A Response to Brian Leiter from the Margins (guest post by Christopher Lebron)

A Response to Brian Leiter from the Margins (guest post by Christopher Lebron)


The following is a guest post* by Christopher Lebron, assistant professor of philosophy and African American studies at Yale University.


A Response to Brian Leiter from the Margins
by Christopher Lebron

Take a look around you. It’s a new day. Campuses around the country have put the world on notice that there is no last place of refuge for marginalization. Apparently not everyone has gotten the memo.

Consider the queer and peculiar case of Brian Leiter, Professor of Law and Philosophy at the University of Chicago. Leiter runs a remarkably successful and enduring philosophy blog eponymously named Leiter Reports. This has been Leiter’s platform for his views on philosophy as both a vocation and way of life. The blog has been a similarly important wedge for his influence in the field along with the Philosophical Gourmet Report (PGR), which until recently had been under his leadership and was the industry standard, so to speak, on the ranking of philosophy programs. The PGR faced increasing challenges over the past several years in part owing to complaints that the rankings reproduced outdated and status quo views of what counted as important or legitimate work; views that marginalized important work in feminist theory, race theory, queer theory, and other previously unjustifiably non-mainstream areas of philosophical investigation.

For my part, I’ve never had any dealings with the man. I’ve not been interested one way or another in his escapades, at least until recently when he turned his unwelcome gaze in a direction of special interest to me—a black UCLA graduate student—so bad luck for him. (Out of respect for the person in question, I shall simply refer to him as the BGS.) The trouble began when Kate Manne of Cornell and my Yale colleague, Jason Stanley, published a piece in the Chronicle of Higher Education on the recent racial troubles at Yale. At issue in the piece is the confusion that the fight on the ground is that of the right to free speech vs. racial offense—the two authors intelligently argued in favor of sensitivity to racial offense. Leiter didn’t deem the piece “helpful” which is fine as far as that goes—disagreement is the bread and butter of philosophy.

My own interest became piqued when the BGS in question became a target of a comment on Leiter’s blog site. On Facebook Leiter had expressed on Jason Stanley’s page that his and Manne’s views were symptomatic of group think. It is worth me pointing out that the common objections to arguments that favor protections of minority interests usually involve some invocation of the right to free speech. This invocation tends to be confused in its philosophical moorings (by for example classifying sentiments that have been weaponized by history as ‘speech’). The other strategy, the one Leiter preferred in public, is to deem the position in favor of such protections illegitimate because widely held among… well apparently, the wrong people, since his own views are widely held among some people, just with a better sense of the rational, or of civilization, or some such.

Ahh. Apologies. The issue is with, as he puts it, not The Left so much as “mindless identity politics”. It’s difficult to know if the politics is mindless because it deals in the issues of identity, or that those that partake in said politics are themselves mindless because they are concerned with identity. (I should additionally note that this category of identity politics is simply wrong – these folks are concerned with social justice and last I checked, that’s the ethical category that got this whole U.S. of A. thing going in the first place, warts and all.) This is important since the BGS challenged Leiter’s claim that Manne and Stanley were engaged in group think since Leiter’s own retort seemed quite resonant with standard conservative white responses, well, resistances, to what was that again? – right: mindless identity politics a.k.a. social justice.

Soon after the discussion on Facebook, in which he called Stanley’s friends “clowns,” “lowlifes,” and “what’s wrong with the profession,” Leiter took to his blog to first congratulate himself on a job well-done by quoting a supporter of his views (for all we know, a lone supporter) and then proceeding to lay into his colleagues in a quite unprofessional manner. For example, he proceeded to call my colleague and Facebook friend, John Drabinski, “deranged”—I mean really, Brian, was that very professional? Drabinski might be flamboyant in spirit but deranged is a borderline defamatory claim referencing mental health. Tsk tsk. But things didn’t end there as he proceeded to refer to BGS and his allies as “philosophers on the margins.”

On the margins indeed. I won’t go through the tiring exercise of reminding anyone just how under-represented blacks and race philosophy is in the field. That a person like myself is at Yale is a statistical anomaly to the way of things. This is in fact why I am taking time I don’t have to put an end to this nonsense. I find myself these days, plying my trade—pardon, my award winning trade—in “mindless” identity politics, constantly writing for one audience or another asking them to please use their good sense and good will to stop pushing black and brown Americans to the margins with their ignorance, lack of sympathy, or whatever else causes people to be ethically numb to the needs of other humans or affectively numb to the fact that these “others” are humans in the first place. Leiter took aim at a young black man in a field in which he most certainly is on the margins, but certainly not by his choosing. Leiter wasted no time reminding him of his place on the margins as well as of the “stupidity” of his position—one only need read the post to see this is the case. And we wonder why retention of promising black talent is so precarious and fraught. But these days are coming to an end.  There will be no more reminding us of our place or of our stupidity. Have I made myself clear?

Mill On Liberty title

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Lynne Tirrell
Lynne Tirrell
5 years ago

Thanks for taking time to write this, Chris. You are very clear. Attacking grad students is crossing a line. Twisting arguments is common enough in our profession, but we have long had prohibitions against ad hominems, and someone who views himself as a leader should not resort to them. Also, we need more attention to social justice, not less, so I appreciate your reminders that reducing social justice concerns to “identity politics” is a rhetorical move to marginalize, used so frequently against African-Americans, and also (but not in this particular case) against women. Many thanks.Report

ejrd
ejrd
Reply to  Lynne Tirrell
5 years ago

Attacking graduate students is crossing a line, unfortunately, Leiter has crossed this line many (many) times. I’ve been personally boycotting his site since the *last* time Leiter crossed this line. Interestingly, this really is one of those times where not visiting his site and by actively discouraging the use of the PGR (and directing interested students at the alternatives now available) really will take away the disproportionate power Leiter has exercised in the profession. He doesn’t deserve it and we shouldn’t give it to him.Report

Anonymous
Anonymous
Reply to  ejrd
5 years ago

Yes. It’s also important to keep in mind that the Leiter Report is a money-making venture. Every time you read something on his blog, he’s getting money from the advertisements.Report

sin nombre
sin nombre
Reply to  Anonymous
5 years ago

If memory serves me, the ad buys are actually on monthly bases. So it’s not a question of each time you click Leiter makes a buck, but more every month whoever is advertising on his blog is paying him hundreds of dollars. It’s the same problem: the more you go to his blog the more he can show his advertisers people are going to his blog and the more he can demand for his ads. I’m just saying it’s more sophisticated than that and a good reason why I’ve been boycotting his blog since Dailynous showed up, even if I’ve not always been happy with how this blog has operated.Report

anon candidate
anon candidate
Reply to  Anonymous
5 years ago

Right, because a law professor making a couple hundred thousand dollars a year is going to seriously care about a tiny dropoff in web traffic.

The whole idea of refusing to link to or visit an academic blog for ideological reasons is utterly hilarious.Report

Anonymous
Anonymous
Reply to  anon candidate
5 years ago

Who cares if the drop off is tiny? I don’t, personally, want to assist Leiter financially. I particularly don’t want to, personally, assist him-qua-blogger. It doesn’t matter, for me, whether Leiter notices or not–what matters, to me, is just what I am doing with my own time and energy. It’s strange, to me, that you’d find that sort of idea worthy of ridicule.

Although, I guess it is also strange to me why a philosopher would come to a public space like this and then, rather than provide some sort of reasoned response to an idea they find objectionable, just call it “utterly hilarious.” It seems strange, to me, that that is what so many people in my profession think of as a worthwhile contribution to a discussion like this.Report

Anon
Anon
Reply to  ejrd
5 years ago

EJRD: He took himself to be attacking a full professor (I think at Cornell) with the same name. And he didn’t name anyone in any case. Is it really not allowed to criticize an arguably rude comment by a graduate student without even naming the student. Where did that “line” come from?Report

anon candidate
anon candidate
Reply to  Anon
5 years ago

Anonymous: it’s hilarious because of how ridiculous your priorities must be. You don’t want to be complicit in something you don’t support. A good principle! So you don’t visit a blog that espouses liberal views that aren’t your own. Why should that guy make a dime off of you? Naturally, of course, you purchase electronics put together by foreigners who work as indentured servants. No contradiction there!

It has nothing to do with how you might be perceived in the discipline if you were to *gasp* link to Brian’s blog on your facebook page! Nope, it’s just about what you should support with your time and energy.Report

Clement Loo
Clement Loo
Reply to  Anon
5 years ago

I don’t really have a position in this argument because, quite frankly, I have no idea about what’s going on. Yet, I do want to comment on the sort of response that defends BL thought he was going after a full professor rather than a graduate student (note: I am only commenting on the response rather than whatever BL did because I again have no idea what he did beyond what I’ve read in the above post).

While of course it’s worse to publicly berate a graduate student than a full professor, I would be loath to say that it’s acceptable to publicly “attack” someone who’s a full professor.

Philosophy is a profession after all and the principal that is the subject of this discussion is a professional. as such, I would contend that we, as a field, should have standards that promote professional civility rather than defend incivility by noting that the intended target was thought to be well established within our profession.Report

Clement Loo
Clement Loo
Reply to  Clement Loo
5 years ago

I caught a typo in my earlier comment. The line that reads, “Yet, I do want to comment on the sort of response that defends BL thought….” Should read, “Yet, I want to comment on the sort of response that defends BL by suggesting that he thought….”

Apparently, I can’t English very well before lunch.Report

LGruen
LGruen
5 years ago

“…And we wonder why retention of promising black talent is so precarious and fraught. But these days are coming to an end. There will be no more reminding us of our place or of our stupidity. Have I made myself clear?” Crystal clear, and thank you for doing so.Report

Enzo Rossi
5 years ago

“… this category of identity politics is simply wrong – these folks are concerned with social justice and last I checked, that’s the ethical category that got this whole U.S. of A. thing going in the first place, warts and all.”

That historical claim about the USA strikes me as highly implausible. Anyway, I don’t know why one would say that if one is concerned with social justice then one can’t be concerned with identity politics. Is the claim that there’s no such thing as identity politics, but only debates on social justice? What about the longstanding debate about whether identity/recognition or class/redistribution matter more for social justice, whether one is more fundamental than the other, and so on? Even talk of intersectionality isn’t going to make this debate go away, since often we see a zero-sum game for resources, attention, and so on.Report

Anon
Anon
5 years ago

FWIW, Leiter posted a brief reply to Lebron. If you don’t want to visit his blog, here it is:

(1) The graduate student who dismissed me as an insular white guy (see above) has the same name as a full professor in a cognate field, whom I had thought (mistakenly) had posted the insult (I thank Chike Jeffers for correcting my mistake); I will not name him, but I did revise the post after being corrected (I stand by the judgment that his dismissal of me based on my race and the alleged insularity of the “white canon” was “stupid”); (2) Prof. Lebron omits any mention of the string of insults and invective to which I was subjected on Facebook by John Drabinski and others, to which I responded, though Prof. Lebron quotes my responses only selectively; (3) Prof. Drabinski has a long history of hurling wild (and sometimes defamatory) accusations and insults my way; “deranged” is among the nicer things I might say about him; (4) the reference to “mindless identity politics” was obviously a reference to its manifestations on blogs and social media, not to the actual philosophical work done in this area.Report

sin nombre
sin nombre
Reply to  Anon
5 years ago

Let’s see if we can translate this to English:
1. I didn’t bother to do my homework when I decided to use my bully pulpit to, well, bully someone.
2. I was just responding in kind. Tu quoque isn’t a real adhominem if you are the subject of a significant number of insults, amiright.
3. Ad hominem? You think that’s an ad hominem you should hear what I would call him when my words couldn’t be verified by a Google search.
4. Blogs aren’t real academic work, except mine of course 😉Report

nameless
nameless
Reply to  sin nombre
5 years ago

This ‘translation’ could apply to Lebron’s OP with very few adjustments.Report

sin nombre
sin nombre
Reply to  nameless
5 years ago

I can see how that sounds plausible but I can’t for the life of me see how it applies to the OP. Maybe you could elaborate?Report

JDRox
JDRox
Reply to  sin nombre
5 years ago

Re:1–Do I really have to do homework about the people who say stuff about me on Facebook–which is certainly not *very* private (hundreds of people read that thread)–before responding? Leiter didn’t know that the guy was a grad student. If true, that seems like a decent excuse, especially given the circumstances Leiter mentions.
Re:2–Leiter’s claim, true or not, what he was just giving back what others were giving him. That wouldn’t necessarily make insulting someone permissible, but it certainly would be relevant to my moral evaluation of the incident and especially Leiter’s character.
Re:3–See above.
Re:4–I acknowledge the winking face, but it’s worth reiterating that Leiter’s point here stands.Report

sin nombre
sin nombre
Reply to  JDRox
5 years ago

While I was certainly meaning to be more humorous than accurate, I disagree with your reading.
1. =If I understand the events correctly, there’s a facebook spat and then Leiter writes about it naming names on his blog. Suppose people take Leiter seriously (which they do) and suppose that by posting negatively about someone he could hurt that person’s standing in the field or harm that person when it comes time for promotion or the job market (who knows what his influence here is, if he has any), I would argue that he has a responsibility to make sure he is indeed accusing and attacking the right person. I get that the Facebook post is public, but you have to hunt for that. Leiter’s blog on the other hand is likely to be at the top of a Google search of X person.
2. I guess I would agree with you if we were talking about children and not grown ass men who are supposed to be respect people in the field. I guess I don’t see any reason for name calling or dismissal of views. If you don’t like what they call you then stop talking to them or try to win by poking holes in the argument otherwise we just have a shouting match and the possibility of productive discourse is over. I thought we’re supposed to be trained to be better thinkers than that (although some of the comments suggest otherwise).
3. Same as 2.
4. I guess if you are going to call someone’s blog post or Facebook response an instance of “mindless identity politics” it would be nice if we had an argument to show that this isn’t say a mindless reactionary insult.Report

Nicole Wyatt
Nicole Wyatt
5 years ago

Well said. Thank you.Report

Anon E Mouse
Anon E Mouse
5 years ago

This isn’t as clear as I’d like it to be.
Can you explain more clearly what exactly BGS said and what Leiter said in response (like, for example, a fuller quote of the “on the margins” comment)?Report

Nicky Drake
Nicky Drake
5 years ago

Is anyone able to say what Facaebook page the discussion took place on?Report

Ned Markosian
Ned Markosian
5 years ago

Thank you for writing this, Chris!Report

Carnap
Carnap
5 years ago

Leiter, Stanley, Manne, and Lebron have not done themselves or the profession any favors in their discussion of recent events at Yale. Leiter’s blog posts are painfully self-congratulatory and needlessly abusive. The recent CHE piece by Manne and Stanley is superficial and intellectually dishonest. Lebron’s piece, I’m sorry to say, is poorly written and self-important. I am embarrassed for my discipline.Report

Urstoff
Urstoff
Reply to  Carnap
5 years ago

Sayre’s Law continues to holdReport

Jason Stanley
Jason Stanley
5 years ago

I read Leiter as doubling down on his public blog comments about the BGS’s remarks on my private Facebook page. Let me then explain the context, which is now sadly deleted. I posted Leiter’s blogpost (which, if I’m not mistaken, is changed somewhat from its more rhetorically charged predecessor, which included, according to the discussion about it on my FB page, phrases such as “deranged”, “cattle”, and “mindless herd”), and thanked him for the substantive engagement. One philosopher made a humorous remark about descending into Mordor, which Leiter responded by saying “You are the problem with our profession”. He repeatedly called all of my FB friends “low life”. BGS weighed in with a humorous comment about Leiter’s rhetoric about mindless groupthink on the internet, by noting that it was amusing that a white male in a discipline with a largely white male canon and a 70% white male population was linking to an internet article to make his point about mindless groupthink on the internet. So the point was *actually* about the use of blogs to substantiate a point about how social media and blogging reinforces groupthink. That was the actual point – about the the performative contradiction. I have no idea why Leiter chose to misrepresent this point in a widely read blog, much less publish a misrepresentation of a graduate student’s point made in the midst of a *private* FB discussion that I deemed so uncivil, so beyond the pale, in large part (but not exclusively) because of Leiter’s extreme rhetoric, that I chose to delete it.Report

anon candidate
anon candidate
Reply to  Jason Stanley
5 years ago

Stanley claims that the post was “sadly deleted” (read: he deleted it himself) due to extreme rhetoric. He then selectively re-posts it. Apparently the “extreme rhetoric” occurs when Leiter calls Drabinski a “fucking clown.” First, that must only sound extreme if you follow the conversational norms of an 11 year old. Second, Leiter is responding to Drabinski’s claim that Leiter is a racist. As a response to Leiter’s actual critique of Stanley’s piece, that charge is absurd; indeed, it is offensive, insofar as foolishly tossing around accusations of racism is itself a serious moral wrong.

In all the huffing and puffing about facebook thread norms, rhetoric, and insult, I have yet to see something that would really be amazing, given the times: a point by point response by Stanley and Manne (or someone else who can be serious) to the legitimate criticisms Leiter has raised.

Whether or not it was intended to do so, the above piece by Prof. Lebron does not constitute a serious response. He claims that objections to “mindless identity politics” is akin to criticizing the project of social justice writ large, which is patently ridiculous. This is the same type of move to which Stanley and Manne resort in the Chronicle piece, namely, claiming that everyone who fails to agree with you is not on board with social justice. To hear Stanley and Manne tell it, anyone who disagrees is effectively a National Review subscriber.

Overall, this is an argument internal to the Left about how to best protect and foster values that the Left has traditionally defended. A sliver of internet activists and philosophy professors is now claiming a monopoly on these values. To indulge in a bit of extreme rhetoric: I call bullshit.Report

John Drabinski
John Drabinski
Reply to  anon candidate
5 years ago

To be clear, here, I said that his characterization of the Yale students was “its own kind of racism.” When challenged to demonstrate that, I did go through a handful-plus set of points in Leiter’s original post and show how, in fact, Leiter’s characterizations were absolutely deploying racist tropes and codes.

Disagree, etc., but I in no way floated the claim of “its own kind of racism” foolishly or tossing aroundingly. I was in fact very direct and laid out my rationale. No moral wrong here on my part. The moral wrong lies with Brian.Report

anon candidate
anon candidate
Reply to  John Drabinski
5 years ago

It’s convenient that you want to focus on “tropes and codes” instead of Leiter’s actual arguments. The actual arguments are what’s important if you think he holds racist views. What makes this convenient is that you get to loosely interpret some general features of his arguments in a racist manner, and then claim vindication.

For instance, you assert that Leiter relies on the trope of “unruly black kids.” Well, that’s one reading, but not the most pertinent reading, given that the issue is whether or not screaming at (or spitting at) people who disagree with you is consistent with free speech. So a more likely trope is “unruly college kids” or “unruly protesters.” Do you have some compelling evidence to think that Leiter is invoking the first trope as opposed to either of these latter two? Or is it simply easier to dismiss him as a racist, which absolves you of having to confront his arguments?

Calling someone a racist without warrant cheapens the term. If you want to address the actual views, as opposed to your alleged tropes, go ahead. No one has done it yet, surely not Stanley or Manne.Report

sin nombre
sin nombre
Reply to  anon candidate
5 years ago

One serious difficulty with identifying racism is that racists or at least racist speech relies on coded language and familiar tropes. The trope of “unruly black kids” is very easily identifiable in our current American culture of racial tension and is often invoked as a justification for treating black people, particularly young black males, more harshly than white males are treated. I’m afraid I am unfamiliar with the trope of unruly college kids. The problem is that it makes for loose arguments and a reliance on shared experiences and prejudices. This hermeneutic challenge makes it easy to critique anyone calling out a person for using tropes and coded language because they can hide behind the vagueness of multiple interpretations. “Oh, I meant this not that.”

I would say that it is generally unhelpful to call people racists for the simple fact that we don’t know what’s in someone’s heart. Probably a more constructive way of talking about racist tropes and coded language is to point it out when it happens as an instance of racist speech. It is always possible that a person does not recognize that what she is saying is indeed racist.Report

D.C.
D.C.
Reply to  anon candidate
5 years ago

“I’m afraid I am unfamiliar with the trope of unruly college kids”

I realize that this is an old thread so nobody may read this, but I just couldn’t let this astonishing statement go unchallenged. The “unruly college kid” trope is quite literally a fundamental one woven into the very fabric of Western civilization, documented for centuries in written history, arts, and literature. I mean, it is its own movie genre.

I just cannot believe that you can be unfamiliar with something so elementary; not accusing you of lying, I’m just thinking it’s so internalized that you don’t even see it anymore, but I guarantee you are familiar with it.

I mean, come on man, we have accounts of rowdy college students from at least the 13th/14th centuries:
https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/University_of_Paris_strike_of_1229
https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/St_Scholastica_Day_riotReport

Anonymous
Anonymous
Reply to  John Drabinski
5 years ago

How might Leiter have characterized the students as infantile or vulgar without using racist tropes?Report

WP
WP
Reply to  Anonymous
5 years ago

How might you characterize Black welfare recipients as lazy and ungrateful without using racist tropes? You can’t, because the trope is in the content and not any particular terms.Report

Jason Stanley
Jason Stanley
Reply to  Jason Stanley
5 years ago

Sigh anonymous. I have the whole thread. Should I post the whole thread? What I posted was what I regarded as the piece that was most fair to every side; that was my point in posting that piece.Report

Anon E Mouse
Anon E Mouse
Reply to  Jason Stanley
5 years ago

If you are going to go on about what was said (with your editorial about what was humorous, misrepresentation, and rhetoric), then I think you should post the whole thread.
I’m not trying to besmirch your assessment, but I think it would be helpful, especially given that this does deal with the important issue of professionalism.Report

Ed Kazarian
Ed Kazarian
Reply to  Jason Stanley
5 years ago

Stanley very accurately represent what was said, and in what order. The post was private. Everyone’s comments were made with the reasonable but limited expectation of privacy that entails.

The person who violated that expectation in the first place was, you guessed it, Leiter.Report

Confused
Confused
5 years ago

I don’t understand why someone would be upset about another person’s rankings of journals. Rankings are all about preference: if you think that issues which aren’t regarded as important by Leiter are important, than you’re bound to disagree with his list. So what? As someone who’s inclined to think that metaphysics is the most significant (definitely not most (or even slightly) important if we are talking about practicality), I’m not offended if someone else thinks political or feminist philosophy is more significant. I just think their wrong.Report

sin nombre
sin nombre
Reply to  Confused
5 years ago

But there are greater stakes than our subjective opinions about the ranking of journals. Philosophy departments see metaphysics as part of the core and will hire metaphysicians, but if you work on marginalized problems in philosophy there will be fewer job opportunities and you will be considered ipso facto marginal: http://dailynous.com/2015/11/18/whats-core-and-whats-peripheral-in-philosophy/

So jobs are at stake, but not just that: the sorts of conversations that count as philosophical, sort of demographics our discipline will have, who gets invited where to talk to whom, etc.Report

nameless
nameless
5 years ago

Yes, it’s “regrettable” that Jason Stanely deleted the thread in which his friends were hurling all sorts of profanities and ad hominems at Leiter.Report

Anon1
Anon1
Reply to  nameless
5 years ago

I know, right??? If only Jason was just like the esteemed law professor and actively hurled baseless insults and ad hominems at colleagues on a very popular blog and then reposted such activity as a “blast from the past” every few years for no apparent reason except to further harm said colleagues instead of deleting the post.Report

Jason Stanley
Jason Stanley
Reply to  nameless
5 years ago

I have the entire exchange on a screen shot. I published one representative sample below. I would ask permission of all parties to publish the whole thing. I’m reluctant to do so.Report

Gary Bartlett
5 years ago

The aspect of this that horrifies me more than anything else is how sure Leiter is that he’s right. It’s so disturbing to see a person who is eminently capable of critical thought and reflection failing so badly to exhibit those qualities. He doesn’t have to admit that he’s wrong. He just has to grant that it’s _possible_ he’s wrong. I keep thinking of one of my all-time favorite passages in philosophy, from Hume’s Enquiry:
“The greater part of mankind are naturally apt to be affirmative and dogmatical in their opinions; and while they see objects only on one side, and have no idea of any counterpoising argument, they throw themselves precipitately into the principles, to which they are inclined; nor have they any indulgence for those who entertain opposite sentiments. To hesitate or balance perplexes their understanding, checks their passion, and suspends their action. They are, therefore, impatient till they escape from a state, which to them is so uneasy: and they think, that they could never remove themselves far enough from it, by the violence of their affirmations and obstinacy of their belief. But could such dogmatical reasoners become sensible of the strange infirmities of human understanding, even in its most perfect state, and when most accurate and cautious in its determinations; such a reflection would naturally inspire them with more modesty and reserve, and diminish their fond opinion of themselves, and their prejudice against antagonists. The illiterate may reflect on the disposition of the learned, who, amidst all the advantages of study and reflection, are commonly still diffident in their determinations: and if any of the learned be inclined, from their natural temper, to haughtiness and obstinacy, a small tincture of Pyrrhonism might abate their pride, by showing them, that the few advantages, which they may have attained over their fellows, are but inconsiderable, if compared with the universal perplexity and confusion, which is inherent in human nature. In general, there is a degree of doubt, and caution, and modesty, which, in all kinds of scrutiny and decision, ought for ever to accompany a just reasoner.”Report

Urstoff
Urstoff
Reply to  Gary Bartlett
5 years ago

When it comes to anything vaguely political, academics toss considered thought out the window and goes straight for moral indignation. It just feels so good to be morally superior/angry/righteous.Report

Jason Stanley
Jason Stanley
5 years ago

Nameless: Sigh. I do not think private Facebook threads should be shared, and I do not think that they should be discussed in a public forum. People respond in anger at the moment, and they should have the freedom to rethink their thoughts. Social media is just not a forum that should be unduly politicized – I mean, we spend a lot of our time apologizing on social media. But yeah I’ve got some screen shots, from the private FB discussion that I deemed to have gotten so off the rails that I deleted it. I think this one is basically representative. https://www.facebook.com/photo.php?fbid=10153303238568366&set=a.10150325371913366.340575.580938365&type=3&theaterReport

Anon22
Anon22
Reply to  Jason Stanley
5 years ago

That particular post isn’t private. I’m not one of your FB friends, however, I can read and respond to all comments within that thread.Report

WP
WP
Reply to  Anon22
5 years ago

The original post was private.Report

Jason Stanley
Jason Stanley
5 years ago

Again, I think that lots of weird stuff happens in the heat of the moment on social media. Goodness knows I have published a lot of stuff on FB that I didn’t mean and was in the heat of the moment and for which I had to apologize. I do not think anyone should be held that much accountable for stuff on private FB threads. But since the causal history of this is being litigated, I guess I do have to reveal some. FWIW, I don’t think Leiter should be blamed for being upset on a private FB post, and he is often quite reasonable.Report

Professor Plum
Professor Plum
5 years ago

I don’t understand the point of this guest post. After careful reading I have gathered that obnoxious people behaved obnoxiously on a private Facebook page. Readers are not given a transcript, so it is impossible to form a considered judgment about what to think of the matter.

Is the Daily Nous now a forum for taking swipes at those with whom we have troubling, yet undisclosed, interactions on clubby social media platforms? Or is this a privilege reserved exclusively for award winning professors teaching at Ivy League universities?Report

WP
WP
Reply to  Professor Plum
5 years ago

It’s a response to Leiter’s public post on his blog about a private Facebook exchange.Report

Jonathan Ichikawa
Reply to  Professor Plum
5 years ago

This is Chris’s response to Leiter’s public blog post, which attacked various people, including the the BGS, for their behaviour on a private facebook thread.Report

Jamie Dreier
Jamie Dreier
Reply to  Professor Plum
5 years ago

Oh, thank god, I was having doubts about my own reading comprehension. I could not figure out how this topic made sense as a topic of a Daily Nous post.
I’ll just sit in the balcony with Professor Plum. (The shot at “Ivy League universities” doesn’t deter me at all.)Report

M.G. Piety
5 years ago

It is depressing to see a purported “philosopher” resorting to non-argumentative rhetoric–i.e., calling someone (or his or her position) “stupid.” I spend quite a bit time teaching my students the difference between argument and non-argumentative rhetoric and explaining that the latter is not allowed in philosophy.Report

Anon1
Anon1
Reply to  M.G. Piety
5 years ago

One might say that such rhetoric is “infantile.”Report

Anon
Anon
5 years ago

FWIW, Jason Stanley, the thread was not private. I’m not your FB friend, but I followed the whole thing (can’t remember what led me over there in the first place). Just looking at your FB now, all kinds of things are set to “public”. I’m not suggesting that, therefore, the discussion should be treated as a public discussion. I’m just saying that if you want the FB discussions that happen on your wall to be somewhat private, you need to change your settings!Report

John Protevi
John Protevi
Reply to  Anon
5 years ago

Anon at 3:00 pm: It was set to “friends” but because it tagged Brian Leiter, it allowed friends of Leiter’s who are not friends of Stanley’s to see it. Because of his reference to “private” above, the charitable interpretation is that Stanley meant it to be restricted to his friends but was unaware that by tagging someone in the post that allows the post to appear in the feeds of friends of the tagged person who are not friends of his. So on this reading, the intention to restrict to his friends was there but unfamiliarity with the details of FB tagging expanded its readership beyond that intention. Stanley can of course correct me if I’m wrong about his intention.Report

sin nombre
sin nombre
Reply to  John Protevi
5 years ago

Technology: 1
Philosopher: 0Report

WP
WP
Reply to  John Protevi
5 years ago

I don’t understand the sense of “private” in which something visible to only Jason’s friends would be private, but something visible to only Jason’s and Brian’s friends would not be. I’m inclined to think that anything visible to only a restricted audience is “private” in the relevant sense. Either way, though, it was at least not a public post.Report

Wayne Fenske
5 years ago

This episode is a good example to illustrate the difference between the right to free speech in Canada and the right to free speech in America.
In Canada, the right to free speech does not allow for the public vilifying of identifiable groups; that is classified as “Hate Speech” and is a criminal offence.
Meanwhile, the KKK is legally entitled to conduct public marches in America.
Isn’t it time for a Constitutional Amendment in America to reposition the parameters of the legally protected right to Free Speech so that it doesn’t include a right to engage in public hate speech?
Jus’ sayin’ …Report

Nonymous
Nonymous
Reply to  Wayne Fenske
5 years ago

Yeah. I know there’s been a lot of complex and sophisticated debate about this matter by philosophers and legal scholars, but who cares? Canada does it. That’s all we need to know.

A new argument form: argumentum ex Canada.Report

Wayne Fenske
Reply to  Nonymous
5 years ago

Now I remember why I don’t hang out with academic philosophers anymore. …Report

David Wallace
David Wallace
Reply to  Wayne Fenske
5 years ago

If you think you’ve conclusively won: that is, all your views about what kind of speech is and isn’t hate speech are accepted by everyone, will continue to be accepted by everyone, and will be reliably supported by the courts, and no speech that you think is fine will be blocked by the courts or the legislatures under the precedent of your own block…then, sure, why not lock your victory in by a constitutional amendment?

On the other hand, if you think that oppressive forces control or at least influence major power centers, there might be something to be said for a general free speech right, even on pragmatic grounds.Report

Enzo Rossi
Reply to  David Wallace
5 years ago

David Wallace’s point is spot on, and the reason why the Left should oppose speech restrictions, even when they seem useful to counter systemic oppression in the short term. And one doesn’t need the language of liberal rights to do so. This is a point about power.

I realise that things play out differently in Europe as opposed to the US: we Europeans don’t have a First Amendment, so we tend to see universities as free speech zones, whereas in the US things are often reversed. Still, it’s risky to endanger the academic community’s ability to explore dangerous ideas, and to use rational argumentation to overcome “common sense” prejudices and gut reactions to those ideas. This will expose us to some ugly speech, but I reckon overall the most disadvantaged are bound to benefit from open debate. There’s a reason why the defence of censorship and the privileging of emotions over argument* are traditional conservative positions.

* Yes, this is a crude, more or less false dichotomy. But this is a blog and I’m sure you get my gist.Report

Wayne Fenske
Reply to  David Wallace
5 years ago

Two things in reply, David:
1) The whole point of having a constitution is so that minorities and eccentric folk are protected from the ‘tyranny of the majority’. The existence of such protections can hardly be contingent on the the whims of the majority. So it doesn’t matter whether a constitutional protection or restriction is “accepted by everyone, [and] will continue to be accepted by everyone”.
2) As for your pragmatic fears, is there a realistic danger that a society where a restriction is placed on the public vilifying of identifiable groups will be more repressive that a society where anti-semites, racists, homophobes and others have a constitutionally protected right to publicly spew their views wherever they please?Report

David Wallace
David Wallace
Reply to  Wayne Fenske
5 years ago

If they’re not “accepted by everyone” (or at least: accepted by the vast majority), good luck passing a constitutional amendment in the first place.Report

David Wallace
David Wallace
Reply to  Wayne Fenske
5 years ago

Actually, on reflection my (somewhat flippant) last doesn’t fully engage with Wayne’s reply. Here’s a more substantive response (especially to your (2)).

Let’s suppose that (somehow) a constitutional amendment was passed that carved out a hate-speech exemption to the First Amendment. Are you really *sure* that it won’t in due course be used to ban or restrict speech by
– Occupy Wall Street (hatred against “the 1%”)
– Campaigners against genital mutilation (hatred against religious/ethnic communities)
– Women in orthodox religious communities, and their allies, protesting sexist or sexually-abusive practices (again, hatred against religious/ethnic communities)
– The Book of Mormon (the musical, I mean – hatred against Mormons)
– some of the stronger rhetoric used by left-wing politicians (hatred against conservatives)
– campaigners for a Palestinian state (hatred against Israelis, or against Jews)
– Gun control campaigners pointing out the NRA’s complicity in mass killings (hatred against gun owners)

I really doubt you have any of these things in mind by “hate speech”. But this proposed constitutional amendment won’t be interpreted by you; it’ll be interpreted by courts, whose judges are appointed by politicians; it’ll be interpreted by civic bodies and government departments; it’ll be used to justify First-Amendment-violating laws, whose constitutionality will again be judged by politically-appointed judges. Unless you are really confident that all these people agree with you and will continue to agree with you, be careful what you wish for.Report

WP
WP
Reply to  David Wallace
5 years ago

Concerns about a law being misapplied are often reasons to pay attention when writing the law rather than reasons to give up entirely.

Every hate speech restriction specifies certain classes—victims of genocide, race, place of origin, religion, gender, sexual orientation, etc.—so yes, I feel quite confident that a competent law would not be used to prosecute hatred against the 1%, conservatives, or gun owners.

Regarding your other examples, there obviously needs to be a distinction between criticizing a practice and hate speech. Is that possible? I don’t understand Americans’ urge to try to answer that from the armchair. Most of the developed world has these restrictions.Report

Wayne Fenske
Reply to  David Wallace
5 years ago

This is a legitimate concern, David.
But I think we need to realize that neither of the two alternatives, implementing restrictions on free speech or not implementing them, is a risk free possibility. What you’ve given is fairly close to a ‘worst case scenario’ if restrictions were to be implemented. This would have to be compared with a ‘worst case scenario’ if restrictions were not implemented. Imagine substantial increases in racist, sexist, homophobic, etc. propaganda as well as subtle but powerful accompanying discriminatory practices.
The fundamental question here is: Which of the two risks is it more reasonable to take? To answer this question, we have to speculate regarding which of the two worst case scenarios is a more realistic concern. We also have to consider whether the possible harms that could result from implementing restrictions on free speech are more pressing, or whether the possible harms from not implementing them are. To begin to sort these issues out would require a fairly sustained discussion.
To finish, on the face of it, it strikes me that not implementing such restrictions gives the concerns of the powerful and well placed greater priority than the marginalized and vulnerable, whereas implementing such restrictions gives the concerns of the marginalized and vulnerable higher priority.Report

Philippe Lemoine
Philippe Lemoine
Reply to  David Wallace
5 years ago

WP, given how vague the concept of hate speech is, it’s inevitable that any laws that criminalize it will be abused. (I say that but, to be clear, I personally think that even speech that clearly ought to count as hate speech should not be illegal.) But you’re right that we should look at what happens in countries where such laws exist. As it happens, I come from such a country, so I can guarantee you that they *are* abused.Report

David Wallace
David Wallace
Reply to  David Wallace
5 years ago

Replying to WP:

“Regarding your other examples, there obviously needs to be a distinction between criticizing a practice and hate speech. Is that possible? I don’t understand Americans’ urge to try to answer that from the armchair. Most of the developed world has these restrictions.”

Speaking as a UK citizen and lifelong British resident, it’s the way those restrictions have played out in other bits of the developed world that give me pause and motivate my “armchair” concerns. There have been plenty of cases of hate speech overreach in the UK (and elsewhere) – here’s an old article from Peter Tatchell about it, for instance (http://www.theguardian.com/commentisfree/2007/oct/10/hatespeechvfreespeech) – and that’s in the UK, where we have a largely unpoliticised judiciary and a legislative/constitutional framework that makes rules fairly easy to tweak when they have unintended consequences. My admittedly amateur observations of US constitutional jurisprudence make me suspect there’s more rather than less risk entailed by a constitutional amendment of this kind in the US context.Report

Anon.
5 years ago

I want to second what Carnap said. The discussion of these incidents across different campuses within philosophy has lacked nuance, as the problems and demands at and within different universities have been remarkably varied. As far as I can tell, the demands of Georgetown students were incredibly reasonable and long overdue, and it is ridiculous the administration did not proactively address them ages ago. Many of the demands out of Missouri were reasonable, but it is unclear why the football team threaten to strike to secure the president’s resignation. Why didn’t they threaten to strike unless, say, the minority faculty numbers were increased? This seemed a tactical miss, and some faculty/student treatment of some of the press covering events there was deplorable. In response to racial aggression, at least some Yale students have decided to turn aggression on those like Christakis, both by screaming at him and by trying to have him fired from his service position. This is exactly the sort of response that those concerned with social justice often warn us against, and while the students are well within their rights to respond this way it is nonetheless a terrible way to respond. The Yale students also have a faith in administrative power that strikes me as bizarre and naive— in general, the rise of the administrative class has been a detriment to university life by draining coffers for full time instructors, encouraging a consumerist mentality amongst students, and creating a bureaucracy that makes it harder to achieve the kinds of curricular reforms sought by many students. Nonetheless, Yale students are rightly aggrieved, both by recent incidents on campus and by countless other incidents they’ve related to Holloway and others.Report

felonius screwtape
felonius screwtape
5 years ago

i guess the upside to the fact that my neighborhood was just brutally attacked by terrorists and eleven people from the cafe around the corner from were killed is that i could ignore this latest round of crap. listen folks, there are far more important things in this world that brian f*&%ing leiter and the endless stream of bs he spews. stop reading his blog. stop feeding the troll. stop it. maybe while Anonymous is busy taking down Daesh accounts online, we can ask them to issue a DNS attack against his stupid stupid blog.Report

Anonadjunct
Anonadjunct
5 years ago

What a lovely tempest in teapot to get all the TT R1 folks riled up. Surely the swelling support for marginalized professors will lead to the non-marginalized professors at Yale and other Ivys resigning so that their tenure streams can be used to hire marginalized folks (award winning ones, hopefully). Wait, is that not how this works?Report

sin nombre
sin nombre
Reply to  Justin Weinberg
5 years ago

Why isn’t “make an argument for it” the rule for all comments? We’d get rid of those lazy comments that just say “this is stupid” or you’re “ridiculous,” which some people have already expressed dismay over the sheer volume of such quips and how it belies the premise that this is a philosophy blog.Report

Anon.
Anon.
5 years ago

While Leiter certainly behaves like an ass at times, I see nothing wrong with his take on this issue. As is so often the case in these debates, one side is trying to deny its actual commitments by redefining terms, “reframing the issue,” etc. When you say “this isn’t about free speech, it’s about hate speech,” you are only correct on the condition that you’re redefining “free speech” (and also, in many cases, “hate speech”). Here’s the reality check: much of what you call “hate speech” is part of what most people (including the Supreme Court) call “free speech” — thus, by most definitions, you are against free speech, at least to a certain extent. I understand that that doesn’t sound like a very nice position to hold, so it is easier to say “No, no, we’re only against *hate speech*.” But the definition of hate speech is far too fluid to leave any real room for free speech; I have heard definitions of hate speech along the lines of “speech that rises to the level of an attack on a person or group” — which means the Yale students have been engaging in hate speech too, e.g., against Christakos. What happened to everyone on the Left quoting Voltaire’s “While I may disagree with what you say…”? But now the Left has gained predominance, at least in academia, and no longer needs free speech as an excuse — so now certain kinds of speech become “problematic,” i.e., unacceptable and banned on pain of harassment and termination of employment. I’ll wrap up this post before I end up instantiating Godwin’s Law…Report

sin nombre
sin nombre
Reply to  Anon.
5 years ago

I think this is a mostly productive comment about the problem of differentiating free speech from hate speech up until the point where you decide to blame the left on this issue. I don’t get why this has to be a left-right issue since I would hope that both sides would be against things like racism (which is the concern of the students at Yale). I think there is a good model of hate speech as different from free speech in other countries including Canada as was mentioned above and to avoid the fallacy of argumentum ad Canadum the reason we might want to consider it is our own country’s unique history of violence against members of particularly marginalized racial and ethnic groups. This is why there are hate speech laws in France, for example and I bet the same is so for Canada. In that case the Voltaire line doesn’t make sense because we are not talking about people of equal power since minorities have traditionally been and continue to be marginalized in the US but about an oppressor group and an oppressed group. I found Jelani Cobb’s view on this issue quite illuminating specifically because the race and history elements cannot really be divorced from this particular issue: http://www.newyorker.com/news/news-desk/race-and-the-free-speech-diversionReport

Anon.
Anon.
Reply to  sin nombre
5 years ago

This is precisely the mentality I was talking about. I do not think Canada’s hate speech laws are good at all, except for the goal of maintaining social order and general peacefulness. What about other goals? Not the goal of social dissolution and war per se — that’s not what I’m talking about. But what about those who, like many admired revolutionaries, think that something needs to be called out and torn down (verbally, if we’re being charitable)? That is what the Yale students claim to be doing. So do we allow this for people who hold certain views and not for others? I’m not talking about immediate incitements to violence (which are illegal, and I think rightfully so), but about views that contradict the orthodox views. Whether it is right or wrong, noble or ignoble, should it be *criminal* to hold the view (for example) that illegal immigration is harming America? Here I am speaking in Voltaire’s spirit. Is it impossible that this is true in some way? I simply don’t think crying “racism” (which is often also a strawman) is justification enough to ban the expression of views like this. “Go out and kill all illegals,” yes; “Illegal immigration is harming our country and should be stopped,” no. It is dangerous to adopt such an orthodoxy of opinion — but here I risk instantiating Godwin’s Law again…Report

sin nombre
sin nombre
Reply to  Anon.
5 years ago

I don’t know if Yale students concerns about their fellow students dressing in black face (which did happen not too long ago) or other derogatory costumes is equivalent to holding the view that immigrants are hurting this country. I think this is sort of a case by case problem. I think the former is obviously racist, I think the later is misinformed and maybe stems from xenophobia or from misinformation, in which case I don’t think it makes sense to call it hate speech. I’m not sure anyone would call it that so in a way you’re setting up a strawman.Report

Anon.
Anon.
Reply to  sin nombre
5 years ago

They don’t have to be equivalent, and I don’t think it should be seen as a case-by-case problem. If you’re judging the legality of expressing one’s opinion on a case-by-case basis, you’re going to need some fairly rigorous standard for doing so — and such a standard will amount to a real limitation on free speech. I don’t see how it can go any other way.

As to your ultimate statement, I wish you were right. It should be a strawman. But how many people have accused Trump, and other Republican candidates who are opposed to illegal immigration, of being racists? I don’t believe that any of these candidates holds a serious racial ideology; there is certainly no real evidence that, e.g., Trump really personally dislikes Mexicans. Nevertheless, it is constantly repeated that he’s a racist, and this is the kind of justification we’re talking about for banning certain kinds of speech. It seems very politically-charged and one-sided to me, and I really hope the courts don’t give in to it and start selectively banning opinions.

(Just for clarity, I’m not backing Trump or trying to start a debate about immigration. Just using this as an example of an unpopular, ostensibly racist opinion. Trump’s opinion is unpopular with me too, but I don’t believe he’s a racist — perhaps just misguided, as you said. But even if he was a racist, I would support his right to speak his views publicly, and even to run for President. Not that I want to see him in office…)Report

sin nombre
sin nombre
Reply to  sin nombre
5 years ago

This is meant as a reply to Anon 11:30 but for whatever reason the reply button isn’t showing up .

I’m not saying we ban all racist speech since most of that is actually not as harmful as systemic racism. However, we might consider banning racist speech or expression that is historically tied to intimidation and violence against groups. We already do this to some extent: http://www.complex.com/pop-culture/2015/10/grand-jury-indicts-fifteen-members-of-pro-confederate-flag-group-for-terrorizing-black-childs-birthday-party.

Also, I think it is important to recognize that these are things happening on college campuses so even if we do not limit free speech in the country in general, we could consider things like speech codes on again speech made to intimidate minority groups so that those students can have as good a college experience as their white counterparts. It’s not fair to minority students to be made to feel hated on campus; it is not conducive to their success. At least one factor in students dropping out is a lack of a support network.

I think Donald Trump’s comments are racist. His characterization of undocumented immigrants as rapists and drug dealers plays into the typical racial tropes about immigrants; his insistence that the Mexican government is sending people to America because they’re clever is just another way of saying “sneaky” so now the Mexicans are devious people, and I could go on. I don’t think it constitutes hate speech (though there was this: http://www.cnn.com/2015/08/20/politics/donald-trump-immigration-boston-beating/). Honestly, I could go on. I would also suggest that some of the other Republican candidates have said islamophobic things. I consider this racism too. Ben Carson is an obvious target here since he thinks that no one who is a Muslim should be president because they wouldn’t have their values in line with the constitution. It’s pretty clear that that he thinks Muslims are by the nature of their beliefs antidemocratic. That is misguided, but it is also islamophobic (the two often elide).

The bigger problem, however, is systemic racism and not hate speech. The students at Yale and other universities are also trying to have the administration address those issues as well. Honestly, I don’t know what formula there needs to be to deal with hate speech, but I worry that your view of it ignores the real historical issues of violence against certain groups and that those groups are still at a disadvantage largely due to multigenerational systemic racism.Report

DC
DC
Reply to  sin nombre
5 years ago

“However, we might consider banning racist speech or expression that is historically tied to intimidation and violence against groups”

I think that’s the thing a lot of us sound insidious. Opponents of free speech typically have a rationale why in some specific situation we should jettison the idea; insulting the king, blasphemy, pro-communist ideas, anti-war. Yours isn’t any more convincing.

“Honestly, I don’t know what formula there needs to be to deal with hate speech, but I worry that your view of it ignores the real historical issues of violence against certain groups and that those groups are still at a disadvantage largely due to multigenerational systemic racism.”

The thing is, it’s those student groups and their fellow travelers who have been in many cases attacking the very concept of free speech. I would suspect many of the people here criticizing the anti-free-speech view are fully supportive of the idea that multigenerational systemic racism has to end and are supportive of many student demands; but when the historically incorrect and morally dubious position that you end racism by punishing those people with the “wrong” opinions is offered, you’re going to naturally see resistance.Report

John Protevi
John Protevi
5 years ago

Drabinski, here at DN, writes about what he said on FB: “I said that *his characterization* of the Yale students was ‘its own kind of racism.’ ” (emphasis added).

Leiter, at LR, wrote that Drabinski “essentially accused me of being a racist.”

So the question is, Did Drabinski’s characterization of Leiter’s post amount to an accusation that Leiter is racist, as Leiter thinks it does, or did his remarks restrict itself solely to Leiter’s performance and avoid characterizing Leiter the person?Report

Rod Carveth
5 years ago

Christopher LeBron — A couple of quotes I take issue with: “Take a look around you. It’s a new day. Campuses around the country have put the world on notice that there is no last place of refuge for marginalization. Apparently not everyone has gotten the memo.”

It’s a new day? Really? It’s rather remarkable what happened at the University of Missouri (though the possibility of a $1 million loss of revenue from a forfeited football game also played a role). It appears that there will be some changes going on at my alma mater (Yale). There have been a number of other protests. But, whether or not it is a “new day” may be too optimistic. The tragedy in France has already knocked the issue to the back pages of the media (if at all).

The other quote: “Leiter took aim at a young black man in a field in which he most certainly is on the margins, but certainly not by his choosing. Leiter wasted no time reminding him of his place on the margins as well as of the “stupidity” of his position—one only need read the post to see this is the case. And we wonder why retention of promising black talent is so precarious and fraught. But these days are coming to an end. There will be no more reminding us of our place or of our stupidity.” OK. It can be argued that Leiter’s comments contribute to an environment that is not welcoming to “black talent.” But, his comments are only a small fraction of the reasons that you are a “statistical anomaly.”

Look, Dr.Leiter’s comments are often provocative, sometime intemperate, occasionally insulting. But Leiter is correct in calling out Manne and Stanley for engaging in an either/or fallacy, as Leiter notes here: “In spitting on speakers, petitioning for the removal of people from their jobs because of their speech, and heaping vulgar abuse in public on a faculty member in order to shut him down, they are trying to suppress and punish speech. Why pretend otherwise? At the same time, some students (maybe some of the same ones!) were speaking on behalf of institutional reforms. Perhaps someone, somewhere has called for shutting down that lawful speech; if so, they are mistaken too.” It’ not an either/or situation. The student who was in Dr. Christakis’ face was engaging in free speech when she was protesting, but crossed the line when she became abusive. It was troubling to me in seeing President Salovey’s announcement about the upcoming changes at Yale that he doesn’t address civility in discussing those issues. Since the Supreme Court has made very clear that money is speech, I am going to be exercising my free speech rights in no longer contributing to the university until the President encourages disagreements without being disagreeable.Report

abd
abd
5 years ago

I care no more about what Brian Leiter thinks than about what Bill O’Reilly thinks. Why do we continue to pay attention to what Leiter says? I think the appropriate response to Leiter going forward is just the same response we give to an internet troll we hope will leave: ignore him. Stop reading his blog. Stop engaging with him in debates. Stop worshipping the PGR.Report

Philippe Lemoine
Philippe Lemoine
5 years ago

No matter what you think of Leiter’s reply to Manne’s and Stanley’s article in the CHE, you can’t deny that he at least engages with their arguments. The main point of his post, I take it, is that Manne and Stanley try to establish false equivalencies between the students at Yale and the Christakises. I personally think he is obviously correct, but even if I’m wrong, what seems clear is that so far no one has addressed his arguments. There has been a lot of ad hominem attacks on him, but so far I haven’t really seen anyone try to reply to the substantive points he made. It would be nice if those who think Leiter is wrong did that.Report

recent grad
recent grad
Reply to  Philippe Lemoine
5 years ago

I agree with you. But as a neutral observer I did want to point out the irony of wanting people to engage with BL’s arguments rather than engaging in ad hominems.Report

Philippe Lemoine
Philippe Lemoine
Reply to  recent grad
5 years ago

I actually don’t have any problem with ad hominem attacks, as long as 1) you don’t commit the ad hominem *fallacy* and 2) you’re *also* willing to engage with the arguments of the person you’re attacking. In my view, ad hominem attacks are often perfectly justified, but not when they’re used as a way to avoid engaging with someone’s arguments.Report

Enzo Rossi
5 years ago

I just had a useful FB chat on all this with some colleagues and came to see a few things more clearly. For what it’s worth:

1. It’s not clear that the Yale students called for the Christakises to be removed from the Silliman mastership directly because of their speech, or just because of that. There apparently was a pre-existing issue to do with whether the Christakises were performing their contractual duties as masters well enough. Those duties involve creating a nurturing environment. Some of the students suspected that the masters were using their position to make every issue–including e.g. matters of mental health–a free speech issue, which resonates with the agenda of some prominent scholars like Haidt, with whom Christakis collaborates on such matters. The Christakises may argue that free speech is central to a nurturing college environment, I suppose. The administration seems to have taken this view for one reason or another. There’s a complicated debate to be had here. It’s not a straightforward case of attempted censorship by the Yale students. Situations elsewhere differ.

2. It’s important to distinguish between two kinds of critiques of the current wave of US student protests (and here it may be most prudent to leave the Silliman case to one side, given the above; there are plenty of relevant examples in some of the other protests). The most prominent critique is a mostly right-wing one (by European standards at least), centred on free speech as an individual liberal right. Various objections to this critique are familiar to everyone here by now. But there’s also a different and less prominent critique. It’s a traditional left-wing critique, and one that doesn’t rely on free speech rights. The point is akin to the one sketched by Wallace above: trusting hierarchical structures of authority with the power to restrict speech is rarely beneficial to the most disadvantaged. If we look at some of the demands of the various protests we see lots of faith placed in the administration’s structures of control (even at Yale — one wishes they’d draw a different lesson from their fellow students’ experience with the Silliman masters!): compulsory training, reporting procedures, ad hoc deanlet-ships, and the like. Those are managerialist tools of neoliberal control, not instruments of emancipation. I hope students don’t wrestle power away from the faculty just to hand it over to management. This may just be me being overly proud of the protest movement at my own institution, the University of Amsterdam, but I wish our American comrades also moved towards demands centred around democratisation and decentralisation (and, yes, decolonisation: these things don’t need to come apart). That may unite faculty and students instead of dividing them, which plays into the administration’s hands. I’ve worked and continue to work very well with our student activists, despite our differences.

Which takes me to my last point. As it’s been pointed out to me, I’ve my own ideological axe to grind in all this, and I should acknowledge my bias. I happen to be sceptical of a lot of identity politics. As Nancy Fraser and Adolph Reed Jr point out, there’s a risk that capitalist oppression is being reinforced through a process of gender-washing, colour-washing, etc. Aspects of the current protests give me pause in this respect. But I’ve gone on long enough!Report

David Wallace
David Wallace
Reply to  Enzo Rossi
5 years ago

I should be clear that I do also endorse “free speech as an individual liberal right”. But the pragmatic left-of-centre case for free speech works whether or not you buy the free-speech-for-its-own-sake case.Report

anon
anon
5 years ago

These days the philosophy profession just feels like the “It’s A Good Life!” episode of the Twilight Zone.

Who am I kidding. These days the entire country feels like that.

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=jocI_R8lMpMReport

Heidi Howkins Lockwood
Heidi Howkins Lockwood
5 years ago

… and while philosophers collectively spent a ridiculous amount of time on an R1 playground spat, this happened: http://www.thedemands.org/Report

Anon
Anon
5 years ago

Regarding free speech limitations in the UK, I think Rowan Atkinson gets it right:

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=gciegyiLYtYReport

anon grad student of color
anon grad student of color
5 years ago

I think that Leiter’s comments on recent protests on college campuses have been dead-on and insightful, and I am disappointed, though not surprised, that so few seem willing to engage with his arguments. The author did not make himself clear (as far as I can tell, there was no attempt at an argument), unless by “clear” he means “did I show that I am outraged that Leiter took a different position than I did?” Leiter’s comments are not harming marginalized fields like philosophy of race, a field I happen to work in. If anything, he is helping the field by engaging with the work. I think that philosophy of race, queer theory, and feminist philosophy are getting destroyed from the inside by philosophers who refuse to defend their positions and shame anyone who disagrees. That being said, young people of color demanding that their voices be heard, albeit in inappropriate contexts and in unconstitutional ways, is almost unprecedented and that alone warrants some respect (although, it seems that most of the protesters are upper class and white….).Report

anon'
anon'
Reply to  anon grad student of color
5 years ago

“I think that philosophy of race, queer theory, and feminist philosophy are getting destroyed from the inside by philosophers who refuse to defend their positions and shame anyone who disagrees.”

No idea what you’re talking about — and it’s hard to believe you do, either, given how broad (and, ironically, devoid of any support) your claim is. I do know that your claim re philosophy of race is plainly false. But good luck to you.Report

Veteran
Veteran
5 years ago

Umm… question? ::raises hand::

Maybe it’s just me as a non-philosopher, but do you philosophers collectively NOT recognize how this squabble comes across to the rest of us?

I presume you want us lay people to take you seriously. You claim (and don’t deny it, I’ve got multiple examples on this blog lined up) to have central insight into the critical issues of the day.

What exactly are you philosphers good for outside of your field?Report

Veteran
Veteran
Reply to  Veteran
5 years ago

And I hate typos because they give easy outs in the responses, but anyways: philosophers.Report

Ex philosopher
Ex philosopher
5 years ago

About Veteran’s comment above: I’ll leave it to others to answer their specific question, but here’s an observation. As philosophy becomes less and less useful to science philosophers get more and more interested in showing that they are “good for” something outside their field. That is, they try harder and harder to show that the issues of the day admit to a philosophical interpretation that is critically useful and at the same time entirely unique. You can see this tension in blog entries etc dealing with “philosophical responses to terrorism”, or to what chomsky said recently, or feminism and race relations or whatever.

This is a hard terrain to navigate. Philosophers are being pushed to this narrow terrain, but not entirely by external forces. Being critically useful and at the same time profound is hard; it’s even harder when that is supposed to be what you do all the time. This is a losing battle.

Philosophers either need to forget about being useful (which they can’t do, given budget cuts) or lose their strange self image as being the deepest and most profound science (which they don’t want to do).Report