissive nastiness that r (20) so rightly mentions - and demands to monitor tone can be cases of this. One can assert unreasonable power both by policing tone and by engaging in nasty tone. Joshua: I don't think it can be so simple for two reasons: first, power doesn't - as you know - resolve out into a simple linear directionality as if we can all be ranked in terms of more or less total power. So one is typically punching both up and down in different ways at a given time. Someone might have some obvious dimensions of privilege and at the same time lots of non-obvious dimensions of non-privilege. (Here's an example: I have a friend who has very serious PTSD from very serious abuse. Certain kinds of aggressiveness are really harmful to this person. No one could see this just by looking but it is dreadfully important to having a rational conversation with this person.) Second, even if we are in all respects and unambiguously "punching up" isn't there still a defeasible norm of not punching? Insofar as someone is trying to engage openly and constructively, isn't it bad to turn things nasty? (I take it this is part of Jon C's point.) So while I certainly agree with Robin that we have to always try to be attentive to as many aspects of institutional power as we can, never pretending that we are all equal in this, I don't think it gets sorted simply by accepting that punching up is ok and down not.
I think we agree about the particular case, but re your general point that talk about tone is just exercising power, don't we all insist that there are some conditions on how a conversation will be carried out - conditions such that if htey are not met we will withdraw? If I started spouting sexist insults at you here wouldn't you not only quit talking to me at some point but be justified in doing so? That is, aren't there such things as genuinely defensible norms of how we ought to talk to one another whatever the truth of our position? I think everyone tacitly believes that, and that the question is how to formulate this, or how to apply this, in a way that serves legitimate ends without reinforcing power and exclusion.
This was a fascinating post and I'm trying to decide what I think. I definitely get the ways that the norm of civility can be abused, leading to exclusion, discrimination, and reinforcement of privilege. Some of that is going on in the comments. Leiter trivializes the position of the student protestors by attributing a silly universal rule to them. Drabek says that is unreasonable. Leiter denies doing so, saying Drabek falsely quoted him. Drabek produces the quote saying exactly what he attributed to Leiter and uses the "champ" word. Leiter acknowledges the quote, says it doesn't matter, and objects to tone. Now multiple defenders think this was a legitimate case of tone policing, with one of them finding the term 'champ' to be plausibly equivalent to calling a woman 'girly'. But none of these defenders - and certainly not Leiter - have seen fit to find a tone issue with 'vigilante justice' being used to describe a silent nonviolent protest - hiding instead behind literalism. Yep, I get the function of that. (I feel bad that I've now contributed to the hijacking of this thread - intentional or not - into a discussion of the particular case of Leiter's behavior. I thought that this needed to be said, but in an effort to stay on topic, I'll ignore any refutations of what I say in this part and respond only to responses to what I say below.) But for all this, I can't help but think that there is a legitimate defeasible - that is non-universal, but for that non-trivial - norm of "not being an asshole". I think back to activist groups I've worked with. One, one of the most effective given its resources of any group I know of, was multi-racial, many gendered, many sexualities, disabled and not, and class diverse. It had lifelong poor refugee queer women, and straight white middle class men. ANd we disagreed at times over really important stuff. But our discussions always were carried out with a sense of caring, love even, certainly concern for each other's feelings. I recall other groups who did not at all embody this, and most fell apart because of it. I've seen the same with philosophy dept's - some disagree productively, others are toxic. Similarly, as someone above pointed out, femphil does police discourse style quite actively. And others have argued that the combattive and obnoxious tone of so much philosophical discourse is itself a cause of exclusion. (there has been a lot of discussion in activist circles lately about the toxic nature of habitual "calling out" culture, with many working on developing a notion of "calling in" - the point is that whatever other problems there are, there is widespread understanding that the way we talk to one another can all by itself destroy our ability to do things.) So it is hard for me not to think there is some norm - again, defeasible, maybe merely aspirational - in the ballpark of a tone norm that we ought to respect. I think some of y'all's comments at the end suggest that you agree. So first, do you? And second, if so, could you say something about how to articulate it, or how to flesh out the difference beyond the narrow "don't abuse the norm for exclusion" point?
That's a good guess. there is a length limit in typepad. In any event, it isn't showing up in my system, so I can't help. Try publishing it in two parts.
(This post is the result of a facebook debate started by Eric Schliesser) Given that what we are doing in philosophy might be footnotes to Plato all the way down, citation practices might not seem worth further discussion (that would be footnotes on footnotes in footnotes on Plato). But Kieran... Continue reading
One of my implicit suggestions in this is that a great deal of the way that philosophers deal with bad behavior is similarly unhelpful - aggressive posturing from the sidelines reinforces the idea that domination is the goal if we could only get the right people dominating for the right reasons. So yes, I think we need to think hard about productive and unproductive types of speech - and indeed, on what our productive goal is since speech acts are among the most important things that shape the sort of person we are. And yes, Lathe of Heaven - like much LeGuin - is wonderful and ripe for philosophical use.
Glen: Absolutely. And part of our job is to figure out how to raise men to be aware of these options. I don't think they were available, in any meaningful sense, to Jonathan. But part of what it is to transform the way we are raised is making it so. Your work on this is one of the rays of hope. Daniel: I didn't know about it, but I'll check it out.
Thanks Daniel and Anon: I'm in search of the episode now.
Just as another example of a way to demonstrate an alternative masculinity that doesn't reproduce what one is resisting, see this marvelous story.
Jonathan Martin - the player for the Miami Dolphins who left football, at least temporarily, as a result of relentless locker room bullying - has prompted some voluminous soul-searching. (Whether it leads to meaningful action remains to be seen.) I want to suggest that there have been two profoundly wrong... Continue reading
Dear readers: there have been lots of questions raised about our comments policy regarding the recent accusations of sexual misconduct in the profession. We think we have made some wrong calls along the way. In this brief post we want to explain how our thinking evolved over the last hectic... Continue reading
Hey, thanks Anne. I'll have a look at the book - though realistically not before summer. yes, that's absolutely my experience, and I've done a fair bit of both quizzing and watching teachers of many things: music of various sorts, Brazilian Jiu Jitsu, Cross Country Skiing, Rowing, and of course all sorts of intellectual things. The vast bulk of good teaching of all the former seems clearly to be showing, and it also seems clear that this is more effective. (Glad to know that there is systematic evidence for this.) To me the interesting part was always that the same applies to intellectual stuff as well. Learning to do proofs in recursion theory, or to argue philosphically, is just as much of a skill as playing trumpet. And you don't learn either by memorizing facts, much less by following a set of rules for the practice.
I'm saying that the denial of a single standard is no reason to disagree with the claim that some ways of doing philosophy are better than others. In fact, this discussion of arguments is a case in point: In the case of almost any philosophical project I think it is wrong to adopt a methodology that holds that arguments are the only source of justification. That is, I hereby claim: Philosophy that adopts other techniques than merely linear argument is better at almost any philosophical goal than philosophy that doesn't. AP: there are all sorts of things that philosophers do other than "give arguments," and I'm happy to give examples of each from within the group of canonical analytic figures: they try to formulate synoptic visions, they point our attention to rich phenomena of philosophical relevance that have been missed, as noelle says, they offer useful metaphors, they draw historical connections, they explain historical contexts, they offer systematic interpretations (say of a scientific theory), they demonstrate new ways of methodologically engaging with a topic, they vividly depict the first-person psychological character of an experience, they relate empirical work to philosophical issues. That's just a few. I'm sure many more will occur to me after I've finished my coffee. The point is not that one can do any of these well without ever giving arguments. Some you might be able to, but most you won't. But in none of these cases is the philosophical work remotely reducible to the arguments.
I'm not sure why you think this is disagreeing with me. I completely agree that philosophy can have different purposes. I too write things that are designed for grassroots movements. I write other things that are designed to improve our understnading of mathematics, and some that are designed to increase the expressive power of our normative theory, just to pick some examples. I think this is a very important point that you raise - we definitely should not think that all philosophy aims for the same end. But that is not incompatible with the claim that some is better than other. I think some philosophical approaches fail - at their own ends, and indeed at every end.
Very cool. One of my colleagues in history teaches a course on Jazz and social justice.
Sorry: GU is Georgetown University. And fair enough. Didn't mean to suggest that you were bashing. I grew up in philosophy in some of the worst of this shit, and so I'm really sensitive to generalizations. I think you are right that it is dying out in the new generation. Which is a wonderful development.
No offense, but that does sound like a pretty ill-informed generalization. In my experience, this stuff is highly variable. Would you consider GU a "more analytically-oriented department"? No one is going to bash any style of philosophy publicly here. That is both a practice and a rule. And if anyone did, they would be corrected by everyone else. I know of lots of other places - some more paradigmatically "analytic' where this is true. At others, the opposite culture gets in place. When I was at Syracuse way back in the late 80s, it had a really bad continental bashing culture when I arrived. But with the efforts of several of us - a few grad students, me, Jonathan Bennett and some others, along with the hire of some new folks I think that began to change fairly quickly. I can't speak to the current climate, but given the people there, I suspect it is not that way at all. Anyway, yeah, again, let's not make broad judgments without evidence.
Hi: Glad to meet you. The place has changed a lot. We now have one person who teaches Asian philosophy, and another philosopher who is in Theology who does as well. And the mix of "analytic" and "continental" is still a priority as is a strength in history. The department is much larger, and the undergrad program has expanded enormously. One can still take Thomism at any level, but it is not de facto required.
But philosophy as handmaiden to science is a very different thing that ordinary language philosophy + logic. And anyway, remember that in the 60s one had Sellars, and Anscombe, and Hector Castaneda, and Strawson, ... So even the union of ordinary language, logic, and shallow scientific reductionism didn't remotely characterize the range of people who would be identified as falling under "analytic philosophy"