Insults and Obnoxiousness


On the second day of this blog’s existence, I wrote a post answering some questions I had received from readers, including this:

Is this blog an attack on Brian Leiter? Nope. Like many in philosophy, I have a sincere appreciation for Professor Leiter’s efforts over the years to disseminate information about the profession that had typically been known to and controlled by relative elites. It is in that same spirit that I created Daily Nous.

Really? Yes, really. Still, some people wanted to know more about my motives. After all, this blog was created at time of fairly high tension in the profession (we are still in that period, as far as I can tell), owing to a combination of scandals and social change. During this time, Leiter made remarks on his very widely-read blog that some took to be unfair or hostile, and in the comments thread on another blog he threatened legal action against another commentator. This was not the first time in the history of his long-running blog that junior members of the profession had been the targets of his hostile writings and legal threats. And I recall a protracted discussion on when an insult is and is not an ad hominem which led to me submitting this entry to the Philosophical Lexicon:

Sleiter (SLY-ter) – (1) v. to attack an interlocutor’s views with an ambiguous combination of substantive criticism and an attempt to undermine the credibility or standing of the interlocutor. Thought to be derived from a combination of slaughter and slighted.  “Did you see how Brian completely sleiterred that philosopher who defended intelligent design on his blog this morning?” (2) n. a criticism that seems like it commits an ad hominem fallacy but technically does not. “I can understand why Tom is upset after having that sleiter thrown at him in that review of his book.”

It wasn’t accepted. In any event, people were calling for a boycott of his blog when I created Daily Nous. Was I part of a pitchfork-wielding mob out to get him? This may come as a disappointment to some of my readers, but the answer is no. I don’t even own a pitchfork. And I am not out to get Brian Leiter. But I do want to understand him, and what he does.*

The occasion of these remarks of mine is a recent post by Leiter on the job-market analyses that Carolyn Dicey Jennings has published at NewApps recently, particularly this post of hers, which shows some differences between Leiter’s Philosophical Gourmet Report rankings and the job-placement percentage rankings that Jennings calculated. Jennings, who received her PhD just two years ago, and is an assistant professor at UC Merced, a school which only started offering courses nine years ago (so not exactly a powerful person at a powerful institution), has used a lot of her time in service to the profession, gathering and analysing data about the philosophy job market. As she tells us in her posts, this is work-in-progress, currently built with incomplete data, and she is open to suggestions about how to improve her analyses.

To these efforts, about which everyone in the profession should be appreciative and supportive, Leiter responds by calling her work “nonsense” that is characterized by “perverse ingenuity” and insinuates that she is not “smart enough” to be a philosopher. He adds that he is “mystified” why anyone would think her work is relevant to evaluating philosophy departments. He repeats the nonsense charge, saying she “really ought to withdraw this nonsense from the web.” He tops this off by saying that her refusal to remove her analysis from the internet raises “a serious question about her judgment.”**

It is one thing to criticize someone. Hell, that is what we sign up for when we sign up for philosophy—to criticize and be criticized. We all know that. Leiter’s criticisms may be correct—I leave that aside. What I am concerned with is what is packed in alongside these criticisms. Leiter is a successful philosopher and legal academic at a great university in a great city, with a lot of power and influence in the profession of philosophy. Why are some of his posts so insulting and obnoxious to people so junior in the profession? Is this how we want discourse between the more and less powerful in our profession to be?

In the end, it is Leiter’s blog to write as he sees fit. And it is our precious time to spend reading it or doing something else. Again, I don’t object to criticism, nor to rigor, nor to high expectations and demanding standards—things which I, as a philosopher who grew up in the profession over the past dozen years or so, saw Leiter Reports as standing for, despite the occasional nastiness. But as I have learned more about the different professional and personal challenges different people face in this profession, and as I have learned to appreciate the diversity of approaches to philosophy, I now have less of a taste for this obnoxiousness from on high. It isn’t good for us.

I’ll end with the following words that sociologist Anne Galloway reports getting as advice when she entered academia, and which I have come to take rather seriously: “We’re all smart. Distinguish yourself by being kind.”

I look forward to the day when that would be impossible.


 

* Comments are open but speculations as to Brian Leiter’s motivations and mental states will not be approved.
**BL has since edited his post to eliminate some of this language.

Update 1: BL has responded to my remarks in an update to this post here (this is a “do not link” link, which I am using since he does not name or link to my blog in his response).

Update 2 (7/3/14): I thought I should reply to Brian Leiter’s response, noted above.

Leiter writes that I object to his “criticizing” Jennings. No I don’t. I am in favor of criticism, as I say explicitly in my post. What I object to is his being insulting and obnoxious while criticizing her.

Leiter writes that I imply that he is “particularly critical of junior philosophers.” No I don’t. It is true that I draw attention to and object to Leiter’s insulting junior philosophers, but nothing in what I have written suggests or depends on the claim that he is less insulting and obnoxious to more established members of the profession. He says that in such matters he is an “egalitarian.” My objection, however, was to the obnoxiousness, not to an inegalitarian distribution of the obnoxiousness.

Leiter writes that he and I have a “substantive disagreement” over the value of Jennings’ work. This is true. I favor efforts towards developing a variety of tools for helping prospective graduate students in their decisions, and I believe that Jennings work constitutes a promising, good faith example of such an effort. It is clear Leiter disagrees with me on the claim about Jennings. Perhaps he disagrees on the more general point, too.

Update 3 (7/3/14): Leiter responds to my remarks in “Update 2” above in his “sur-reply“.

He notes that we disagree about substance, as if I had not realized this. I don’t know why he feels the need to point this out, as I acknowledge two possible versions of such substantive disagreement just above. He also continues to insist that an adequate response to the criticism that he sometimes publicly speaks in an unnecessarily hostile and insulting manner about junior members of the profession is for him to say that he does this to everyone. I neither deny that he does this to others, nor think it a particularly effective defense. The charge was never that he is hostile exclusively to junior folks. Rather, it was that his brand of hostility towards junior folks is particularly objectionable. Leiter concludes his reply by engaging in a little paralipsis, mentioning a possible cynical interpretation of Jenning’s intentions for everyone to read while staying “agnostic on whether that is the correct interpretation”—in short, doubling down on the kind of hostility I am objecting to here. I suppose one could say that Leiter is just intending to rhetorically bulldoze the criticisms raised about him in this post, rather than engage with them constructively. I’m agnostic on whether that is the correct interpretation.

Update 4 (7/4/14): Carolyn Dicey Jennings hosts a discussion of graduate program rankings here.

Update 5 (7/4/14): I remind readers of the comments policy. I also ask that if you are going to make accusations or disparaging remarks, even ones you think are well-supported or obvious, you at least include your real email address. This is to allow me to follow up with you and prevent anonymous, unsubstantiated attacks. Your email address will not appear with your blog post or be linked to your handle.

Update 6 (7/7/14): “Maybe it’s because I do some research on social scientific measures, but I do not find the Jennings rankings nonsense.” Eric Schliesser discusses Jennings and the PGR here.

 

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Jennifer Frey
6 years ago

Amen.Report

Anon Grad Student
Anon Grad Student
6 years ago

Ordinal internet rankings are, admittedly, a blunt instrument. But they do seem to have the virtue of being useful for bludgeoning departments into greater transparency on important issues like placement. The historical efficacy of this method is something Prof. Leiter should be familiar with ( http://leiterreports.typepad.com/blog/2009/11/job-placement-information-which-departments-have-good-sites-which-not-so-good.html ). Which is to say, Prof. Jennings’ efforts already appear to be an unqualified success insofar as departments feel compelled to report accurate placement and graduation data in order to avoid being “misrepresented”.

That someone so junior is willing to take on difficult, necessary, and (in some quarters) unpopular work is a credit to the profession as a whole, one that hopefully helps to offset the demerits that this post highlights in some of its more senior members.Report

Desidério Murcho (@dmurcho)
6 years ago

“We’re all smart. Distinguish yourself by being kind.” This is about the best thing I’ve read in years connected with the sorry state of our profession. Having said that, I would discount heavily Internet nasty comments, either by Brian Leiter or others: not seeing each other’s faces brings out the worst in us.Report

David Boonin
David Boonin
6 years ago

This is a truly excellent post. I would just add (at least) one other example of a relevant power asymmetry that I think merits similar consideration: that between those whose views are mainstream within academic philosophy and those whose views are not. Francis Beckwith, for example, is known for (among other things) his very strong anti-abortion views. In some circles, he is quite influential. But within academic philosophy in particular, his view is clearly in a small minority and many academic philosophers are pretty quick to dismiss it out of hand. Same with a number of other views he holds. When those whose views (on the relevant subjects) are already accepted by most academic philosophers critique those whose views are clearly in the minority (within academic philosophy), I think similar issues arise about what kind of discourse we should aspire to. Those who hold the majority view (within academic philosophy) can try to sympathetically engage with those who hold the minority view or they can try to depict them as unworthy of such engagement, thus deterring others from considering the minority views with care and attention. I worry that the latter approach is unworthy of and detrimental to the enterprise of philosophy.Report

Steven Hales
Reply to  David Boonin
6 years ago

I’m certainly sympathetic to the general “don’t be a jerk” sentiment. However, I do not think it means that all views deserve care and attention. Many minority views are so for good reason–they are detritus from the dustbin of history, long refuted, abandoned, and surmounted by scholars. It is not unworthy of or detrimental to philosophy to stop talking about 100-times-refuted ideas and move on. The eternal disinterment of dead arguments only fuels those who think philosophy makes no progress. (I have no view about Jennings v. Leiter; this is just a general point).Report

Matt Drabek
6 years ago

While I like this post, I don’t have much interest in understanding Leiter and what he does. What he does, whether intentional or not, is draw attention to himself. And I suspect the proper response is to quit paying attention to him, where possible, and to point out that he is not an authority in the philosophy profession, when it’s required to assist the victims of his fits.Report

Anonymous Junior Prof
Anonymous Junior Prof
6 years ago

This is a useful post, but it’s overly charitable. I think it’s a mischaracterization to say that what Leiter did to Drabek, “Current Student,” and especially McKinnon is what “some took to be unfair and hostile.” That makes it sound like it’s up for debate: it’s not. What he wrote was very clearly unfair and hostile.Report

Anon
Anon
6 years ago

You cannot leave aside the question of whether Leiter’s criticisms are correct. If they are, then by publicizing her rankings, CDJ is doing harm to people whose status in the profession is even more vulnerable than her own allegedly is, and who may end up basing their career choices on in part on her flawed analysis. In that case, a harsh rebuke would appear justified.

But, more fundamentally, I think your proposed norm of “discourse between the more and less powerful in our profession” is unjustifiable as it stands. Following it, any senior individuals, justifiably convinced that a junior individual is doing serious harm to the profession, would be bound to temper all criticisms in such a way that they could not significantly impede the rise of that junior individual’s pernicious personal influence. That strikes me as a deeply undesirable outcome. People who do serious harm to the profession should be stopped, and if they are junior, it is better they be stopped before they become senior and amass all the mystical powers successful senior philosophers in great cities apparently have. If, presently, it is senior individuals who are best placed to do the stopping, and they fail to do so, they are derelict in their professional obligations to the rest of us. The real problem, as before, is determining whether any given individual actually is doing harm or not.Report

justinrweinberg
Reply to  Anon
6 years ago

Anon, I do not believe that anything I say here implies that “any senior individuals, justifiably convinced that a junior individual is doing serious harm to the profession, would be bound to temper all criticisms in such a way that they could not significantly impede the rise of that junior individual’s pernicious personal influence.” Wouldn’t showing enough times that what this individual says is false, or poorly argued for, or methodologically suspect, or irrelevant “impede the rise” of this individual? I’m assuming one could do those things without insulting the individual or being too obnoxious. I don’t think that assumption is implausible.Report

Anon
Anon
Reply to  justinrweinberg
6 years ago

I do find it eminently implausible that pure reasoned discourse, free of invective and “obnoxiousness”, is the most efficient way of winning political disputes, but I suppose people’s optimism about human nature may vary.

Or perhaps people with different politico-philosophical starting points may not see disputes about the organization of the profession as political in the first place. We’d then need to backtrack some before are on the same page.Report

Rachel McKinnon
Rachel McKinnon
6 years ago

Leiter may have substantive disagreements with Jennings over the methodology of placement records, but making personal attacks while expressing that disagreement is unacceptable. Full stop.

What worries me is that people seem unwilling to engage with Carolyn’s methodology (which she has been very open about), but rather are willing to accept that Brian is right and that, therefore, Carolyn is being “dangerous.” But are such people even analyzing what Brian’s criticisms amount to? For example, he thinks it ludicrous that one would lump together different kinds of TT jobs (2-2, 3-3, 4-4, etc). I think Brian’s objection is wrong-headed: he can’t seem to fathom that many in our profession prefer 4-4 to 2-2, and so the 4-4 job is “better” for them. I suspect that he thinks that 2-2 jobs are somehow objectively better than 4-4 jobs. But that view is out of touch with reality.Report

Matt Drabek
Reply to  Rachel McKinnon
6 years ago

Exactly. No one has proposed that senior philosophers not criticize the work of junior philosophers. Everyone knows that such criticism is often very important to the philosophy profession. What people are proposing is that such criticisms not rely on ad hominem attacks, red herrings, and the advancement of sexist and ableist norms.Report

grad student
grad student
Reply to  Rachel McKinnon
6 years ago

“[H]e can’t seem to fathom that many in our profession prefer 4-4 to 2-2, and so the 4-4 job is “better” for them.”

Yes he can: “Third, her measure of placement success takes no account of the kinds of jobs graduates secure. 2/2 is the same as 4/4, research university is the same as a liberal arts college, a PhD-granting department is the same as a community college. I know philosophers happy in all kinds of positions, but it’s not information, it’s misinformation, to equate them all in purporting to measure job placement”

I don’t think we should entertain the idea that insinuations to the effect of BL’s “inability to fathom [that many in our profession prefer 4-4 to 2-2]” and his “being out of touch with reality” constitute serious attacks on his person, but I would hope that minimal principles of charity would prevent his detractors from making rhetorically similar moves as those they object to, especially when, as is so in this case, they are used in the service of expressing falsehoods.Report

Brandon Beasley
Brandon Beasley
6 years ago

Anon 10:04: The problem is not about criticism per se; criticism is almost always to the good when justified. The problem rather is about the manner in which it is carried out, namely, through bullying, insults, and attempts to discredit. From a senior member of the profession with a lot of power, this behaviour is incredibly objectionable.Report

Anon
Anon
Reply to  Brandon Beasley
6 years ago

I happen to disagree that this case (or, indeed, many others involving Leiter over the years) constitutes bullying, so I won’t address that part.

However, attempts to discredit can be justified if their target is genuinely discreditable, and I see insults as a useful tool in such attempts. A junior person can advocate for positions that would bring about harm as much as a senior person can, and in such a case, I don’t think one’s seniority should restrain one from maximally efficient attack. All the more so when what is at stake is essentially a practical and political matter—кто кого?—rather than the outcome of a purely theoretical dispute. There is simply no getting away from the merits of each particular case: any norm that constrains people exclusively on the basis of their seniority and perceived influence would likely, if universally adopted, have large undesirable consequences.

That is why I think it’s entirely wrong to analyze the current case while leaving aside the question of whether Leiter is right about Jennings’ rankings. If he is, that generates prima facie justification for his response, and the discussion should shift to prudential considerations: would he have been more effective at discrediting the harmful rankings by acting differently, and how? If he is wrong, on the other hand, he should be harshly criticized for harming the profession by attempting to discredit a genuinely useful tool for job-seekers.Report

Anon friend of Carolyn's
Anon friend of Carolyn's
Reply to  Anon
6 years ago

Wow, that’s a wicked paralogism. We go from

[1] … attempts to discredit can be justified if their target is genuinely discreditable …

and

[2] … insults [are] a useful tool in such attempts …

— each of which is plausibly true — to

[3] If [Leiter is right], that generates prima facie justification for his response …

and therefore

[4] [If Leiter is right], the discussion should shift to prudential considerations: would he have been more effective at discrediting the harmful rankings by acting differently, and how?

But (3) obscures the fact that the objection is to Leiter’s discrediting of *Carolyn* (her “judgment”, etc.), not just her rankings. Moreover, even if the discrediting were prima facie justified, (2) entails only that considerations of efficacy are *among* those that are relevant; there are also prima facie reasons not to be an asshole, not to harm the careers of vulnerable people who are making an honest effort to help the profession, and so on.Report

Carolyn
Carolyn
Reply to  Anon
6 years ago

And what would you say to a differential response to this type of ranking? From a long-deleted post:

“Aggregated job placement data

David Marshall Miller sends along this rather elaborate analysis of several years worth of tenure-track hiring reported on this blog and compares it to current PGR rank. Even allowing for his sensible caveats, I think such exercises are of very limited value. First, the jobs threads on this blog are never complete. Second, job placement is a backwards-looking measure, since the students securing jobs in recent years were choosing programs six to ten years ago. (So, e.g., Chicago ranks 12th by Dr. Miller’s measure in placement, and it ranked 16th in the PGR six to ten years ago. [It ranks 20th currently, not 24th, as Dr. Miller lists it–presumably a typo.]) Third, the job placement rank doesn’t appear to discriminate between the quality of placements, which is surely something many students are interested in. So with those additional caveats in mind, readers may take a look at Mr. Miller’s work. (Philosophy Smoker ran a thread on a similar study awhile back, to which the same caveats apply.)”

https://web.archive.org/web/20120607045352/http://leiterreports.typepad.com/blog/2012/06/aggregated-job-placement-data.htmlReport

Anonymous
Anonymous
6 years ago

“I have a sincere appreciation for Professor Leiter’s efforts over the years to disseminate information about the profession that had typically been known to and controlled by relative elites.”

Does Brian Leiter not count as a relative elite? He very much controls the flow of information. Case in point: he has never once linked to this blog, even when (like today) he is explicitly responding to its content.Report

justinrweinberg
Reply to  Anonymous
6 years ago

Leiter did link to Daily Nous at least once (once, I think, in an update to an old post), but never by name. As for whether he counts as an elite? Now, yes, but perhaps less so when he got started, and in any event, even if he is part of the elite, his blog and the PGR have provided a forum by which non-elites have had access to a lot of information and opinions that they might not have. It is true that he has a very public forum that has been the go-to spot for philosophy news, but I am reluctant to say that he controls the flow of information. After all, despite his never mentioning Daily Nous by name, you somehow found out about it. 🙂Report

senior faculty
senior faculty
6 years ago

I’ve never met Carolyn Dicey-Jennings, but in my view she is a very, very impressive person. I always find her blog posts interesting, honest, and informative–the product of a great deal of careful thinking and intensive research. More than that, I’ve been impressed by how she has consistently taken the high road when some powerful people in the profession have tried to belittle and demean her. This has *really* earned my respect.Report

Anonymous
Anonymous
6 years ago

Carolyn Dicey-Jennings’ work here is not only not dangerous. It is vital to the discipline. For far too long, graduate departments have been essentially unaccountable for their placement rates. This unaccountability has profoundly harmed countless individuals, ruining the lives/career prospects of grad students who either never make it through their programs or who do but never find permanent jobs. Dicey-Jennings’ work promises to finally hold programs accountable for this. And as long as she is willing to qualify and update her findings in response to new data (which she has done), she is doing nothing dangerous. Programs whose placement rates have been misreported so far have every right and ability to rectify the matter, so that Dicey-Jennings’ results reflect the facts. And facts are facts.Report

Anon friend of CDJ's
Anon friend of CDJ's
Reply to  Anonymous
6 years ago

I don’t think anyone should object to making placement data publicly available in this way. Rather, what’s problematic is *ranking* departments on the basis of such data, given that they’re so incomplete, and that there’s no consistency in how they’re reported.Report

Rachel McKinnon
Rachel McKinnon
Reply to  Anon friend of CDJ's
6 years ago

Yes there’s something worth objecting to about ranking departments. But perhaps we should first ask ourselves why we’re so obsessed with ranking things (departments/graduate programs, journals, book presses, “rising stars”, etc.). Putting that substantive issue aside, is it really so objectionable that CDJ would produce a ranking, while transparently offering her methodology and updating based on new information/data, from her data when Leiter has done exactly the same thing for years without the transparency? That hardly seems fair.

Yes the data is incomplete: but that’s part of the issue. And CDJ has been very up front in how much stock we should put in these rankings *given how incomplete the data are*. She’s been very up front about that.Report

Anon friend again
Anon friend again
Reply to  Anon friend of CDJ's
6 years ago

Rachel (if I may) wrties: “Yes there’s something worth objecting to about ranking departments. But perhaps we should first ask ourselves why we’re so obsessed with ranking things (departments/graduate programs, journals, book presses, “rising stars”, etc.). Putting that substantive issue aside, is it really so objectionable that CDJ would produce a ranking, while transparently offering her methodology and updating based on new information/data, from her data when Leiter has done exactly the same thing for years without the transparency?”

I don’t know if it’s *so* objectionable, but I object to it, and this objection is separate from any worry about the obsession with rankings more generally. No matter what Carolyn says about the stock that should be put in the rankings, the problem here is no different than with Leiter’s: people *will* put stock in them (as many responses have already revealed), and so it’s not enough just for one to say “Well, I’ve explicitly advised against this”, as if you bear no responsibility for what people very predictably do with information you disseminate so publicly, and in a format that so naturally invites a certain kind of mis-use.Report

Rachel McKinnon
Rachel McKinnon
Reply to  Anon friend of CDJ's
6 years ago

‘Rachel’ is certainly fine.

That wasn’t quite my point, but I understand where you’re coming from. But surely a ‘ranking’ where the data is openly accessible and the methodology is transparent and responsive to comments (in many cases, on-the-fly) is not so terrible, particularly when compared to a black box method that is the PGR. Moreover, CDJ’s is making data more complete by posting this (because departments are updating their placement info so as not to be mis-ranked).

I think there’s too much focus on the rankings she’s produced from her data, and not enough on how important it is to just *have* the data. It’s also very important to have an alternative to the PGR.Report

Carolyn
Carolyn
Reply to  Anon friend of CDJ's
6 years ago

You might like the new “grouping” system better, although the departments are still listed in order of their current placement rate, and so essentially ranked (without the rank numbers): http://www.newappsblog.com/2014/07/job-placement-2011-2014-comparing-placement-rank-to-pgr-rank.html . Feel free to send me ideas on how to present the information more responsibly, keeping in mind that the point of the post is to contrast placement rate and PGR rank.Report

Aaron Garrett
Aaron Garrett
6 years ago

Thank you for this post. Like you I think Leiter has done a great deal of good but I find these personal attacks disturbing. Why not just criticize the methodology in order to help improve it (as Rachel M. points out)?Report

Anon
Anon
6 years ago

“We’re all smart. Distinguish yourself by being kind.”

Amen, and thank you for this post, and for Daily Nous more generally. It’s nice to be able to read the news about the profession without swallowing through the bitter aftertaste that accompanies it elsewhere.Report

wheeler
wheeler
6 years ago

Leiter has missed one point about CDJ’s approach.

A frequent argument that Leiter raises is that the PGR rankings are a “forward-looking” measure rather than a “backward-looking” measure, where the magic ingredient that distinguishes the PGR from its rivals is the (unsupported claim) that his so-called “measure” of faculty reputation is a better predictor of placement.

Well, we have a decade-plus of placement, publication, and citation data for philosophers hired under the PGR scheme, which means we are in the position to address a whole host of questions about the performance of the PGR, including how it’s track-record over the last ten or so years fairs in head-to-head comparisons to models like CDJ’s.Report

Philosophers Should Take A Stats Class
Philosophers Should Take A Stats Class
6 years ago

He didn’t just make the claim that his measure is a better predictor of placement. Instead, he’s now saying that “no one would expect a department’s reputation in 2011 to have any correlation with its placement prior to 2011.”

That’s, obviously, false.Report

another anonymous
another anonymous
6 years ago

That is why I think it’s entirely wrong to analyze the current case while leaving aside the question of whether Leiter is right about Jennings’ rankings. If he is, that generates prima facie justification for his response, and the discussion should shift to prudential considerations: would he have been more effective at discrediting the harmful rankings by acting differently, and how?

Yeah — in general I think the most effective way to stop someone from being wrong on the internet is to hire someone to break their thumbs, so they can’t type. It’s much more effective than just insulting them personally. So accepting arguendo that Leitner is correct, one could legitimately criticize him for just doing a blog post and not taking a hit out on his target.Report

Anon Jr Prof
Anon Jr Prof
6 years ago

There are two question that need to be kept apart. One is whether people should support CDJs efforts. The second is whether, if one does not, one should then be an asshole in expressing one’s lack of support for CDJ.

The waters get muddied by not separating the two issues. In his second update, Leiter responds to 1 (since Justin, in his initial post, says something about 1). But I take it the main point of Justin’s post is that the answer to the second is (obviously) “no.” I assume Leiter would agree but then sincerely deny that he was being objectionably harsh/obnoxious/assholish in his post (he claims that he removed some of the language from the initial post not because he agrees it is too harsh, but because CDJ took exception to it). But I think he’s wrong about that. It strikes me that the criticisms he made were done so in a very hostile manner and could have been made in a far, far less hostile way without, thereby, soft-pedaling the substance of the criticisms. I would be interested to know whether Leiter disagrees with this. (Perhaps he would agree, but deny that there was any good reason to take the less hostile route. I think there are pragmatic/prudential, and non-pragmatic/prudential reasons for preferring the less hostile route.)

With respect to the first question, it’s worth highlighting something that is implicit in a number of comments above, viz. one way of supporting CDJ’s efforts is to be *constructively* critical. And being constructively critical can involve pointing out *fundamental* ways in which one thinks CDJs approach is flawed. I won’t try to offer any criteria for what makes criticism constructive (rather than destructive), but I think a) the bar is probably quite low and b) that for any plausible placement of the bar, Leiter’s comments do not rise to it. So then another question I have for Leiter is: why not try to meet the bar? Is Leiter’s view that CDJ’s work is *irremediably* pernicious and that all and any attempt to try to make what she is doing work a total waste of time? (If the answers are “yes”, then see the previous paragraph!)Report

HK Andersen
HK Andersen
6 years ago

This is a good post for me to take a moment and thank you for having started Daily Nous. I really appreciate having someplace to get news and updates about the profession, you have a great comments policy, and the community of discussants here has come together in a good way.

I think of my internet traffic as providing material support for many of the blogs I read. Visitor numbers help set prices for advertising on blogs which carry it, and it gives blog owners a louder voice in which to treat people well or poorly. Even though it meant potentially losing out on useful or interesting info, I implemented a personal boycott of his blog just a little while before you started this one (which was hardest for me when it was the primary place to get info about this year’s hires). I have also benefited in the past from his blog, but that has recently been outweighed too many times by the inappropriate tone and content in some posts. I don’t want to set your blog up as “that other blog”, where one has to pick teams. But it has been incredibly nice to have some choice, and you post insightful and funny things.

So – thank you!Report

Grad Student
Grad Student
Reply to  HK Andersen
6 years ago

I couldn’t agree more wholeheartedly with this comment. Many warm thanks to the Daily Nous!Report

Oscar
Oscar
6 years ago

I think many of us are being a little uncharitable, here. I think it’s clear that Prof. Leiter means well but is simply unaware of certain unconscious and ‘aggressive’ emotions he has that have been conditioned by his own particular position in the discipline. Were he to become aware of those responses and their etiology, I am sure that he would be more able to see them for what they are and keep them in check. I suggest that we gather a list of philosophers who have written extensively on this phenomenon and, in the spirit of intellectual openness and good-will, have him read those philosophers. Here’s my first suggestion for the list: Nietzsche.Report

Mike Austin
6 years ago

I appreciate Daily Nous very much, for the quality of information and tone. If we want to teach our students how to argue well, we must model that in how we argue with one another. Personal attacks, saying someone is “not smart enough,” etc. would be called out in the classroom, and should be dealt with similarly in the profession. That said, I will add that a few years ago I was bothered enough by Leiter lumping all “Christian philosophers” together in a fairly harsh criticism that I emailed him about it. He was kind enough to reply, and his reply also showed that he recognized that not all of us are properly characterized as shills for ID or ultraconservative politics.Report

tnr4
6 years ago

I am particularly interested in two of the topics that have been discussed here: the idea that one might defend Leiter by arguing for the effectiveness of being nasty; and the importance, in evaluating a department’s placement, of keeping separate the *type* of job a candidate lands.

On the first: being nasty seems, to me, especially ineffective at accomplishing a critical task. I try very hard not to listen to nasty criticism, and I take the critic less seriously for his apparent inability to distinguish between the defensibility of my claims and the tone appropriate in addressing that defensibility. I imagine I’m not unique in this regard, although it’s an empirical question.

On the second: some people may care very much about placement by job type, and they’ll want to look at a different evaluation from CDJ’s. However, some people just want to know how successful a department is at getting it’s students a position that lets them do philosophy for a living, and such an evaluation will be helpful to such a person. Many of my own graduate school colleagues, pessimistic about the market, spoke very much in this way: a philosophy job is the goal. And when I, on the market (from a PGR 30s ranked program), chatted with a student from a PGR top 5 department, he lamented his department’s inability to get its students non-research jobs. His experience was that his colleagues who weren’t good enough to land those 2-2 research jobs then struck out on the market, because Midwest State College, or Tiny Liberal Arts R Us wouldn’t take his CV as expressing genuine interest in what they were doing. Although he ended up succeeding in getting that ultimately desired 2-2 job, he expressed an appreciation of my department’s success at getting it’s students *a job*, at a variety of types of institutions.Report

5th year Grad Student
5th year Grad Student
6 years ago

When I applied to my top-40 ranked Grad School, I used the PGR.

When I began the PhD, I found that the three Big Name philosophers “no longer worked with graduate students.” These three, and the complicit Chair, checked the University’s requirements by their being on the committee of a few non-traditional student committees, ie, the 15-year PhD student/lawyer/executive who is doing a PhD as a hobby.

The PGR didn’t give me the heads-up that ranking by faculty acclaim was an incomplete, if not outright terrible, metric for potential grad students.

I should add that I specifically asked the Chair, before accepting the offer, on their data for: placement percentages of *matriculated* students, Time to Degree, and drop-out rates. The chair told me that they don’t collect that data, and so didn’t have it for me.

And so while I asked the right questions, the department was slick in a) advertising their Big Names on the website and in material, knowing full well that’s a bait and switch, and b) pretending not to know these important stats.

I am glad for Carolyn’s project and I sincerely hope it becomes a Discipline standard.Report

AM
AM
6 years ago

One thing I’d really like to know is this:
Leiter says that that the placement rate is calculated nonsensically, and that this is so obvious that he is mystified that anyone would think the comparison is relevant.

I don’t know about everyone else, but if someone says something to me that seems so obviously false that it is mystifying to me why anyone would say that, I usually try to clarify what they meant: on the assumption that it is more likely, or at least a live possibility, that I am misinterpreting rather than that my interlocutor has said something ‘so obviously nonsensical that it is completely mystifying why anyone would say it.’

So, the thing I would really like to know is if Leiter asked Dicey Jennings why she calculated the placement rate that way before posting. If not, then it seems like his been pretty uncharitable in at least one way.Report

Carolyn
Carolyn
Reply to  AM
6 years ago

He did not. And he has certainly had the chance to air grievances with me directly: I first emailed him (and Kieran Healy) with my work on the job market in April 2012 with no response, prior to sending it to the PhilosophySmoker. His recent post, 2 years later, is the first I have heard from him on this work.Report

AM
AM
Reply to  Carolyn
6 years ago

Thanks for the response, Carolyn. In a way, that’s a good thing: because I think it’s easy (although frustrating) for someone to insist that they weren’t being insulting or unprofessional, but merely telling it ‘like it is.’ But even if we grant the claim that it’s appropriate, for example, to describe what another person is doing as ‘nonsense’ etc., it’s pretty clearly not very professional to publicly announce that a particular person’s view is ‘so obviously nonsensical that it is completely mystifying why anyone would say it.’ If student wrote that in an essay, for example, I would encourage them to at least present reasons why X might have said the things she/he did. And in a situation where it is very easy to contact the person whose views or behavior you find so mystifying, it is pretty obvious that you should at least consider whether the fact that something seems ‘so obviously nonsensical’ is a problem with your interpretation rather than what the other person is doing, and attempt to ascertain whether this is the case before publicly posting a take-down.Report

Grad Student
Grad Student
Reply to  Carolyn
6 years ago

This seems particularly worth highlighting given that he begins his post by claiming to have corresponded with you regarding these matters on at least a handful of occasions (“periodically”) and then, later, accuses you of “circulat[ing] in public the nonsense ranking/comparison, knowing full well that it was nonsense”.

How could he possibly substantiate the risible accusation that you acted willfully maliciously? That sounds to me like precisely the kind of specious accusation that someone diligently litigious might jump at.Report

Carolyn
Carolyn
Reply to  Carolyn
6 years ago

We have corresponded on a couple of points. When I posted this http://www.newappsblog.com/2014/04/the-gourmet-ranking-and-women-philosophers.html , for instance, I wrote to him and changed some wording based on his input (I omitted the phrase “M&E bias” from my description of the PGR). We have not corresponded on the job data, unless my emailing him looking for advice, criticism, etc. counts. And as far as knowing it is nonsense, I only know that he has called it “nonsense.” I do not believe that my intentions were malicious. I did know what I was doing, and I did know that it was dangerous in our profession, given my previous experience. But it was in the spirit of constructive criticism. At least at the conscious, intentional level. As far as legal issues go, I am not intending to enter those waters. I don’t think that is an effort worthy of my time and I don’t think I would achieve anything worth wanting.Report

Carolyn
Carolyn
Reply to  AM
6 years ago

An update: I found an old reference to my work from 2012, mentioned above (that must have been cited late and then deleted soon after being cited, since I remember the original post but not the citation): https://web.archive.org/web/20120607045352/http://leiterreports.typepad.com/blog/2012/06/aggregated-job-placement-data.html, plus I noticed that someone named “Brian” used the word “worthless” in comments on my 2013 post: http://www.newappsblog.com/2013/06/placement-data-and-trends-2011-2013.html, so this may be what he meant by “correspondence.”Report

Derek Bowman
Derek Bowman
6 years ago

I have expressed both my gratitude toward Professor Dicey Jennings for starting this project and my concerns about the way in which her data, in its present form, is likely to be misleading in evaluating individual departments. And, as anyone who knows me already knows, I could not agree more strongly with the concluding remarks regarding the advice from Anne Galloway.

But I’m a bit disappointed to see so much conversation about what manner the data should be presented in, or what tone critics should adopt, and so little about the actual employment situation for philosophy graduates. Think whatever you want about Leiter, he’s not cutting tenure lines and replacing them with NTT lecturer positions. And he’s not staffing departments with more ‘adjunct’ instructors than permanent faculty, or filling the same stable, predictable teaching needs with contingent labor year after year.

How many more philosophers leave the profession, or remain marginalized within in, because they can’t find decent work than because they’ve been ‘Sleitered’ on a blog?Report

P
P
Reply to  Derek Bowman
6 years ago

I can only speak for myself in answer to your closing question, Derek. For my part, while I’m painfully aware of (and subject to) the difficulties in finding decent work, I am far more motivated to leave the profession (comparatively speaking) in response to the irrationally hostile culture of the discipline, as exemplified by the conduct of Brian Leiter.Report

5th year Grad Student
5th year Grad Student
Reply to  P
6 years ago

I second P’s remarks. I came to philosophy from the financial world, and phi is far more hostile.Report

Jaded, Ph.D.
Reply to  Derek Bowman
6 years ago

Whereas the cutting of tenure lines and their replacement by NTT positions throughout universities does not have an immediate solution we can hash out here, problems in philosophy centered on how we treat one another do have an immediate solution. Prof. Weinberg touches on some of those solutions in his post.

More importantly, I think issues of how we treat one another, are, in fact, directly related to the “actual employment situation for philosophy graduates.” As has been discussed–sometimes even constructively!–on various platforms over the years have shown (including here, at my and my co-bloggers’ Philosophy Smoker, at NewAPPS, and at Leiter, to mention just a few philosophy-specific places), the “actual employment situation for philosophy graduates” isn’t changing anytime soon. We are now seeing a widening gulf between the number of professors who are TT and the numbers who are NTT.

Certain behaviors by philosophers in TT positions highlighted here contribute to the feeling of those philosophers not in TT positions–or not in “desirable” TT positions–that they are second-class members of the philosophical community. And I think that we’ve so far done a piss poor job of trying to keep that from happening. Discussing the ways in which we are assholes to one another might contribute to those in NTT positions from feeling second-class.

Moreover, by focusing mainly on issues having to do with the lack of TT jobs, we fail to pay attention to the ways in which our conceptions of what a “desirable” or “good” job is or what counts as being productive when teaching a 4/4 or 5/5 or that some people seem incapable of countenancing the thought that someone might actually prefer teaching and still count as a good, productive philosopher, haven’t quite shifted in ways appropriate to the distribution of jobs in the discipline (my advisor: We didn’t even take interviews at teaching schools in my day!). This also contributes to the feeling that some people may have about being second-class members of the discipline.

Thus, we can certainly discuss ways that we might improve the “actual employment situation for philosophy graduates” as it applies to the number of TT jobs, but discussions about how we treat one another are also discussions about the “actual employment situation for philosophy graduates.”Report

Derek Bowman
Derek Bowman
Reply to  Jaded, Ph.D.
6 years ago

I don’t disagree that how we treat one another is of central importance, and that we should be nice, and my comment wasn’t intended as a criticism of the original post. But I think undue emphasis on whether Leiter is an asshole detracts from the substantive importance of Prof. Dicey Jennings’s work. Put another way: the substance of Prof. Dicey Jenning’s project is more important than Leiter’s response to it.

Whether or not someone in Leiter’s position can imagine that good productive philosophers might emphasize teaching matters much less than whether the people working those 5/5 loads are being provided with adequate pay, benefits, and job security (and whether, to get or retain those positions one must have a competitive publication record).

Interpersonally I have always been treated exceptionally well by my tenured and tenure-track colleagues in both of the adjunct positions I’ve held, and that makes me luckier than many adjuncts. But as long as some of us have research/travel budgets and some of us don’t, some of us are paid substantially less to teach the same classes at the same universities, and some of us have job security and others don’t, those in NTT positions will always be second-class citizens in the profession, no matter how nice we are to one another.Report

P
P
Reply to  Jaded, Ph.D.
6 years ago

Thanks for your reply, Derek. I agree with you wholeheartedly, and disagree at the same time. Here’s what I mean: CDJ’s project is, in my estimation, more important than Leiter’s response to her work. And to that extent, Leiter’s response should be ignored. But at the same time, Leiter’s response is characteristic of the (currently prevailing) culture of the discipline, and in that respect is equally worthy of scrutiny and attention.Report

Jaded, Ph.D.
Reply to  Jaded, Ph.D.
6 years ago

Thanks, Derek. I think you’re right that undue focus on Leiter’s remarks is probably not especially productive. Though I wasn’t so much focusing on his remarks per se as I was taking them as representative of some widely shared views in the discipline and trying to extract some general lessons for things we might tackle more easily than the disappearances of TT jobs.

And, of course, I could be wrong that such views are widely shared considering the outpouring of support for CDJ here (and the fact that I’ve been treated pretty well as NTT; I’ve been very lucky too)!

In any case, I really like what you say here (which touches nicely on some issues that were brought up in this nice article https://chroniclevitae.com/news/283-99-problems-but-tenure-ain-t-one):

“But as long as some of us have research/travel budgets and some of us don’t, some of us are paid substantially less to teach the same classes at the same universities, and some of us have job security and others don’t, those in NTT positions will always be second-class citizens in the profession, no matter how nice we are to one another.”Report

Derek Bowman
Derek Bowman
Reply to  Jaded, Ph.D.
6 years ago

Thanks, Jaded (and ‘P’ and ‘5th year grad student’). I realize in retrospect that my initial comment may have come off as a strangely inverted instance of ‘concern trolling’ (In response to a post about tone: “Sure, I agree with you about tone, but let’s talk about substance instead…”). But I think we actually agree on the substance.

I honestly don’t know how prevalent different attitudes are in the profession as a whole. I know there are pockets of hostility, competition, and preening for status. And I know there are areas of rigorous and mutually supportive inquiry. And the less desperate we are to get or keep jobs (jobs that are desirable in the sense of paying a wage we and our families can live on), the better able many of us will be to create, join, and sustain communities of the second sort. But, as you note above, that’s no reason not to do what we can to improve the communities we live in right now, independently of our attempts to change the structural conditions of academic employment.Report

pgr reviewer
pgr reviewer
6 years ago

A dirty secret: I am a reviewer for the PGR. I am also unusually well plugged into the profession. I suspect this is why I was invited in the first place.

And let me tell you, the overall rankings are highly speculative. You look at a list of faculty and you might have read (maybe!) the work of 20%-30% of the people overall. But nevertheless you’re asked to come up with some number between 1 and 5 to evaluate a department.

You really have no idea how talented many of the philosophers are. Let me repeat: no idea. So when BL claims that the PGR measures the quality of faculty, this is a big stretch. Sometimes you find yourself thinking: well, at least I’ve heard of philosopher X or Y. But you most likely would not have read his or her work, and certainly not in depth. So you have little sense of whether their reputation is deserved or not.

When it comes to specialty rankings, you have more of a clue, and these I regard as more accurate. I have actually read the work of several people in the subareas for which I rank. But even here, stupid/chance things can swamp your judgment. For example, you heard Professor X present a paper at an invitation-only conference, and thought he/she sounded impressive. (But you’ve never heard Professor Y in your area, so he/she should get a lesser ranking, right? Or maybe Professor Z was stumped by a question when you heard Z speak, so he/she can’t be really bright, right?)

In this morass, Dicey Jennings’ work is a breath of fresh air. It actually relies on data to assess departments—the data that are likely of greatest possible significance to potential students, concerning placement, or whether they might actually get a job in philosophy when they graduate.Report

Anon Jr Prof
Anon Jr Prof
Reply to  pgr reviewer
6 years ago

Serious question: then why lend your name to its editorial board? Why be complicit and participate in the charade?

One in your position might think that, well, others may do a worse job…than what? Guessing? I think if the PGR is really that much of a mess, methodologically speaking, then I wouldn’t want my name anywhere *near* it.Report

pgr reviewer
pgr reviewer
Reply to  Anon Jr Prof
6 years ago

Frankly, in deciding whether or not to accept the invitation, I was more concerned by the fact that the report was being run by a person who consistently demonizes anyone who disagrees with him than with its methodological shortcomings. I am still not sure I made the right decision in that respect.Report

Anon Jr Prof
Anon Jr Prof
Reply to  Anon Jr Prof
6 years ago

That’s unfortunate. Time to bail? It’d be a nice, albeit small, political act.Report

sinedie
sinedie
Reply to  pgr reviewer
6 years ago

Leiter claims that the rankings measure perceived quality of faculty. They measure reputation. And reputation is an enormous component of hiring. Accentuating this reputation-mongering, by the way, has been a really pernicious effect of the PGR.Report

happy4-4load
happy4-4load
Reply to  pgr reviewer
6 years ago

Much thanks for this — I believe this actually speaks to the discussion immediately above re the comparative worth of Dicey Jennings’ work and Leiter’s reply. I am in full agreement that what Dicey Jennings is doing is much more important and meaningful than a few thoughtlessly denigrating comments about it. The PGR’s methodology is in fact unscientific, deeply flawed and relies on a sophomoric ‘hot-or-not’ mentality that fails to do justice to the reality of the profession. The fact that a better ranking methodology is now out there publicly and that PGR looks quite sad in comparison helps to explain the sheer rhetorical meanness of the attacks.Report

Anon postdoc
Anon postdoc
6 years ago

I don’t want to detract from the general thread, so first-off: thanks Carolyn, and I agree with the sentiment of Justin’s original post here.

I feel compelled (not sure why, as I don’t mind the rankings, though I do mind how they set up a kind of social status metric for our discipline: maybe that’s why I feel compelled) to agree at some length with the PGR reviewer’s point. Look: Leiter posted the faculty lists on his blog. Everyone can go and look at them and ask herself: 1-5 where do I rate this department? I read a ton and know a lot of people, do a lot of conferences etc., and I have been at better and worse departments. There are plenty out there who know more about the profession than me, and plenty who know less: I think I’d be about as good on average as many PGR reviewers. And like PGR reviewer I have no idea how to give a decent ranking of all the departments. Specialty areas that are my own: yes. I have a good sense of the good places (roughly, according to tiers). Overall? No. What’s worse, I know halo effects, previous PGR rankings and the few very senior people at each place heavily influence how I think about the departments (everyone should know that junior people make almost no difference to the rankings). I’m mystified that so many people choose to rank almost all the departments (this I think was reported by Healy at some point). For my own part, I’d give ratings to maybe 15-20 of the departments, which I doubt are worth much, and I could not give ratings to most of them.Report

Matt Drabek
Reply to  Anon postdoc
6 years ago

Well, and the anon PGR Reviewer is hardly the first person to make that very point. I’ve spoken with a small handful of people who have done PGR reviews, and they report basically the same thing: “I vote the higher ratings for departments where I know more of the people, and have to guess on most of the rankings. But even when I know the names, I often don’t know the work in enough depth to make the sort of rating being asked for.”Report

chrisfrey
chrisfrey
6 years ago

I just wanted to point out something in Leiter’s response that I find especially troubling. He says,

“If what they say and do suggests poor judgment, dishonesty, carelessness, ulterior motives, etc., I also say so.”

What constitutes such a “suggestion”? It is all too easy to transition from “x puts forward an argument/claim with which I disagree” to “x possesses numerous character flaws or is guided by ulterior motives”. Sometimes it is clear that someone is acting in bad faith or acting in a way that is an expression of some vice, intellectual or otherwise. But disagreement, in and of itself, seems like a terribly low bar to license the above inference. I’ve met many people who make this move all the time; everyone they disagree with is somehow deficient or dishonest. I leave it to you to judge whether those who readily make this move are themselves manifesting numerous vices.

I should also mention the obvious point that removing something as a courtesy is not the same as removing something because it is wrong.Report

Eugene
Eugene
6 years ago

“A frequent argument that Leiter raises is that the PGR rankings are a “forward-looking” measure rather than a “backward-looking” measure, where the magic ingredient that distinguishes the PGR from its rivals is the (unsupported claim) that his so-called “measure” of faculty reputation is a better predictor of placement.”

I just don’t get how, especially in 2014, anyone could have such an inflated view about the significance of faculty reputation for placement, since (a) there is little correlation between a department’s faculty reputation and a department’s success at training philosophers to be teachers, and since (b) the majority of jobs available these days (all days?) are teaching-oriented.

This new metric looks like it tracks this sort of thing better than the PGR, so I’m baffled at Leiter’s bafflement.

What am I missing?Report

Owen Flanagan
Owen Flanagan
6 years ago

I appreciate the Daily Nous for its thoughtful, measured, respectful example for open civil discussion. Carolyn Dicey Jennings is doing a great service to the profession. She shows noble openness about her methods, amazing grace about the shortcomings of her data at present, and complete willingness to work with others to make her data of maximal usefulness. I also admire Carrie Ickikawa Jenkins’ sensitive, thoughtful, and wise pledge on Facebook (also at Feminist Philosophers Blog). For what it is worth I have been a PGR reviewer for many years, maybe from the beginning, both for the general rankings and in philosophy of mind and ethics/moral psychology. I had already pledged to myself never to do so again because of the meanness, bullying, and sanctimonious protectiveness. Perhaps other senior people who review for PGR will rethink doing so as well.Report

pgr reviewer
pgr reviewer
Reply to  Owen Flanagan
6 years ago

Owen Flanagan, you are a good man. Huge respect. I will definitely need to rethink things.Report

AnonSeniorNonPGRFaculty
AnonSeniorNonPGRFaculty
Reply to  Owen Flanagan
6 years ago

Thank you, Owen.Report

Anonymous
Anonymous
Reply to  AnonSeniorNonPGRFaculty
6 years ago

And when he goes in search of new reviewers, for them to decline.Report

radicaldog
radicaldog
Reply to  AnonSeniorNonPGRFaculty
6 years ago

Suppose CDJ never manages to collect enough data to make her ranking system reliable. Would you rather have the PGR or the US News ranking? (Genuine question!) I’d be all for stopping all this rank-mania, but I’m not holding my breath.Report

Junior Faculty
Junior Faculty
6 years ago

It’s worth noting that the PGR when it started, and for some years thereafter, was a list Leiter distributed based on nothing but his own opinions regarding reputation. (See here and here.)

The hypocrisy is that the criticisms Leiter levels at Jennings apply in spades to the early PGR.Report

Anonymous
Anonymous
6 years ago

I wish BL would stop copying me. One time, in an anonymous comment on a philosophy blog, I used the same idiom about the road to hell being paved with good intentions to describe BLeiter himself! Oh well.Report

mns
mns
6 years ago

Paralipsis!Report

sinedie (anon)
sinedie (anon)
6 years ago

So let’s depose Leiter because he is ill tempered sometimes. It’s not as if there aren’t legions of people eager to get into his shoes/ Let’s put some typically apolitical, mainstream logic chopper in his place. That will make it all better. We’ll truly get an appreciation of how power relations work from someone who, unlike Leiter, has never read a page of Nietzsche or Foucault. It’s not as if those ‘smart’ ultra analytic types are the ones responsible for 97.2% of problems in professional philosophy, anyway.

Leiter may lack civility, but his views are a breath of fresh air and ensure a modicum of pluralism. If it weren’t for him we’d all be counting the number of holes in our donuts.Report

trollin?
trollin?
6 years ago

While I think Jennings’ project is worthwhile (although I’m not sure how useful it is in its current manifestation), I am probably more terrified by a group of academics rushing to sanctimoniously agree that ‘We must, of course, distinguish ourselves by being kind!’ than I am concerned by Leiter’s (perhaps Nietzsche-inspired) tendency to try to explain what he (quite arguably wrongly, in this case) takes to be harmful or unreasonable actions/ideas by making (in this case not particularly nuanced or interesting, unfortunately) offensive psychological posits.

If anything, I guess I believe Leiter should be criticized more for offering an inadequate or superficial psychologization than for explicitly questioning someone’s judgment or accusing them of “perverse ingenuity” (especially given that this is all happening online – as far as I can tell, Leiter is only particularly ‘mean’, by present standards, on his blog–at least, his published work abides by the (not necessarily salutary) standard of civility that he’s violated here).

It’s one thing for us to explicitly refuse, or not to deign, to insult Leiter in the way that he insults other people, and another thing for us to passive aggressively insult him by going on a collective diatribe about how awful it is to insult people.Report

Carolyn
Carolyn
Reply to  trollin?
6 years ago

I read Carrie’s statement as forward-looking. The recent incident may have inspired her thinking about the issues, but I do not see her statement as being about this particular case. I have long admired the philosophers I know who manage to speak generously to their interlocutors. I want to be like them, and I signed the pledge with that aim in mind. I think some people want to see something positive come out of this and to put the “us versus them” culture behind us. I count myself among them. Making the point publicly should help to keep us focused on that goal when we seem to stray.Report

Grad Student
Grad Student
Reply to  Carolyn
6 years ago

” I have long admired the philosophers I know who manage to speak generously to their interlocutors.”

Here here.Report

trollin?
trollin?
Reply to  Carolyn
6 years ago

Yeah I also feel pretty good about Carrie’s pledge, in large part because I agree with you that it seems more sincerely forward-looking. So I place it more in the ‘explicitly refusing, or not deigning, to insult Leiter in the way that he insults other people’ camp. In my last remark, I was talking more about the original post here (stuff about “Sleiter[ing]” comes to mind..), as well as various of the comments in this thread that seem to have more to do with people airing grievances against Leiter, sometimes mediated by what seem to me to be more disingenuously global ethical pronouncements, than with moving forward constructively.

But I still stand by my earlier remarks as well, which are probably more controversial: I don’t think that psychologizing someone as a means of attempting to explain his or her arguments or methods is a bad thing, if it’s done well (which it’s often not). I think labeling attempts to situate someone’s arguments or methods within a broader cultural/political/psychological context as ‘ad hominem attacks’ often contributes more to the “us versus them” culture you’re alluding to than do these attempts themselves. But I do think these are complex issues, and I appreciate your reply.Report

radicaldog
radicaldog
Reply to  trollin?
6 years ago

Seconded. There’s something of what Nietzsche called “slave morality” at play here. If we disagree with Leiter’s values then we should have a substantial conversation with him about those, rather than try to sideline him by accusing him of having broken some unwritten procedural code.Report

P
P
Reply to  radicaldog
6 years ago

Radicaldog, is it your perception that Justin and the majority of the commentators on this thread *aren’t* trying to have a substantial conversation with Leiter about his values? If so, what leads you to that perception?Report

Ole Koksvik
6 years ago

I think it’s obvious that Professor Leiter has given valuable service to the profession through his blog (and, I’m sure, in many other ways, but I don’t know much about this). I have not poured over it the way s
ome off my friends have, but I have found things of value there, important discussions, news, the journal rankings, etc. And I agreed with him that due process concerns were obviously relevant in the Ludlow case, although I eventually decided I thought the student protest were clearly ok after all, and said so the relatively public place of my Facebook wall.

But.

I find the attacks I have seen recently on his blog, on feminists philosophers, and emails i have seen, profoundly disturbing.

Professor Leiter says that he is looking out for the discipline and makes it out that the competing rankings are somehow very dangerous. Given the transparency and willingness to improve, the latter claim lacks all credibility. It may be that Professor Leiter believes both claims though.

So it bears emphasising that he himself is doing damage to the profession by instilling fear in others. At least I believe that be true. (Heck, I’m nervous that I will be the next recipient of an email threatening legal action, and even more nervous that Professor Leiter will try to find fault with me (I have many), and try to impact my prospects.) I think we can see this right here in the number of comments that are anonymous. And his attacks surely make others more reluctant to wade in to the discussion about the merits of various grad programs. But that’s precisely the opposite of what someone with genuine care for the profession should want.

So I ask him, for I am confident he reads this, to consider his own effect on the discipline that he serves, unintended though they might be. I also say, it doesn’t ‘fall to you’. You don’t have to keep writing your blog you don’t want to. When you feel like unleashing your considerable arsenal to pick off a dangerous attack on the profession, or due process, or …., it’s probably better that you don’t.

Regards,

Dr Ole KoksvikReport

anonymous2
anonymous2
Reply to  Ole Koksvik
6 years ago

I’m no fan of Prof. Leiter’s, but I can’t recall a time when he’s been unreasonably critical of feminist philosophers. In fact, if anything, I think he is too charitable toward the bad behavior of some members of this group.Report

Ole Koksvik
Reply to  anonymous2
6 years ago

Apologies, that was meant to read feministphilosophers in one word, as in the blog. Some other typos there too, the post was written on my phone.Report

Susan
Susan
6 years ago

I would like to say “only in Philosophy” would it be the case that a reasonable defense of being accused of rudeness is to protest, hey, I’m rude to everyone all the time, but I imagine the climate is similarly unfriendly in at least a few other disciplines or professions. Telemarketing and other high-pressure sales environments spring to mind.

The question is, why do philosophers tolerate this situation? Why do we attend so closely to the squeakiest hinges? We could insist on basic civility, but we choose not to by valuing many, many people who fail to consistently achieve it.

I have heard several philosophers argue that rudely dismissing ideas you consider sub-par is almost a moral imperative, lest the bad ideas spread and infect others through want of a sufficiently devastating criticism. I have read journal submission reviews and rejections (alas, not only for my own articles!) that appeared to be inspired by the conviction that it is insufficient merely to reject a piece and explain its errors or required improvements; only the most scorching rhetoric can successfully purify the world of shoddy ideas and writing! Why is that, exactly? I’ve never quite understood. I’m no Emily Post but I’ve often felt like an alien outsider in my own profession because my mama didn’t raise me to act that way. Maybe people are ready to begin seriously reflecting about whether this atmosphere is healthy for the continued success of our discipline in the increasingly competitive financial environment of universities.Report

anon
6 years ago

thankyou so much for this post. (and for daily nous)Report

anon
6 years ago

the statement of support in favor of jennings no longer seems to be online.

and if there is any word of a general boycott of BL’s blog, please do link.Report