Criticism of the APA’s Code of Conduct

Last week, the American Philosophical Association (APA) issued a Code of Conduct. The document was produced by a volunteer task force headed by Nancy Holland (Hamline University), in response to a petition.

Along the way, the task force solicited suggestions for the code, issued an interim report, and had its work covered by Inside Higher Ed. Now that the code has appeared, philosophers are offering criticisms and suggestions, including in the comments at the announcement post here.

Eric Schliesser (Amsterdam), in “Against the APA’s Code of Conduct,” writes that the code is flawed in three areas:

(i) it is silent on existing abuses and conflicts of interest in the profession; (ii) it has a misguided view on teaching philosophy; (iii) it is a predictable consequence that, as stated, this code will be used to silence and remove folk (from positions) who challenge local or professional abuses.

In a follow-up post, Schliesser criticizes the code for operating in a “friction-less moral universe,” says that it doesn’t acknowledge “the reality of philosophical practice,” and argues that it fails to “articulate core values for professional philosophy as a profession.”

Meanwhile, in “Horseshoes, Hand Grenades, and the APA’s “Code of Conduct,”“, Edward Kazarian (Rowan) and Leigh M. Johnson (Christian Brothers) write:

We are especially concerned now that this quasi-official document… will inevitably be used at the local (department-, college-, or university) level in unofficial, ad-hoc ways to undermine or sabotage already vulnerable members of the profession. Worse, we worry that this document will provide pretext for attempts to pressure APA members by complaining to their employers that they have in some instance or another behaved ‘unprofessionally.’ We recognize that any law or regulative code as such allows for the possibility of perverse application, but we maintain that the current iteration of this Code of Conduct is particularly susceptible to manipulation for a number of reasons.

These reasons include:

  • “First, the APA Code of Conduct is entirely silent on matters of adjudication and enforcement.”
  • “Second, some of the discursive, pedagogical, and ideological norms outlined in the APA Code of Conduct are over-corrective.”
  • “Third, the APA Code of Conduct’s insistence that philosophers have a “special responsibility with regard to potential liability issues for the institutions for which they work” is unacceptable.”
  • “Fourth, and finally, the APA Code of Conduct’s grossly ambivalent statements regarding “bullying and harassment” do more harm than good.”

There’s further elaboration in their post.

I thought it would be worth opening up a space for constructive criticism and commentary on the code of conduct, if people have more to say. In response to a query about this, Professor Holland consulted with APA Executive Director Amy Ferrer and chair of the APA Board of Officers Cheshire Calhoun (Arizona State). They wrote:

We consider the code to be a living document, one that will be reexamined, reevaluated, and revised over time. As such, we welcome and value comments, suggestions, critiques, and criticisms from members of the profession and will consider them in future updates to the document. There is no specific timeline planned for any review/revision process—it will be on an as-needed basis. However, as the code has just been approved and released, we are happy to receive feedback, but we feel it would be unwise to rush into revisions right away.

Let me add that coming up with rules of behavior that all philosophers will be happy to accept has yet to happen in human history, so it would be no surprise if there is disagreement over a code of conduct for philosophers. I urge commenters to voice their suggestions and criticisms, but also to be considerate of the time, effort, and intentions of those who worked on this difficult document.

Franz Kline, "Pittston" (detail)

Franz Kline, “Pittston” (detail)

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