What Philosophers Aren’t Talking About, But Should (Updated)


Occasionally a comment makes its way onto Daily Nous, or into the Daily Nous inbox, along the following lines: “I find it strange that no one seems to be discussing some important topic or defending some important thesis, T. Is it because the majority of philosophers, P, find T philosophically uninteresting? Or is the moderator censoring T? Or is it because P is too scared to talk about T because of the prevailing ideologies in academia or political correctness? If the first, they’re wrong; if the second, then shame on the moderator; and if the third, well, that’s very troubling.”

This comment asserts the importance or plausibility of T, and attributes lack of attention to or belief in it by P to either thoughtlessness or oppressive peer pressure. Since no one is in favor of thoughtlessness or rampant censorship or oppressive peer pressure, the comment may elicit in readers an involuntary (perhaps subconscious) increase in their assessment of T’s credence. It does so without providing any substantive support for T or for the accusations against P. And now that T seems more important or more plausible than earlier, maybe there’s something to this idea of P being a stupid conformist blob, after all. And in fact, the point of the comment seems to be to criticize P, using T.

What’s the name for this clever and tiresome rhetorical move?

Perhaps the most common example of this here on DN has been in regards to differential marriage rights (the state denying to same-sex couples the marriage rights it offers to different-sex couples), where T is some not entirely implausible defense of differential marriage rights. “Why don’t you have anyone on your blog defending T?” “I find it troubling that no one who supports T was included in this post.” “The lack of any consideration of T shows that P is completely biased.” “It is too bad people are too scared to defend T.”

Almost invariably, these complaints are never themselves accompanied by a defense of T.

So here’s a public service announcement: Your complaining that people are not discussing or defending some idea is not to discuss or defend that idea. So, by your own lights, you are part of the problem.

Instead of complaints, much better would be a substantive treatment of T. You are disappointed that no one is having philosophical discussions about T? Please send in your discussion of its philosophical importance or interest as a guest post. You are disappointed that no one is defending some philosophical thesis? Please send in your defense of it. You will have a much better chance of getting it, rather than a mere complaint, posted here.

More recently, someone emailed in proposed post claiming that philosophers were ignoring terrorism—particularly terrorism committed in the name of Islam, or by Muslims. It was suggested that either philosophers have nothing interesting to say about terrorism by Muslims, or people are just too worried about how politically incorrect it is to say anything that might be construed as bad about Islam.

Well hold on a minute. Are philosophers ignoring terrorism by Muslims? Here are thirteen philosophical essays at The Critique, from last year, on “some of the pressing philosophical problems emerging from the… Gaza, ISIS and The Ukraine. Here’s a post on the ethics of bombing ISIS at the Ethical War Blog. Here, still warm in the Heap of Links, is Gary Gutting’s NYT column on religion and violence. And here’s a brand new interesting-sounding book on the aesthetics of terrorism and human tragedy. I’m sure there’s more, but that’s what a few minutes of internet searching got me.

Is there more to be said on this topic? Sure. And maybe at some point in the future there will be an installment in the Philosophers On series on terrorism. (I’m not sure terrorism by Muslims is more philosophically interesting than terrorism by, say, Christians, or philosophically interesting in a way that’s distinct from how terrorism by Christians might be philosophically interesting, so I probably won’t restrict the topic to the terrorism associated with a particular religion.) If that’s something you’re interested in participating in, shoot me an email. Additionally, if you have other topics in mind for that series, or other ideas for posts, feel free to let me know.

But please, spare me the emails in which you merely complain that there is some kind of conspiracy of cluelessness, clampdowns, or cowardice keeping people from talking about your topic of the day.

Now that I’ve gotten that out of my system—yes, a complaint about complaints, no thank you I don’t need a ride I’ve brought my own petard—I’m opening up the comments here so that readers can propose their candidates for topics they think philosophers are ignoring but shouldn’t. It would be convenient if you limit yourself to one-topic-per-comment (though you can make as many suggestions as you like). If you happen to know relevant discussions or work on a topic that’s listed in a comment, please post a reply with a link to it or information about it. Thanks.

UPDATE (8/10/16): Inspired by the heated exchanges in the comments, Oxford University is hiring a research fellow to work on “global terrorism and collective moral responsibility.” OK, that’s not true. I mean the part about Oxford being inspired by the discussion here. But it’s totally true that they’re hiring someone to work on terrorism. From the ad:

Applications are invited for a full-time Research Fellow in Philosophy to conduct research and related activities for the ERC Advanced Grant Research Project Global Terrorism and Collective Moral Responsibility:Redesigning Military, Police and Intelligence Institutions in Liberal Democracies (the ‘Project’) under the supervision and direction of Professor Seumas Miller (Principal Investigator). The Fellow will conduct research at the interface between the international laws and moral principles pertaining to counter-terrorism.

As the reader who alerted me to this ad sort of said, “maybe those making the comments could channel their energies into applying for this job.”

 

see hear speak no evil owls crop

 

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