Lack of Political Diversity: A Problem?

Lack of Political Diversity: A Problem?


In a recent paper, a group of social psychologists—Jonathan Haidt (NYU), José L. Duarte (ASU), Jarret T. Crawford (College of New Jersey), Charlotta Stern (Stockholm), Lee Jussim (Rutgers ), and  Philip E. Tetlock (UPenn)—argue that political diversity is lacking in academic psychology and that

this lack of political diversity can undermine the validity of social psychological science via mechanisms such as the embedding of liberal values into research questions and methods, steering researchers away from important but politically unpalatable research topics, and producing conclusions that mischaracterize liberals and conservatives alike.

Further:

The lack of political diversity is not a threat to the validity of specific studies in many and perhaps most areas of research in social psychology. The lack of diversity causes problems for the scientific process primarily in areas related to the political concerns of the left—areas such as race, gender, stereotyping, environmentalism, power, and inequality—as well as in areas where conservatives themselves are studied, such as in moral and political psychology. And even in those areas, we are not suggesting that most of the studies are flawed or erroneous. Rather, we argue that the collective efforts of researchers in politically charged areas may fail to converge upon the truth when there are few or no non-liberal researchers to raise questions and frame hypotheses in alternative ways.

The paper is entitled “Political Diversity Will Improve Social Psychological Science.”

Is there a lack of political diversity in philosophy? I am not aware of a lot of data on this. The result of the PhilPapers survey isn’t much help:

Other 382 / 931 (41.0%)
Accept or lean toward: egalitarianism 324 / 931 (34.8%)
Accept or lean toward: communitarianism 133 / 931 (14.3%)
Accept or lean toward: libertarianism 92 / 931 (9.9%)

A more general survey of faculty (not just philosophers) in the U.S., conducted several years ago, showed the percentages of political  self-identification across the political spectrum:

Far left: 12.4%
Liberal: 50.3%
Middle of the road: 25.4%
Conservative: 15.2%
Far right: 0.4%

In my experience, philosophers’ political views might vary more issue-by-issue, and so not be all that well captured by these broad categories, but nonetheless, it does seem that philosophers in general are more left-wing than the general population (in the general U.S. population, around 38% identify as conservative, 34% as moderate, and 23% as liberal, according to a Gallup report). So let’s grant it. Then what?

One response to this has been to use it as part of an argument that purports to show that academia’s typical emphasis on other forms of diversity (race, gender, sexuality, ethnicity, etc.) is a mistake. Another kind of response is to say that “of course philosophers are more left-wing—they are smarter and so more likely to come to better answers about political questions, which are left-wing answers.”

We’ve gotten these two responses out of the way. No need to restate them. Seriously. Those kinds of claims have been done to death, and I don’t want this particular discussion to be about the merits of aiming for non-political forms of diversity, or just glib declarations about the superiority of left-wing political views.

What I am most interested in is whether an analog of the point that Haidt et al make for social psychology applies to philosophy. Is it the case in philosophy that “the collective efforts of researchers in politically charged areas may fail to converge upon the truth when there are few or no non-liberal researchers to raise questions and frame hypotheses in alternative ways”? (And by “may” here, I believe the authors have in mind “may be more likely to”, so let’s go with that interpretation.) In other words, do we have reason to think that political diversity would improve philosophy?

(art: detail of a photo of Splotch, a sculpture by Sol Lewitt)

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Matt Drabek
Matt Drabek
6 years ago

There are a lot of issues in how this question is framed. If you follow a very simple one-dimensional political continuum, it looks from the data like academia is dominated by “left-wingers” because most people would plot on the left side of a simple contiuum. But as many people know, there’s *a lot* of diversity within that camp. From the data, it looks as though the vast majority of academic “left-wingers” are a member of a group of people who historically wouldn’t be considered left-wing at all: namely mainstream political Democrats (if you’re talking here about the USA). These are folks who hold a fairly narrow range of views (usually e.g., very pro-capitalism, pro-aggressive foreign policy, pro-welfare and large government programs, pro-taxation of the wealthy, moderates on privacy issues, social liberals, et al.). The data indicates that about 50-75% of academics are in this camp. I’m inclined to think that that’s quite bad for academia, actually, and that diversity would help. It surely affects how people in political philosophy frame their debates. But it hardly follows that “conservatives” are the folks we need more of in academia. The fact is that conservatives really aren’t all that different on many of the relevant issues here.

So, yes, we need more diversity. What sort of diversity? That’s still pretty open I think.Report

Plouffe
Plouffe
6 years ago

“The fact is that conservatives really aren’t all that different on many of the relevant issues here.”

Isn’t this exactly what Haidt’s other research purports to show? They *are* very different in many ways. And if they aren’t all that different, why is there so much disdain for them in academia?

“So, yes, we need more diversity. What sort of diversity? That’s still pretty open I think.”

Are there other kinds of diversity you are unsure about? Or is political diversity the only kind that warrants a closer look?Report

Fritz Allhoff
Fritz Allhoff
6 years ago

Pace Justin’s methodological suggestions, let’s just assume that there is a conservative worldview; no need to quibble about whether all conservatives think the same things. You can probably get it pretty close by litmus testing things like Obamacare or minimum wage hikes, but whatever. Also assume that academia is more liberal than the rest of the population–probably by a lot–and more liberal than most of the student body, at least by some. What are the costs, if any?

I think there are a bunch. First, we aren’t as likely to come up with the best versions of the “other side”, and so the liberals don’t have anyone (good) to argue with. This impairs their own work, and it also stifles what could otherwise be a more fecund debate. Second, it hurts the ability of students to identify with their faculty, to develop mentoring and other roles. (E.g., conservative students at my law school* had fewer faculty to talk to and correspondingly higher difficulty getting letters of recommendation, whether for conservative judges or anything else.) Third, it screws up the public’s view of the institution. Say a university wants to have a panel debate on Ferguson and we literally can’t find anyone to explain why there wasn’t–or shouldn’t have been–an indictment. This just makes it look like we’re not institutionally configured to deal with hard questions.

*I think this matters even more for professional schools, like law schools. Presumably business schools are more conservative than law schools–for which data shows even stronger liberal bias than other constituencies. Does it matter in philosophy? Maybe not in metaphysics or epistemology, but surely the above arguments attach to all sorts of things in ethics and value theory. And even outside the classroom over beers, e.g., my epistemologist friend who’s a socialist and argues quite persuasively to graduate students.Report

Nime
Nime
6 years ago

“In other words, do we have reason to think that political diversity would improve philosophy?”

Yes.

In France (I’m french) all philosophical activity was controlled by far-left intellectuals enforcing party line with enormous brutality, i.e. “les anti-communistes sont des chiens”. Any opposition was not only professional suicide but also social suicide (since so much time was spent in various political meetings and protests). French academia is still leftist, but the pressure to conform has definitely lessened.Report

Plouffe
Plouffe
6 years ago

Justin, with all due respect, nothing in my comments had anything to do with the “two responses” you mention in the OP or in your reply.

I was (1) responding to Drabek’s bold, empirical claim that conservatives aren’t that much relevantly different than liberals; and (2) responding to Drabek’s facile suggestion that it’s truly an open question whether political diversity is good.Report

Plouffe
Plouffe
6 years ago

Thanks, Justin.Report

Matt Drabek
Matt Drabek
6 years ago

A couple of responses here, to clarify some things after Plouffe’s misreading of my comments:

“I was (1) responding to Drabek’s bold, empirical claim that conservatives aren’t that much relevantly different than liberals”

On several very important issues (e.g., whether we should have a capitalist economy, whether the US should be heavily involved in the world militarily, whether we should have a social safety net) there clearly aren’t any major differences between mainstream US conservatives and mainstream US liberals. Obviously there are differences on social issues, and differences of emphasis that could turn out to be important. Sort of odd that you’d call it a bold, empirical claim. It seems to be neither, for the most part.

“(2) responding to Drabek’s facile suggestion that it’s truly an open question whether political diversity is good.”

I made no such suggestion. Nor is there even a plausible reading of my comments on which I was making such a suggestion. If you re-read my comment, it’s pretty clear that I was saying that more political diversity would be good, but that it’s an open question as to what *kind* of political diversity we need (i.e., whether we need more libertarian ideas, more socialist ideas, more monarchist ideas, more communitarian ideas, more communist ideas, and so on).Report

Plouffe
Plouffe
6 years ago

Drabek, the issue is not simply about diversity of outputs (different views or opinions about politics). It’s that conservatives utilize different inputs: they reason in very different ways using different values (or so Haidt has argued). So the relevant question of diversity is not “Do we want people with different views?” Rather, it is “Do we want people who reason in distinctly different ways?” So when you ask whether having conservative reasoners is good, this strikes me as an odd thing to be skeptical about unless the same skepticism is applied to other forms of desired diversity.Report

Jennifer Frey
Jennifer Frey
6 years ago

For me, the real problem is that conservative political views are actively shunned in our profession. And I don’t just mean that you’re not likely to be a hit at the departmental party or get lots of likes on your FB posts, but that in hiring situations the fact that someone is a political conservative of any stripe is a reason (sometimes a very strong reason) not to hire. We all know this to be the case, no need to start marshaling anecdotes. Some reasons cited for the legitimacy of this practice are: I couldn’t talk to this person, I wouldn’t want this person influencing our undergraduates or attracting a certain kind of graduate student, I wouldn’t want our department to be associated with such views (or, I wouldn’t want people associating *me* with such views). I think this is a huge problem because it actively discriminates on the basis of philosophical and value disagreements; this is a problem because I think it clearly shows we are comfortable remaining unchallenged about our basic assumptions. Yet I would have thought that philosophers, of all people, should not be comfortable remaining unchallenged about their basic assumptions and values, or worries about corrupting the youth, and we certainly shouldn’t be striving for ideological conformity.

There are many reasons to worry about the health of robust, free, and open debate in higher education in general– the somewhat strategic lack of political diversity is just one of them, and surely not the most pressing. Philosophers tend to think they are different from everyone else (and less face it: we tend to think we are better), but here’s another instance where this turns out to be a false self-image. Philosophers, like most people, prefer the company of “peers.” For philosophers, the result of this unchecked impulse has been that the discipline is largely white, male, atheist, materialist, broadly left-wing, etc. Professors cultivate and attract students who think in similar ways; committees tend to hire those they think will “fit in” along the same narrowly defined range of characteristics. I’ve never thought this was particularly healthy. Philosophy, more than any other field, should embrace intellectual diversity, and thoughtful conservatism should be a part of that diversity.

I should also say that my views on this particular matter are strongly influenced by intense and heated philosophical discussion with conservative philosophers that have forced me to be clearer about my own views and my reasons for holding them. I became a better and clearer thinker as a result of those exchanges.Report

karl
karl
6 years ago

I think Fritz Allhoff made some great points about the Millian arguments about getting the best arguments from the “other side” in many debates and having our conservative students identify with us. These are good reasons to worry that lack of political diversity is a problem. But also, just as lack of other forms of diversity lead to a culture of fear, exclusion, discrimination, implicit bias, repression, etc, so too does lack of political diversity. Haidt’s evidence about psychologists willing to actively discriminate against conservatives is telling.

Speaking as someone who is somewhat conservative on a variety of issues (though not all) and is also a member of a group that is generally associated with political conservatism, and is in a precarious position in the profession (no permanent job yet), I can say with great certainty that I am often scared to argue for any side of the argument that does not toe a pretty clear side of the party line. I cannot talk politics at faculty meetings, I rarely discuss questions of applied ethics with students, at conferences I stick to talking about philosophy (and probably come off as stodgy), etc. But I am subjected to endless tirades against George Bush, Dick Cheney, evangelicals, police, Republicans, “gun nuts”, anti-abortion advocates, Christians, Zionists, meat eaters, CIA “torturers,” military people, free-market advocates, climate change skeptics, etc. Attempting an argument on any of these issues that is not at least as far to the left of the tirader is often greeted with social ostracism and dirty looks.

I do not address any of these issues on my blog, on facebook, twitter. I can’t afford to piss off the people who may hire me or want to publish my papers (in “mainstream” areas of philosophy completely unrelated to this stuff). (Congratulations Left, you are winning the rhetoric war!)

I would bet the bar on papers defending these things are pretty high too. How often do mainstream philosophy journals entertain articles that oppose gay marriage or a more interventionist foreign policy or something that supports hypotheses that suggest there is a correlation between race and IQ? When was the last time someone said aloud that there are plenty of good reasons that there are fewer women in philosophy that have nothing to do with sexism or bias?

I do not want to stress I hold the conservative versions of any of these views, but some members of our profession do and they are certainly scared to speak out. They know they risk their jobs. In a profession where we cherish rational argument it is bizarre to think that we enforce and prioritize compliance with the conclusion above the process of arguments itself. How can this not be hurting the profession?Report

Joshua A. Miller
6 years ago

If there are any conservative philosophers who feel like they don’t have enough tolerant friends, they should befriend me. I like smart people who disagree with me pretty much better than anything. Generally I go to libertarians for this, but conservatives are welcome, too!

On the main question: it’s not clear what we want when we say we want more political diversity or conservatives. Much of Haidt’s argument is deliberately equivocating about the relevant terms and tendencies. (That is: using partisan identification as a stand-in for shared values, assumptions, beliefs, and topical interests, where most of the work done by psychologists doesn’t have either explicit or implicit political valence.) According to Haidt’s early work, the problem is that liberals somehow just don’t recognize several fundamental moral intutions: liberals don’t think purity, loyalty, and appropriate authority matter. So he’s been telling this “liberals have broken moral compasses” story for a while now, and it’s dumb, and he’s mostly backed away from it, only to replace it with this other kind of story: liberals have different hobby horses than conservatives, and we need as many hobby horses as possible to keep everyone honest.

The liberal response has largely been to say that Haidt’s (early) description is right (i.e. liberals really don’t care about purity, ingroup loyalty, or hierarchical moral intutions) but that this is really liberals being rational and overcoming bad impulses. I think that story is bullshit, too: everyone on both sides of partisan debates finds ways to incorporate the full panoply of moral intuitions. We just do it differently, on different topics: liberals don’t find homosexuality unpure and thus immoral, they find GMOs and pollution unpure and thus immoral. Liberals don’t respect priests, they respect scientists. Etc.

So if that’s right, then it’s not about a “diversity of thinking styles” when we see calls to include conservative researchers. You won’t be including lost moral intuitions, but rather missing beliefs and priors. There’s no natural liberal/conservative divide, just commitments and policy views that get stacked together arbitrarily or sociologically. So political diversity is about whether we need to include, not just moral conservatives or libertarians, but Republicans. Perhaps without their arbitrary ideological constellations to counter our own, our research communities are prone to systematic errors and biases. But if political diversity gathers people with arbitrarily assembled constellations of beliefs, rather than Republican and Democratic brains, there is value in seeking out disagreement just for its own sake, to engage in some helpful motivated skepticism to counter our own motivated reasoning. When like-minded researchers engage in motivated reasoning to pursue lines of inquiry that support their arbitrary priors, they are likely to fall into error or polarize their results. This is even more likely when the criterion of evaluation is itself murky. (“Philosophers admit falsifying results of thought experiment,” etc.)

To be clear, if the cultural cognition view is correct, it’s not ideology or psychology that is driving my partisan affiliation, assumptions, values, beliefs, and topical interests; it’s identity-protective cognition garnered from my friends and our shared identity. So we can’t have a professional community that won’t have some of that: by dint of calling ourselves philosophers we’ll have some priors we’re not well-placed to challenge. Certainly we COULD do a lot to reduce the potential for bias in this way, but it’s just not clear that we SHOULD. The evidence suggests that research communities require shared beliefs and goals to engage in inquiry at all. It’s really difficult to build professional communities around fundamental disagreements, precisely because that community requires shared goals and methods, and identity-based disagreements create schisms and hunkering down and bullet-biting. Philosophy already suffers pretty badly in that area.

These are all good reasons to hope for more diversity in philosophy, though mostly on race, gender, sexuality, class, and disability lines. But not just the big stuff…. For instance, how many geologists do we have in philosophy of science? Wouldn’t that expand the kinds of research questions there? Where are the dentists and home health aids in bioethics? And sure, where are the great climate change skeptics? Where are the great defenders of Catholic sexual morality? Where are the pro-IQ philosophers? (And are those even what we mean when we talk about conservatives? I prefer to think not, but Haidt et al explicitly mention IQ issues, so….)

Those dimensions of diversity seem (to me) to be of only minor importance compared to the big stuff, though of course worth cultivating. So far, though, I haven’t yet seen an argument for weighting it comparatively heavier.Report

Roadster
Roadster
6 years ago

The top Leiter-ranked department for political philosophy is Arizona, a hotbed of right-libertarianism. Conservative views are fine when they come with good arguments. The problem with many strands of conservatism is that they are fiercely anti-intellectual. That makes them hard to welcome them into academia.Report

JT
JT
6 years ago

I take it that the question here is whether promoting political diversity is epistemically valuable. If so, we should be careful to distinguish this from the question of whether promoting political diversity is practically valuable. Worries of the kind raised by Nime and karl about the harms of marginalisation on the basis of political outlook seem practical, not epistemic. I take it that something like this practical worry serves as the main motivation for promoting other forms of diversity in the profession. A secondary motivation is epistemic, but this has nothing to do with Plouffe’s thought that members of the various minority groups to be promoted reason differently in virtue of their group membership. That would be a bizarre and highly implausible kind of essentialism. Rather, this motivation has more to do with the thought that members of such groups, in virtue of the social and economic conditions their group membership forces on them, will have unique experiences that can provide insights that would’ve been otherwise overlooked. In other words, mo’ data mo’ better.

Another distinction worth noting is that ‘liberal’ and ‘conservative’ have both a normative sense or a sociological sense. Minority group membership is clearly a sociological rather than normative matter. But ‘liberal’ and ‘conservative’ can go both ways. We can use these to refer to two opposing normative views or opposing families of normative views, or we can use these to refer to distinct social groups. Perhaps the epistemic motivation I sketched for increasing minority diversity extends mutandis mutatis to minority political groups as well. But the issue at hand is clearly about a lack of philosophers with conservative commitments rather than a lack of philosophers who are members of the conservative social group, whatever that may be. We are not talking about a lack of, for instance, registered Republicans in philosophy, though one of our worries might be that there’s a lack of philosophers who share the normative commitments of Republicans in 2014. So Plouffe’s characterisation of the question is doubly wrong.

So the question, then is about the epistemic value of a diversity of political views. Here, I want to second Matt Drabek’s worry about the vagueness of ‘liberal’ and ‘conservative’. One way to get a grip on the question at hand is to think in terms of the epistemic value of political disagreement. The Millian point made by Jennifer Frey and Fritz Allhoff is well taken. Disagreement can be of epistemic value, for in disagreement, our interlocutors force us to question our assumptions and refine our positions, and in doing so we may discover that these are less justified than we realised. The murkier the waters, the more valuable disagreement, and thus diversity, will be. But to my mind there are clearly political disagreements that are of no value. That is, the epistemic value of disagreement is conditional on its potential for bringing us closer to the truth. Some political disagreements clearly fails to satisfy this condition. For instance, a disagreement over the permissibility of slavery cannot get us any closer to the truth than we already are: slavery is simply unjust. Maybe it would be valuable to get clear on just why slavery is unjust, but that would be a different disagreement. We need not engage with a pro-slavery interlocutor to get push back on our anti-slavery position–all we need is to engage with an interlocutor that has different anti-slavery position. Some things are simply beyond the pale. Getting back to the vagueness worry, notice that if this is right, then the value of increasing political diversity depends on the value of the disagreements that the increase enables us to have. But this is impossible to determine without first getting clear on just what is meant by ‘liberal’ and ‘conservative’ and just what is at issue between these positions or families of positions.Report

Alan White
Alan White
6 years ago

“Rather, we argue that the collective efforts of researchers in politically charged areas may fail to converge upon the truth when there are few or no non-liberal researchers to raise questions and frame hypotheses in alternative ways.”

What struck me was the assumption here that, because this is a science, the authors appear to share the widespread assumption among scientists in general that correspondence-style realism is true, and so this is an issue to them about best methods to achieve objectively true results. (If they mean merely statistically accurate surveys, then I concede the point.) But perhaps I’m being ungenerous and that they mean that “the truth” may ultimately be antirealist in some sense, and that more strongly opposing positions may help to make that apparent. But I doubt that; in any case should they try to demonstrate that some antirealism is true they would be moving from ordinary science to meta-science–namely, philosophy. And perhaps that point shows as well that philosophy needs ideological diversity to settle such higher-order questions, though it may also just show that philosophers first must reflect on whether they approach ideological matters as realists of some stripe or are open to antirealism (or pragmatism). As I increasingly find in thinking about this sort of thing, this probably most basically involves value commitments of some received type whether reflectively achieved or not.Report

anon junior
anon junior
6 years ago

I know the two responses you mention have been done to death, but I don’t see how it’s possible to say much about the question while independently of the second one.

Are there worthwhile arguments for right-wing political positions? If there are, then I think that it’s clear that philosophy would be improved if there were more people exploring and developing those arguments. If there aren’t, then there may still be reasons why philosophy would be improved (for instance, as the last paragraph of Jennifer Frey’s response suggests, right-wingers might be useful as foils or sparring partners), but they would not be as strong reasons, and they would compete with the significant social costs of spreading pernicious and intellectually bankrupt views that already get more exposure than they deserve.

It’s also worth noting that the presence of right-wingers is not itself necessary for political diversity as such. Political diversity is relative to context, and the presence of right-wingers is only necessary for political diversity relative to mainstream national politics. The assumption that this context is the important one is easy to miss, but it’s substantive and highly contestable. Relative to a different and arguably more significant context, philosophy is very politically diverse. There are left-libertarians, right-libertarians, anarchists, luck egalitarians, democratic egalitarians, Cohen-style Marxists, Frankfurt School Marxists, communitarians, and more. These are enormously different and, mostly, enormously interesting positions. If that isn’t diversity enough, it can only be because there are other genuinely interesting positions left out. I think it’s reasonable to doubt there are in the absence of positive argument to the contrary.Report

Ligurio
Ligurio
6 years ago

This is an interesting discussion. My sense is that all these categories are pretty muddled and I largely agree with Drabek’s comments above. My hunch is that my Rawlsian liberal colleagues would have no real problems hiring an economic libertarian who has no strong views on abortion; but they would be very much opposed to hiring a distibutivist or social-democrat who thought abortion was wrong. (And we could replace “abortion” with “gay marriage” or “affirmative action” without changing this much.) From my perspective, this just shows that my colleagues have internalized the dynamic whereby so-called “cultural” issues have come to exhaust the options for political self-differentiation at the national level.

But what, finally, is more telling about the real state of social-psychological science in the U.S. today? That “conservative” positions are underrepresented, or that the APA as a whole was willing to revise its code of ethics in 2002 in order to help the “governing legal authority” determine just which stress positions were most effective in breaking a “terrorist”? https://firstlook.org/theintercept/2014/11/14/american-psychological-association-reviewing-role-bush-torture-program/Report

Richard Yetter Chappell
6 years ago

I agree with anon junior above that this topic can’t really be fruitfully addressed independently of substantive normative judgments regarding which views are and aren’t rationally defensible. I’ve developed some further thoughts (along with initial attempts at formulating where I think the standard left-wing views are basically undeniable, and where I think they can — and perhaps should — be denied) over on my blog:
http://www.philosophyetc.net/2014/12/questioning-political-dogmas.htmlReport

Joshua A. Miller
6 years ago

One of the main problems here is the criterion by which we judge philosophical results. Kristie Dotson’s paper “How is this Paper Philosophy?” does a really good job at laying out how the absence of stable criteria for the acceptance of scholarship allows white and male scholars to privilege their own work and exclude the work of non-white and non-male scholars. The same holds for liberal and conservative scholars: if there’s no criterion for good work, it is far too easy to use political heuristics and litmus tests to stand in for the quality of a person’s scholarship.Report

Cora Diamond
Cora Diamond
6 years ago

JT asks a question about when disagreement is of epistemic value. I think his suggestion is that it is of value when the disagreement can help us to see more clearly the considerations that go against the answers we take to be correct to the questions we are asking, and in that way enable us to get closer to the truth about those issues. I don’t think that we need to have pro-slavery people in philosophy departments, but I do think that one thing we can learn if we look at the dispute about slavery, as it shaped itself in the first half of the nineteenth century, is that the anti-abolitionists were not giving a different answer (from the one JT himself would give) to the question whether slavery is unjust. Some of them (at any rate) were rejecting the question in that form, — they were rejecting the idea that we should think about slavery in abstract general terms like whether it is just or not. They were rejecting the question, not giving a different answer to it. It is epistemically significant to find out that the people one disagrees with may be, not so much giving a different answer to the question, framed as we ourselves are inclined to frame it, but reshaping, or trying to reshape the issue. The epistemic value of getting to see how the pro-slavery thinkers actually thought is that it may help us to see how much may be built into our modes of framing questions.Report

Mr. Q
Mr. Q
6 years ago

I’m pretty sure that one’s evaluation of conservative arguments is largely a result of one’s political bias rather than pure reason. I mean, consider how many philosophers are moral skeptics: few consider them irrational. Is it really just so obvious that if there *are* moral truths, abortion is permissible?Report

Tina
6 years ago

I think JT did a good job of bringing in the distinction between epistemic/practical value. It’s clear that political diversity has practical value. Institutions look good when they show that they have a politically diverse faculty. Not only this, but as Jennifer said, inviting conservatives to the table encourages healthy debate which can strengthen one’s own views. Let’s not forget that we may find that we’ve been wrong all along! Bringing in political diversity has epistemic value, and this is more important. And I think that such intellectual diversity does more good than harm for both institutions and ideas.

Now we turn to the question: Which ideas are worthy? What kind of diversity are we talking about?

With this question I think we’re being too exacting. How can we know in advance which ideas will pay off? Obviously we are all mixed bags, politically and otherwise, and especially in philosophy. It’s also clear that some people are more conservative than liberal, and this means they hold certain views (we all know what they are) that tend to grate on the nerves of liberals. These are the ones who need to be included in academia. They aren’t that hard to identify. I see no need to find a perfect conservative, or even one who identifies as conservative. At this point it would be nice to simply have motions in this direction.

To liberals (I’m one too): We shouldn’t forget that we are talking about people who hold doctorates in philosophy, not just someone off the street. These are by and large bright people.Report

anon female grad student
anon female grad student
6 years ago

The distinction between practical and epistemic is not so clean as people are making out. I’ve seen individuals vilified, their teaching termed “indoctrination”, their views–wrongly–assumed to be conservative in every respect (i.e., pro-war, pro-Bush, pro-torture, etc.) merely because they are openly pro-life. (“He’s a conservative nut” “He’s an ideological shill” “He’s a culture warrior”). Their classes are shunned, they are blamed for problems or events that they have nothing to do with, etc.

I’ve seen comments critical of some military action of the Obama administration be responded to with: “but Bush did [something similar/worse]…” as if this justified the actions of the current president, or as if, by criticizing Obama, one implicitly defends Bush. The conversation was, of course, derailed. This is the norm. This is accepted. It makes us bad philosophers and bad people, when a person’s views are assumed to be motivated by hate/party ideology/other bad things. Because not only do the reigning assumptions go unchallenged, bad arguments pass for good ones when we agree with the conclusions, but additionally, people are hurt in the process, both personally and professionally.

I have an atypical mix of views, and so I disagree with almost everyone about some thing or other. I have good arguments for my views, and like to discuss political issues because they are interesting and important. But I don’t talk politics with philosophers. I would, in all honesty, rather talk politics with my in-laws, because they are more reasonable, more open to the other side, less likely to make assumptions about me or attribute to me nefarious motivations for the things I believe.Report