A Tale of Two Conferences (UPDATED)


Last weekend, the Society for Analytical Feminism (SAF) held its 2016 conference. This weekend, the Society of Christian Philosophers (SCP) held its 2016 Midwest conference. I did not attend either of these conferences, but I did hear about them. As one might expect, they had a lot in common with other conferences: a fair amount of anticipation in advance, a mix of good and bad philosophy talks, some great points and also some head-scratchers in the q&a’s, the enjoyment of philosophical camaraderie after hours, and so on.

These two meetings were also each the meetings of like-minded philosophers. The SAF meeting was attended largely by feminists, the SCP largely by Christians. Feminism and Christianity are each rather big tents, of course—big enough for lots of disagreement within them. But still, there’s some set of substantive claims associated with each, and many of the attendees at these conferences endorse a sizable subset of those respective claims (which makes those conferences a bit different from, say, a meeting of the American Philosophical Association, or a conference on causation).

It would be helpful to have a name for these types of gatherings. Let’s call them resonance conferences. Resonance connotes importance and agreement, and its technical meaning involves different objects vibrating at the same frequency—works pretty well as a metaphor, I think.

Do resonance conferences have a different feel to them than standard philosophy conferences, and if so, how?

I suspect one difference is that disagreement feels worse at resonance conferences. In part this is because people may go in expecting, well, resonance—people let their guard down among the like-minded—and so can be caught off guard by disagreement they did not brace themselves for. At standard philosophy conferences, one goes in expecting disagreement from top to bottom. An additional part to this may be that disagreement over one particular matter may be more frustrating with a party who agrees with you on nearly everything else than with someone with whom you have few views in common.

Another difference might be that attendees at resonance conferences, in virtue of being members of a shared community of sorts, take what happens at such meetings more personally than they might at standard philosophy conferences. They may feel as if they are identified with what happens or with what others say at these meetings, so when something goes wrong, they feel it reflects on them personally. In turn, this may motivate people to try to “make things right,” either by working hard to eliminate disagreement or even by engaging in a kind of public-relations damage control.

Perhaps there are other differences, too.

I ask about these because both the SAF and SCP meetings featured what ended up being controversial keynote addresses that divided their audiences.

At the SAF, some members of the audience found the keynote talk by Tommie Shelby (Harvard), drawn from his forthcoming book Dark Ghettos, highly objectionable. My understanding (which may not be entirely accurate) is that the controversy concerned some remarks in the talk about procreative ethics, how (as he puts it in an earlier article), “basic duties are not suspended or void because one is oppressed,” and whether what he said was disrespectful to poor, black women [apparently this is not the whole story: see UPDATES 2 & 3, below]. Some attendees apparently thought that an apology was in order, perhaps from the organizers.

—– some updates to the preceding part of the post (rest of post continues below updates) —–

UPDATE 1: two days after the SAF conference ended, its organizers sent an email to the participants issuing an apology, and requesting feedback from them regarding the event and future conferences.

UPDATE 2: further details regarding Shelby’s talk can be found in the comment below from “a poor black woman who was there.”

UPDATE 3 (9/26/16): My description of the events at the SAF was misleadingly incomplete. I will be able to say more about this later today or tonight—patience, please—but for now, let me say that I apologize for this error and for some missteps (again, to be elaborated upon later) that led to it. I will be happy to post corrections and helpful comments from others. Here’s one, from Daniel Silvermint (Connecticut) in the comments:

Considering that one of the SAF conference’s co-organizers, Carol Hay, literally wrote the book on the obligation victims have to resist their oppression, the suggestion floating around (here and elsewhere) that SAF apologized for the substance of that view, or tried to silence a keynote in order to enforce ideological purity, is cartoonish. For folks not in attendance, a bit of charitable interpretation might be called for.

—– post continues below —–

Meanwhile, at the SCP, Richard Swinburne (Oxford) delivered a keynote address in which he called homosexuality a “disability” and an “incurable condition,” according to conference attendee J. Edward Hackett (Akron) in a post at Philosophical PercolationsThis led several Christian philosophers to distance themselves from Swinburne’s remarks. For example, in a publicly accessible Facebook post, SCP President Michael Rea (Notre Dame) writes:

I want to express my regret regarding the hurt caused by the recent Midwest meeting of the Society for Christian Philosophers. The views expressed in Professor Swinburne’s keynote are not those of the SCP itself. Though our membership is broadly united by way of religious faith, the views of our members are otherwise diverse. As President of the SCP, I am committed to promoting the intellectual life of our philosophical community. Consequently (among other reasons), I am committed to the values of diversity and inclusion. As an organization, we have fallen short of those ideals before, and surely we will again. Nonetheless, I will strive for them going forward.

Now I don’t want to draw any parallels between the substance of the comments at the center of these events. My sense of things is that Shelby was making a narrow philosophical point about a way in which an act might be objectionable, even if it isn’t all-things-considered so, and even if there are relevant influential structural forces beyond the agent’s control [this isn’t quite right: see this comment also linked to in UPDATE 2]. Swinburne, meanwhile, was explicitly expressing a really stupid view, held by some Christians (and others), that gays and lesbians are defective humans.* Knowing how comment threads go on matters like this, it would probably be best if we didn’t assess the substance of these views here. You have the rest of the internet for that, ok?

What I’m more interested in discussing is what, if anything, should be done when these kinds of things happen. Do the differences between standard and resonance conferences at all suggest differences in the professional obligations of their organizers and attendees? Is the role of keynote speakers different at these events? To what extent are conference organizers responsible for the words of their invited speakers? Is there a default assumption in place that keynote speakers represent in some way the rest of the attendees at a resonance conferences (but not at standard conferences)? And so on.

 

Josef Albers, Homage to the Square

Josef Albers, Homage to the Square

 

(*Yes, I understand people will find my characterization of the “defective humans” view as “really stupid” offensive. Please note that comments that are mere complaints about its offensiveness or how it is unfair or how it expresses a bias will not be published unless they actually include an argument for the “defective humans” view that you yourself are willing to—and in fact do—put your name on.)

UPDATE 4 (9/26/16): Eric Schliesser comments on the statement by Michael Rea about Swinburne’s lecture at the SCP. At Philosophical Percolations, J. Edward Hackett shares some further thoughts about the SCP and the lecture, and Helen de Cruz discusses diversity in philosophy of religion.

UPDATE 5 (9/26/16): James K. Stanescu (American U.) on the idea of resonance conferences. Let me note that I did not take myself to be critiquing these conferences.

UPDATE 6 (9/27/16): Please see this message from me.

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James
James
4 years ago

I was at a resonance conference (good coinage) once that ended up becoming incredibly divisive, with one group threatening to boycott the remainder of the conference. I took this to be due to the interdisciplinary Nature of the conference and the consequent methodolical and ideological differences stemming from the perception that each of our disciplines was somehow deficient for the understanding of the other discipline and hence the topic of the conference. But I see it in resonant conferences within the discipline where some people’s attitudes about philosophical methodologies differ radically. Report

Mike
Mike
4 years ago

The traditional argument about homosexuality as disordered goes like this:

1. Our desires (when rightly ordered) are ordered towards certain goods.
2. The good our sexual desires is ordered towards (when rightly ordered) is generative, conjugal unity.
2.a. Corollary: If one’s sexual desires are ordered otherwise, this is dis-ordered.
2.b. Corollary: If one’s sexual desires are directed towards those of the same sex, then one’s sexual desires are not ordered towards generative unity.

Obviously, and importantly, the quotations from Swinburne do not follow from this argument. I’ve never heard anyone, including those who accept something like the argument I’ve laid out, say that homosexuality is an “incurable condition” or a “disability” or are “defective human beings.”

That said, I think reasonable people can disagree about premises 1-2, and it does seem that (when properly fleshed out) 2.a. and 2.b likely follow from 1-2. Just for the sake of clarity, I would at least like to hear from Justin as to why belief in (1) or (2) would so obviously qualify as “stupid.” Report

Mike
Mike
Reply to  Justin Weinberg
4 years ago

Then Plato is stupid. Got it.Report

Mike
Mike
Reply to  Justin Weinberg
4 years ago

Point taken, but that was a mistaken post anyways.Report

Mike
Mike
Reply to  Justin Weinberg
4 years ago

Hey, misread your post–thought you were objecting to (1). Could you redact my last reply? Sorry!Report

Damon
Reply to  Justin Weinberg
4 years ago

Right, non-pluralism is obviously stupid.Report

Ian
Ian
Reply to  Damon
4 years ago

No… Justin’s point is either that non-pluralism about sexual desires is stupid or this particular monism about sexual desires is stupid.

Either way, that’s a more charitable interpretation of his statement than your strawman.Report

Tim Hsiao
4 years ago

What should be done? In the case of the SCP: absolutely nothing at all. If someone as distinguished as Swinburne can’t even defend traditional Christian sexual teaching in front of the Society of *Christian* Philosophers without getting thrown under the bus, what kind of a message does that send to other philosophers working on politically incorrect topics?

Yes, he said that homosexuality is a disability that can be treated or cured. So what if you think it’s stupid? Are we just going to rule out a priori that homosexuality can be an objectively disordered condition (which also happens to be the teaching of one of the largest Christian groups in the world — the Roman Catholic church) and declare it a forbidden topic for even Christians to discuss? Report

Kathryn Pogin
Kathryn Pogin
Reply to  Tim Hsiao
4 years ago

I don’t think the reliance on the a priori, here, is coming from those who think it’s not something to be cured. Report

Tim Hsiao
Reply to  Kathryn Pogin
4 years ago

I don’t think so. Whether homosexuality is something that can be treated or cured depends on whether it is disordered, and if — as many natural law theorists have argued — homosexuality is disordered, then it seems to me that it would be something treatable *in principle*, whether or not this-or-that method works. By declaring discussion of these points as verboten, philosophers are essentially hand-waving away an entire philosophical tradition for ideological reasons.Report

Kathryn Pogin
Kathryn Pogin
Reply to  Tim Hsiao
4 years ago

Right, I don’t grant that it’s disordered (and I’m familiar with natural law theory, as well as it’s reliance on the a priori), but let me set that aside just to point out that “if . . . [it’s] disordered, then it seems to me that it would be something treatable in principle . . .” is a paradigmatic instance of an armchair claim — it seems that way to you. And no one here is hand-waving the topic as verboten on ideological grounds. Some folks (myself included) are opposed to the view on philosophical and practical grounds. Some folks agree with the view but are unhappy with the manner in which it was presented. Report

Tim Hsiao
Reply to  Kathryn Pogin
4 years ago

I take the principle that “If something is a disorder or disability, then it’s something that we ought to treat” as self-evident (and arguably analytic given the definition of a disorder or disability). So if homosexuality is a disorder, then I don’t see anything wrong with proposing that we should treat it. The real discussion should be over whether homosexuality really is a disorder — something that requires engagement with the very rich literature on natural law.

Many critics are getting this exactly backwards: they start with assumption that homosexuality is not something that is treatable and then reason that there must be something deeply wrong with what Swinburne has said. That assumption is supposed to be based on the failure of reparative therapies. But a claim like that is not something that you can infer based on the failure of reparative therapy alone, hence my point about ruling things out for ideological reasons.
Report

Kathryn Pogin
Kathryn Pogin
Reply to  Tim Hsiao
4 years ago

That your interlocutors are making the assumption you claim they are is both uncharitable and false. It’s not an assumption. We have reasons, arguments and evidence. Report

Philippe Lemoine
Philippe Lemoine
Reply to  Tim Hsiao
4 years ago

“I take the principle that “If something is a disorder or disability, then it’s something that we ought to treat” as self-evident (and arguably analytic given the definition of a disorder or disability). So if homosexuality is a disorder, then I don’t see anything wrong with proposing that we should treat it.”

First, to be clear, I don’t find the suggestion that homosexuality is a kind of disability beyond the pale, though I’m inclined to disagree with it. If people can argue about whether infanticide is morally permissible, as I think they should be able to, then surely they can argue about that. I can also see how there is a sense of disability in which one could perhaps argue that homosexuality is a disability, though I’m not sure that’s a very interesting sense or what people usually have in mind when they talk about disability. In any case, I certainly don’t think that Prof. Swinburne’s talk should have generated such outrage, though I wasn’t at the conference so I might revise my opinion if I knew exactly what he said. But I doubt it.

Having said that, even granting for the sake of the argument that homosexuality is a disability, the claim you make above strikes me as obviously false. Imagine a world in which deaf people are treated like gods by everyone else, which makes their life much better than that of people who are not deaf. Surely, in such a world, it is not true that a person who is deaf ought to be cured, even if that’s possible. Yet deafness is definitely a disability.

What this shows, I think, is that even if other things being equal having a disability is bad for you, whether it ought to be cured depends on what the social structures are like, because depending on that other things may not be equal. (If you think that, in the kind of world I described, what ought to be the case is that deaf people no longer be treated like gods, just imagine that, for whatever reason, the world would end if people no longer treated deaf people like gods.) Perhaps Swinburne doesn’t need the claim you make his case, I honestly don’t know (again I wasn’t at the conference), but in any case I don’t find it very plausible.Report

Tim Hsiao
Reply to  Tim Hsiao
4 years ago

For some reason the “reply” button is not available for the two latest comments. So here’s my reply:

Kathryn Pogin: I am not questioning the assumption (which I am happy to grant). I am questioning what follows from it. The critics that I have read so far have been saying something like this: “We have a strong body of literature that homosexuality can’t be something cured/treated, so Swinburne’s comments suggesting that we attempt this are ridiculous and offensive.” Suppose I grant the point about treatment. You still can’t move from “All of our attempts to treat X have failed” to “Therefore X isn’t something that should be treated” or “We should not advocate treating X.” There are plenty of things that we can’t currently treat but which are still disorders or disabilities. The focus should be on Swinburne’s argument that homosexuality is a disability, not on failure of reparative therapy. It could still be the case that we should still strive to treat it even if all known forms of reparative therapy fail.

Philippe Lemoine: The example you raise doesn’t seem that obvious. In the actual world, there are many people who have achieved fame and notoriety because of some disability they have. Would we say that they are better off being disabled than not? Or, suppose that someone would achieve great fame and notoriety if he were to disable himself. Would it be fine if he decided to do that? Yes, they would have fame and such, but the “ought” in “disabilities ought to be treated” is a medical or biological ought, not a prudential ought.Report

Kathryn Pogin
Kathryn Pogin
Reply to  Tim Hsiao
4 years ago

Tim, I’ve seen many of the comment threads you’ve been participating in on social media (I’ve participated in some of them as well). That’s not all folks are saying. Folks are saying many things, and not every critic has the same view, but here are some of the things your summary of critics views is missing (a) rejection of natural law theory (b) rejection of the notion that same-sex sexual orientation is a disability (c) rejection that disabilities are, qua disabilities, something to be cured, (d) arguments that by parity of reasoning, the argument form Swinburne uses reaches absurd conclusions, (e) comments to the effect that in the context of the dangerous and harmful history of so-called reparative therapy, it is irresponsible to advocate for attempts to cure and prevent (note: an objection of the form you raise — some other cure might not be dangerous! — doesn’t actually respond to this objection). Note, that not all who disagree with you about the SCP conference disagree with you about sexual morality. Note, too, that there is already an existing literature critically engaging with the argument from natural law theory that it is disordered. I would have thought it would have been condescending rather than cooperative to repeat those arguments to you as if you weren’t knowledgeable enough about the matter yourself to know of their existence. Report

Tim Hsiao
Reply to  Tim Hsiao
4 years ago

My beef isn’t with critics who thought that Swinburne was merely wrong about the facts. Obviously there is a very big debate to be had there, and nobody is denying that. My statements were aimed towards those critics who were following the line of the SCP apology and arguing that Swinburne was offensive and stigmatizing even if the framework he adopts should be permitted a hearing. Here’s how Christina van Dyke framed it: “This isn’t about offense. It’s about very real harm caused to two already disadvantaged populations”. My response was simply to note that even granting the point about very real harm, it doesn’t follow that Swinburne was out of line to advocate treatment for homosexuality. Unless, that is, one adopts a position on the merits of Swinburne’s framework. But then that would be something that requires argument. So you can’t say that Swinburne’s comments re disability and treatment were out of line without first passing a negative judgement on his position. That requires debate and discussion, which is something the SCP should encourage.
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Kathryn Pogin
Kathryn Pogin
Reply to  Tim Hsiao
4 years ago

A charitable reading of Christina Van Dyke is consistent with multiple other interpretations of her remarks than the one you offer (e.g., my (e) above, for instance–though given the totality of her comments, I don’t believe (e) is an accurate or full representation of what she said either). Given that she is both incredibly intelligent, and regularly engages productively with philosophers who don’t, and philosophy that doesn’t, reject Swinburne’s framework, I think it would not only be safe but called for to infer a more nuanced interpretation of her stance is called for. Report

Philippe Lemoine
Philippe Lemoine
Reply to  Tim Hsiao
4 years ago

I’m really not sure that I understand what the medical or biological sense of “ought” you’re talking about is supposed to be. But, when you say that someone who has a disability ought to be cured (in that sense of “ought”), do you mean anything stronger than this: if someone is disabled, then it would be desirable for him to be cured, other things being equal? I understand what that means and I’m happy to accept it, so if you don’t mean anything stronger than that, then I’m inclined to think that it’s what you should say. But then when you say that, even if someone has achieved fame or whatever because they have a disability, it would still be desirable for them to be cured, you are assuming that everything would remain equal after he is cured. However, in describing a possible world where deaf people are treated like gods, that is precisely what I was excluding. In that world, if someone ceases to be deaf, they will lose by getting cured. Of course, even in that world, it’s true that, other things being equal, one is better off not being deaf than deaf, but that’s not a very interesting point in such a world because other things aren’t equal depending on whether one is deaf or not. My point is that, even if we grant that homosexuality is a disability in the sense that, other things being equal, someone is better off not being homosexual, it doesn’t follow that someone who is homosexual ought to be cured because it may well be that, in the actual world or at least in this particular society, other things would not be equal if that person were no longer homosexual, just as they are not for someone who ceases to be deaf in the possible world I described above.Report

Sikander
Sikander
Reply to  Tim Hsiao
4 years ago

The intuition that gay and lesbian people are worthy and that a central aspect of our personality and identity is not defective is not ‘ideological grounds’, at least not in any bad sense of the term.

The view that homosexuality is a disorder is homophobic and dehumanizing regardless of how big the church that holds it has been. The longevity and prevalence of a tradition that holds a bigoted view cannot legitimately be used in its defense.

There are some positions that are beyond the pale, i.e. not genuinely controversial but merely bigoted. The claim that gay/lesbian people are defective just in virtue of being gay/lesbian is one of them, as is the view that women should not have the right to vote, that some races are inferior to others, that transgender people are delusional just in virtue of being transgender, etc. When a philosopher expresses such views in a formal context, then offering some form of censure is the moral duty of all those who have some responsibility for that person’s appointment or for the event in which they spoke. I will go further and say that prohibitions on such individuals speaking/working in certain places can also be justified under some circumstances.Report

Philosopotamus
Philosopotamus
Reply to  Tim Hsiao
4 years ago

Sikander makes an important point here. Some positions really are beyond the pale. So when Tim Hsiao says, that “declaring discussion of these points as verboten, philosophers are essentially hand-waving away an entire philosophical tradition for ideological reasons” it strikes me as very odd since it seems obvious to me that the entire philosophical tradition to which he points is grounded solely on ideology and the defense of it is primarily ideological.

The oft-repeated claim that the credentials of this philosophical tradition lie in its longstanding nature and the number of adherents to it for the past couple of millennia bears this out. But there is a convenient forgetting that this tradition was created and maintained because all dissent was snuffed out–ideologically, violently, oppressively snuffed out. Now that they no longer have the power to do that, and there is much more philosophical diversity of positions available, the discussion has moved toward addressing whether the views of this “philosophical” tradition can carry any water. And it looks like the weight of these claims have proven too heavy to carry philosophically. So the fall back is to try to carry them on the back of the (bigoted ideological) “tradition” that gave rise to them in the first place. So that’s one problem–and it’s not really a philosophical problem at all.

But THEN the proponents of such “traditional” views issue a public outcry over how the people (now their philosophical peers), who their tradition has been dehumanizing and oppressing and silencing for millennia, are saying no to future treatment of the same. The traditionalists say, “but it’s wrong for you not to respect our (bigoted and dehumanizing) traditions!” And NOW comes the claim that THEY are indeed the ones who are being disrespected and silenced; when they want to share their bigoted and oppressive views at a philosophical conference and they publicly question whether people shouldn’t be forced to listen to their views the way the tradition has always forced people to listen them! Well, that’s a neat trick. Good try. But it turns out this is just the kind of intellectual sleight of hand that philosophers are trained to pick up on. So, no. Just no.
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Joshua Blanchard
Joshua Blanchard
Reply to  Tim Hsiao
4 years ago

“what kind of a message does that send to other philosophers working on politically incorrect topics?”
– It says that they might get strongly criticized or mocked by some of their colleagues on social media.

“Are we just going to rule out a priori that homosexuality can be an objectively disordered condition (which also happens to be the teaching of one of the largest Christian groups in the world — the Roman Catholic church) and declare it a forbidden topic for even Christians to discuss? ”
– No.Report

Mark Lance
Mark Lance
Reply to  Joshua Blanchard
4 years ago

Tim: No, people don’t rule this idiocy out a priori. They rule it out a posteriori. (I’m assuming here that you do know what those words mean and are just intentionally constructing a straw man. I guess that is what charity demands, though I can imagine reasonable people disagreeing on that.) People who have paid a wee bit of attention to biology and psychology of the last 50 years, or any of the serious philosophical literature on this topic, have no problem ruling out such pseudo-scientific sophistries. Report

Tim Hsiao
Reply to  Mark Lance
4 years ago

Swinburne’s claim that homosexuality is something that can be treated or cured depends on his prior claim that there is something defective about homosexuality. That is not something that can be settled by looking at the putative failure of reparative therapies. So even granting your points, you can’t reason from “All of our attempts to treat X have failed” to “Therefore X isn’t a disorder or disability.” There are many conditions that we are unable to currently treat but which are still disabilities or disorders. Report

Dan Daniels
Dan Daniels
Reply to  Tim Hsiao
4 years ago

Mark’s point seemed to me not to have to do with reparative therapies. It was about the consensus of the medical literature. That is, on the medical notion of “disability” or “disorder” homosexuality is very clearly not a disability or disorder (that is the consensus of the medical world). If you have a different, non-medical notion of disability or disorder then it may be one on that notion. But why would people care about such a notion? Why would a Christian conservative want to inflate their ontology with a non-medical notion of disability when they could just maintain that homosexuality is immoral (and not a disability or disorder at all) as most conservative christians seem to do (at least in academia).Report

Arthur Greeves
Arthur Greeves
Reply to  Tim Hsiao
4 years ago

Just to be clear, there is absolutely NOTHING in Christian tradition that would suggest that gay people are “defective human beings”, at least not any more than everyone else is a defective human being too. If Swinburne said *that*, he is way out of line, in my book.Report

JT
JT
Reply to  Arthur Greeves
4 years ago

Except for all the devoted Christians who think this, you mean. Including gay Christians who are so convinced as to subject themselves to faith based ‘treatment’ programs on their own dime. Let’s not pretend that a religious tradition is merely the sum of its revered works.Report

Emjay
Emjay
4 years ago

Nowhere does Swinburne claim that persons with same-sex attraction are defective human beings in virtue of their sexual inclination. What he says is that these persons have a disability of a sort, which is not to say that they themselves are defective human persons. Presumably, on Swinburne’s view, they’d just be people with a disability, just as I am a person with a hearing disability. As a human person I am not defective, I am a human person with profound hearing loss; hence, I am a person with a disability. That is all. It’s only when you insist that sexual desire or my hearing loss is a part of human personhood does Swimburne’s claim carry that implication, though I suspect Swinburne will not share your insistence. Report

Sikander
Sikander
Reply to  Emjay
4 years ago

This is a false analogy, because hearing loss is not a defining feature of your personality, it is a physical trait, and it can be regarded as a disability relatively reasonably due to the loss of the full functioning of a sense modality (I suppose this claim is controversial too, but it at least has prima facie plausibility). Homosexuality does not involve any loss of bodily functioning, and it is a core aspect of personality that is a strong source of identity for us. To say something bad about homosexuality is to attack gay and lesbian people. It is personal, and I’m sure Swinburne and his defenders know this, but think they can use what they present as subtle conceptual distinctions to try to sway us from the deep intuition that we have that he is degrading and attacking us.

For a more accurate analogy, consider the following scenario. A professor of Philosophy named Prickard Shingleburne claims the condition of being a woman is a disability. He is condemned by various people in the profession. He is defended by some who rush to remind us that professor Shingelburne is not in fact claiming that women are defective people, but just that women are men with a profound disability called being a woman. Poor women can just cure themselves of being women and return to their natural state of manhood. There’s nothing offensive about this! Surely you’re not saying there’s something wrong with being disabled now, are you…?Report

Hey Nonny Mouse
Hey Nonny Mouse
4 years ago

Is the problem that these were the keynote speeches, or that they were made at all? Surely, philosophers must be allowed (up to a point) to say things that are liable to offend other philosophers. A trickier issue is how to handle keynote addresses. On the one hand, I can see that what is said in keynote speeches might be taken as having the approval of the organizers. On the other hand, there would be something wrong if keynote speeches are allowed to argue for one side of an issue but not the other. There are some issues where they may not be two sides, due to established scientific fact, but otherwise, if we allow the case on one side to be made, we can’t forbid the other.Report

SCM
SCM
4 years ago

What did Shelby say that some people found objectionable? Surely not just that “basic duties are not suspended or void because one is oppressed”?Report

Carnap
Carnap
Reply to  SCM
4 years ago

I also wish I had a clear idea what Shelby actually said. The OP notes only that he gave a talk “about procreative ethics” and claimed that “basic duties are not suspended or void because one is oppressed.” Was the offensive claim in the vicinity of the subsidiary headline here?

http://ringtumphi.com/1032/news/mudd-center-speaker-discusses-role-of-parents/Report

D. F.
D. F.
4 years ago

I think you raise an interesting question as to the meaning and role of resilience in philosophical debate. I can imagine a debate over causality, say, being a model of charitable and rigorous discourse: no one holds back in their arguments or critiques, no one takes it personally, and by virtue of listening and arguing seriously to and with one another, everyone comes away having learned something (even if it’s to go back to the drawing board). Charity and rigor seem to depend on resilience in this sense, the capacity to endure failure, rejection, or the unexpected.

I think that because of this model of resilience, there’s a tendency to look at what happens in “resonance conferences” like the feminist and Christian examples above and see these conflicts as examples of a lack of resilience. Surely we should be able to talk about homosexuality as a disability (or a sin) without being ostracized. But I’ve been toying with an example to offer my fellow philosophers who think this way: What if someone, in good faith and in the spirit of truth-seeking, challenged you with “Everyone of [your race] is a racist”? And let’s say they went on with a very serious argument having to do with social condition and implicit bias and so forth. Imagine having (or hearing) this argument at a conference in front of many of your peers. Of course you *can* debate this. But, first, it’s likely to be significantly more stressful than an argument about causality, and second, you may get the impression this person is taking advantage of the stress you’re under (even if they don’t intend to) to win rather than find the truth, that if they really cared about the truth they’d understand this is stressful for you and approach the debate in a more careful and considerate way.

I think such a situation is more stressful regardless of one’s personal resilience because of a *correct* assessment that more is at stake. Being known as a racist is devastating in our society, and being powerless to do anything about it wouldn’t change that. You’re under a kind of social-existential threat, if you will, that you aren’t under if you’re debating causality, just as I would be if you wanted to argue with me that homosexuality is best described as “incurable” (and implicitly needing of a cure). I thus think it’s something of a category mistake to apply standards of resilience for debates about causality to debates in “resonance conferences,” where people’s broadly-recognized identities — feminist, Christian, homosexual, not-racist — can come under attack. And, of course, some people identify with a broader array of vulnerable identities than others.

If we accept that resilience is central to charity and rigor in argument, and we start thinking that resilience has a lot more to do with the social stakes involved in the argument and a lot less to do with some native capacity to transcend the situation, those who organize and those who speak at “resonance conferences” could rightly see themselves as having a responsibility to identify threatening arguments and broach them differently. Perhaps a keynote address is not the right place to make an argument that effectively delegitimatizes a social group; perhaps a debate should be set up with mutual forewarning. That might sound “soft,” but if avoids silencing either the critic or the one whose identity is threatened by the criticism, it’s simply a more effective and honest way of pursuing the truth.

Of course, one might dwell in a subculture where identification with a particular stance on causality is deeply tied to one’s social standing. But, if I may finish anecdotally, I see people hedging and fighting turf wars in those circumstances all the time, so frankly, I think the strategy I’m describing is already in play, just without us talking about it.Report

Johnny_Thunder
Johnny_Thunder
4 years ago

“My understanding (which may not be entirely accurate) is that the controversy concerned some remarks in the talk about procreative ethics, how (as he puts it in an earlier article), “basic duties are not suspended or void because one is oppressed,” and whether what he said was disrespectful to poor, black women.”

“Knowing how comment threads go on matters like this, it would probably be best if we didn’t assess the substance of these views here. You have the rest of the internet for that, ok?”

Justin, Shelby’s view is so patently unobjectionable as you re-construct it–it sounds like a platitude that no sane person could deny. I skimmed the Dark Ghetto paper and found nothing remotely offensive, and googled a bit, but can’t find the SAF take on things. We have the rest of the internet to decide whether Shelby’s actual presentation (as opposed to this brief summary) was highly offensive. But can anyone tell me where on the internet or where in the paper to look for this information? I would especially like to hear the SAF’s explanation of which of Shelby’s statements was objectionable. As things stand in Justin’s description of things, the SAF frankly come across as apologetic or sensitive *way* beyond reason. If I were a member of SAF, I would certainly worry about the effect of this discussion on our credibility.

I also think that a professional organization apologizing about the offensiveness of one of its keynote speakers is a kind of professional (as opposed to philosophical) criticism, one that can harm the target’s reputation. I worry about letting it be known that such a criticism was made without providing the broader community with the information required to evaluate it. In this way, Rea seems to me to have conducted himself more ethically, by airing the issues in a public Facebook post.Report

prime
prime
4 years ago

“UPDATE: two days after the SAF conference ended, its organizers sent an email to the participants issuing an apology….”

Could Justin W. or anyone else please explain what the substantive issue is that led SAF conference organizers to issue an “apology” for Shelby’s remarks about “procreative ethics”? It is entirely unclear why the constituency of a society of “analytical feminism” would find the cited remarks “disrespectful to poor, black women” — particularly since Shelby surely knows and cares at least as much about such women as members of the SAF do.Report

Kathryn Pogin
Kathryn Pogin
Reply to  prime
4 years ago

You shouldn’t assume that no members of the SAF are themselves poor black women, and if you don’t, I’m not sure why it would be obvious Shelby knows at least as much as they do. Report

SCM
SCM
Reply to  Kathryn Pogin
4 years ago

Kathryn, could you explain what the controversy is?Report

Kathryn Pogin
Kathryn Pogin
Reply to  SCM
4 years ago

SCM, I don’t want to. For one, I wasn’t there and I don’t think I’ve heard enough from those who were to represent it responsibly, and, two, so far as I know, the concerns were not aired by those who were, in a public manner outside of among the conference participants and SAF members. I can imagine all sorts of reasons for why that might be, and without knowing which are at play, I don’t think it’s appropriate for me to speak for them (I don’t know, for instance, whether or not they are ok with the concern being aired in the post above, or if they thought the matter should remain between them, the organizers, and Prof. Shelby). Report

SCM
SCM
Reply to  Kathryn Pogin
4 years ago

Thanks, that’s fine. I appreciate that this is a delicate issue. I had a sense that TS was defending some specific thesis in his talk that people found objectionable, in which case it would be a more public matter, but that seems not to be the case.Report

prime
prime
Reply to  Kathryn Pogin
4 years ago

The assumption is reasonable, of course, re analytical (feminist) philosophy. So I deliberately did not add a qualification; also, I was curious as to whether my basic point would be met with a predictable, stonewalling response.

Maybe you know whether there were any “poor, black women” in attendance at the SAF conference and what their substantive objection was to Shelby’s remarks — not that this would make a difference to my basic point. (In Shelby’s context, of course, “poor” would not mean simply lacking material resources, say, while in grad school or as a PhD pursuing academic employment for a living wage.)Report

Kathryn Pogin
Kathryn Pogin
Reply to  prime
4 years ago

I do know; as to your basic point, see Rebecca Kukla’s comment. Report

QG Grad
QG Grad
Reply to  prime
4 years ago

For what it’s worth, we should remember that one can offend others and cause them harm even while trying to help them and caring deeply about their success.Report

Preston Stovall
Preston Stovall
4 years ago

I want to emphasize something Johnny Thunder said. I’ve looked around, and I’m finding a hard time seeing what’s so objectionable about either of what’s been alleged to have been said. Shelby’s remark, as described, seems totally innocuous. Is the idea that, because someone (would have? could have?) had their feelings hurt by a view Shelby propounded, he’s committed some moral sin? If so, this seems like a case of identity politicking run amok.

And it will surely silence people who move in analytic feminist circles. I can’t imagine the horror I’d feel if a body of philosophers I presented a talk to later sent a note around apologizing for something I’d said. That’s a great way to keep an institution in lock-step when it comes to the party line, and a deplorable way for philosophers to run an institution. I can only see this reaction justified if Shelby said something on the order of a direct insult or demeaning remark. But as of now there looks to be nothing to support moral outrage.

From what I’ve seen, the Swinburne situation is similar. A commenter upthread said that Hackett reports Swinburne as having said homosexuality is ‘extrinsically wrong’. I don’t know what that’s supposed to connote, so I don’t see why it’s objectionable. And after reporting it, Hackett never refers back to it again. Instead, he goes into a diatribe about Foucault, power, discourse, and medicine. This reader is left with the impression that the diatribe is functioning as an emotional release through which to express the “abhorrence and overwhelming anger” he tells us he felt. It would be good to spell out the basis for that feeling in an explanation concerning what was objectionable.

In place of that explanation, we’re treated to a baroque story that assimilates the view to Levinas’ “ethics of the other”, a completely unsupported claim that Swinburne had adopted “the moralizing stance that parses out metaphysical distinctions which have the concrete effect of justifying the problematic patriarchal and capitalist violence on the Political Right”, and some remarks on how his realization that he was in a room of moral monists left Hackett with a feeling that “the Jamesian innards of my soul are made uncomfortable by just how silent the room was because of that monism or the fact they are committed to reducing the alterity of others.”

I thought the short paragraph on Jamesian pluralism helped sketch Hackett’s own position, but his reconstruction of the view he was railing against didn’t do anything to spell out what was supposed to be wrong with it. If Levinas and Foucault have something to offer, it doesn’t come by way of a framework on which to hang a reflexive emotional outburst knit together with the language of moral superiority.

At any rate, plenty of intelligent and morally upright people believe homosexuality is a kind of biological disability. It is a well-established view in certain Christian-cum-Aristotelian traditions. And of itself the view has no implication that persons who are homosexual are somehow less worthy of our regard as persons. It’s like jumping down the throat of someone who said that glasses correct a disability in eyesight.

I’ve been lucky to have seen and participated in a number of intelligent exchanges between advocates and opponents of that view. These were always among people who remained friends and colleagues before and after, and no one ever became offended or felt an apology needed to be circulated as a result. We’re in serious trouble as a profession if views like these can’t be discussed, particularly at a conference put together by the Society of Christian Philosophers.

Now maybe Swinburne said something else. And maybe Shelby really did say something “highly objectionable”, to use Justin’s words. If so, the first thing to do is to lay out just what was so objectionable. In a case where what’s objectionable is some use of language, that’s the first step anyone, more especially a philosopher, should take to resolve the dispute. As it stands, this looks like an instance of identity policing going off the rails.
Report

TM
TM
Reply to  Preston Stovall
4 years ago

Preston, I guess it’s nice that you had some stimulating and “intelligent exchanges” over this question. But maybe you could consider, for just a minute, what it might be like to participate in such “debates” for those of us who are being labeled as “defective human beings,” or as “objectively disordered,” and whose ability to enter into loving relationships is called into question (and all this in total ignorance of the extensive biological and psychological evidence that shows this to be nonsense, as Mark Lance points out above). When my ability to love is challenged on such flimsy grounds, I find it hard to see that not as an challenge to my personhood.
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Preston Stovall
Preston Stovall
Reply to  TM
4 years ago

Thanks for the offer to take a minute to consider the fact that some people feel their personhood is challenged by being told they’re biologically defective. As I’m sure you’ll agree, it’s important to distinguish one’s feeling of having been offended from one’s having been offended. I’m certainly aware that these conversations can be had in ways that are offensive. My point was that I have not yet seen adequate evidence that anything offensive was said. And when the best we’ve got is a diatribe with unsupported accusation and a narrative lens that’s, to say the least, subject to scrutiny, I think we should be cautious about collectively deferring to the call for condemnation. Does that make sense?Report

Sikander
Sikander
Reply to  Preston Stovall
4 years ago

“At any rate, plenty of intelligent and morally upright people believe homosexuality is a kind of biological disability.”

Oh, damn, I completely forgot to take this very relevant and important fact into consideration, namely that plenty of *~*intelligent and morally upright people*~* believe homosexuality is a disability.

Can you please tell me what else the Intelligent and Morally Upright People(TM) have said so I can know what to think? Nothing about the justifiedness of colonialism, the inferiority of women, or the inferiority of certain races, I’m sure.Report

Preston Stovall
Preston Stovall
Reply to  Sikander
4 years ago

Hi Sikander. Just to be clear, I’m not telling you what to think. I’m reporting on a fact about what plenty of intelligent and morally upright people think, and recommending you consider it. It’s up to you if you want to try to ‘wow, just wow’ your way out of that consideration. Please understand that most people are going to ignore you when you do that, though.Report

Matt Weiner
Matt Weiner
Reply to  Preston Stovall
4 years ago

I’m reporting on a fact about what plenty of intelligent and morally upright people think

No you aren’t. You are making a value judgment that someone can believe that being gay or lesbian is a disability and still remain morally upright. Report

Preston Stovall
Preston Stovall
Reply to  Matt Weiner
4 years ago

The contrast was whether I was telling Sikander what to think, or reporting on what other people think. In that context I’m happy to take a deflationist approach toward value judgments and use the language of fact, truth, etc

Report

Matt Weiner
Matt Weiner
Reply to  Preston Stovall
4 years ago

If I were Sikander, and I had written Sikander’s comment, what I would’ve meant by it would’ve been that “Lots of people think X” doesn’t provide any evidence for X, or even that X is worthy of discussion and that we’re in trouble if someone who argues for thesis X incurs public condemnation. In order to get that, you need the step that the people who think that are “morally upright,” which is question-begging when the debate is over whether X is an abhorrent view. Report

Preston Stovall
Preston Stovall
Reply to  Preston Stovall
4 years ago

Hi Matt, thanks for the clarification on Sikander’s behalf. I read Sikander to be trying to say something similar. My contention was that her response to what I’d written missed the point (I hope the female pronouns aren’t going to trigger anyone; I’m happy to swap them out if Sikander objects). I’m not trying to convince people that morally upright individuals can believe that something others strongly identify with is a biological disability; I’m reporting that I know people whom I consider to be such. She can disregard that, if she wants, but I was positioning it as something for her consideration. At any rate, the ‘wow, just wow’ response isn’t going to win her any converts, and it’s not going to help advance the state of play either.Report

Sikander
Sikander
Reply to  Preston Stovall
4 years ago

But not you though: you’re going to write a reply kindly informing me that you were merely reporting a fact about what people think, because obviously I didn’t understand what you were trying to do or anything. Lol.Report

Preston Stovall
Preston Stovall
Reply to  Sikander
4 years ago

Hi Sikander. I don’t know whether you understood what I was trying to do overall. But I have been trying to be careful to avoid endorsing the view myself. In fact, I’m not sure what to think about it. Conversations like this can help me get clearer on things though, I hope, and so by making that distinction I was encouraging you to do more than adopt the posture of moral outrage. That’s how people who disagree politically need to behave if they’re going to come to some common understanding of one another, it seems to me. Does that help?Report

Sikander
Sikander
Reply to  Preston Stovall
4 years ago

“… by making that distinction I was encouraging you to do more than adopt the posture of moral outrage.”

You’re funny.

I don’t prefer female pronouns, btw. It doesn’t trigger me, but you shouldn’t use female pronouns by default. There is no reason to do this and it is unnecessarily risking misgendering people. I use male or neutral pronouns. You could use neutral pronouns until you know someone’s preference. You could also look it up and find out that ‘Sikander’ is a man’s name.Report

Preston Stovall
Preston Stovall
Reply to  Preston Stovall
4 years ago

Thanks, I try to be lighthearted. At any rate, sorry to have misgendered you.Report

Rob
Rob
Reply to  Preston Stovall
4 years ago

Re “plenty of intelligent and morally upright people believe homosexuality is a kind of biological disability”: Plenty of intelligent and morally upright people believe implausible, foolish, and even wicked things on particular issues.

I can’t evaluate what Swinburne said without having seen or read his whole talk. But taken out of context, the claim that homosexuality is a biological disability seems implausible to me. Gay people are not unable to have biological children. (Many of us have!) Rather, we are unable to desire heterosexual sex or to be happy in heterosexual relationships. Disabilities typically involve being unable to do something. Having no desire for something is typically not a disability. If a person cannot run, that is a (minor) disability. If a person has no desire to run, takes no pleasure in running, and could not cultivate a desire to run, that is not a disability.

Perhaps one has a disability if one lacks a desire to do something that is essential to human flourishing…e.g., if one lacks a desire to eat despite being unable to eat. But having biological children is not essential to individual human flourishing, and it is not plausible to think that it is. (Did Plato and Thomas Aquinas flourish? Can people with adopted children and no biological children flourish?)

Finally, if we should take seriously the proposal that homosexuality is a biological disability, we should take equally seriously the proposal that heterosexuality is a biological disability. Both homosexuality and heterosexuality involve a lack of desire to do something valuable.Report

Rob
Rob
Reply to  Rob
4 years ago

I meant to say in the second-to-last paragraph “if one lacks a desire to eat despite being able to eat.”Report

Preston Stovall
Preston Stovall
Reply to  Rob
4 years ago

Hi Rob. I don’t disagree with any of the things you say in your first three paragraphs, I think, and I wonder what the rejoinder is from the other side. At any rate, I would have thought that the proposal in this case is not that it’s simply an absence of desire that marks a disability, but rather the absence of a general tendency to do what is biologically normal for reproducing the species, which is *mediated* by an absence of a desire. So, for instance, consider the case of Jewel Shupping:

http://www.dailymail.co.uk/health/article-3256029/Woman-dreamed-blind-DRAIN-CLEANER-poured-eyes-fulfil-lifelong-wish-says-happier-ever.html

Snopes is unclear whether this is a real person:

http://www.snopes.com/2015/10/02/jewel-shuping-blind/

But at any rate, it seems like a useful heuristic to think about what’s going on. What marks Shupping as having a vision-based disability is not that she has a desire to be blind; it’s that she *is blind*. The desire mediates that state, but it’s the state that is, properly speaking, the disability. And we can give her full regard as a person, entitled to all the rights and duties anyone else has, even so far as to accede to her desire in a situation where we can help her realize it, while believing that, biologically, she has a desire to be in a state that is one of disability (the desire is de re directed at that state, of course, not one she holds de dicto under that description). Similarly, if someone tends to systematically avoid doing things that are, in the normal course of the lives of members of our species, necessary for that species’ flourishing, then (for the person inclined to this way of seeing things) it’s the avoidance that’s the disability, and the desire is simply what mediates it. And just as we can regard Shupping as entitled to act on her desire without holding that in doing so she is either any less worthy of regard as a person, or in fact is not disabling herself in so acting, something similar could be said in favor of this stance on homosexuality, it seems to me.

Crucially, that’s not to endorse the stance myself. As I said, I’m still on the fence about it’s merits. That’s part of why I’m enjoying taking part in these conversations, as it’s helping me think more clearly about the issues in play.

I hope that is all uncontroversial. At least, I can’t see any reason to be offended by any of it. If I have offended anyone, I’d appreciate a careful statement as to what I said, specifically, that’s offensive, and an explanation as to why it’s offensive (and not merely why someone feels offended by it).
Report

Rob
Rob
Reply to  Preston Stovall
4 years ago

Your earlier post did not offend me at all, but this one kind of does (despite the disclaimer at the end). The comparison between homosexuality and what Jewel Shuping supposedly did is inapt and bizarre. If you thought that reproduction is part of normal human functioning in the same way that vision is part of normal human functioning, you might think that what Shuping did is analogous to getting a vasectomy from a psychologist who has no training in surgery. There is no relevant comparison with homosexuality.

In our society, many doctors provide vasectomies. Doctors do not remove healthy eyes, and (with one or two exceptions) they do not remove healthy limbs. Many people react with shock to stories about people who have had healthy limbs removed. When a man discloses that he has had a vasectomy, this disclosure can provoke remark (depending on the context and the views of the audience), but it generally does not produce shock. There are reasons for these differences in practices and attitudes.

It is not the case that reproduction is “in the normal course of the lives of members of our species, necessary for that species’ flourishing.” Our species’ flourishing requires that many people have kids. Our species’ flourishing does not require that all or nearly all people have kids. Human societies and the human species can flourish while some small but significant percentage of adults take on roles that do not involve parenting (e.g. celibate clergy, gay uncle or aunt). People who take on these roles do not thereby undermine the flourishing of the species or of their societies.

If you’re not persuaded of this, think about other species, such as bees. Worker bees do not undermine species flourishing!

One might compare the role of reproduction in human flourishing with the role of food production. A human society cannot survive, much less flourish, unless many people are involved in making food available to eat: farming, fishing, packaging food, transporting food, preparing food, etc. But a flourishing human society does not require everyone to be a farmer or a fisher. In a society in which commercially prepared food is readily available, it isn’t even necessary for everybody to be substantially involved in food preparation! Report

Preston Stovall
Preston Stovall
Reply to  Rob
4 years ago

Thanks Rob, the stuff about not everyone needing to be engaged in an activity in order for the species to flourish is helpful. I guess I don’t see what’s so offense about bringing up Shuping, though. The fact that some people today are shocked by stories like that, whereas they aren’t about vasectomies, doesn’t bear much weight, it seems to me. Lots of societies are or have been shocked by displays of homosexuality, for instance, and would be shocked by medical professionals who thought there was nothing wrong with homosexuality. But facts about what some societies tend to find shocking don’t show us what sorts of acts count as desiring to be disabled (de re, again). And my point about Shuping was just that: we can regard someone as desiring to be disabled while still thinking that the disability is the state they are in, not the desire (the latter merely mediating the disability). And we can do that without either thinking they are owed less regard as persons, or that we should try to prevent them from realizing their desires. That’s the relevant analogy between Shuping and the point of view, it seems to me. Again, not my personal view, but I don’t think it’s obviously false.Report

Rob
Rob
Reply to  Preston Stovall
4 years ago

I’d agree with you that what societies find shocking is not a reliable guide to moral truth. But there are good moral reasons, or at least plausible reasons, for people to react differently to vasectomies and to consensual blinding.

The analogy with Shuping still makes no sense. It’s not just a bad analogy. It is down-the-rabbit-hole bizarre. We gay people do not have a desire to disable ourselves. So why are you comparing us with someone who committed a gruesome act of self-harm?

It is hard to explain why something is offensive when it is obviously offensive and the person who said it thinks it is obviously not offensive. But I will try.

When a group has a long history of facing wrongful discrimination, it is reasonable for members of that group to take offense at statements about that group that are both strongly negative and transparently false or unwarranted. This is especially true when the utterance is expressed in strong language or colorful terms. It is true regardless of whether the negative statement denies people’s status as persons or threatens to deprive them of legal rights. One cannot render a slur inoffensive by adding, “Hey, I’m not saying these people aren’t moral persons!” One cannot render inoffensive an unwarranted negative assertion about a group’s abilities by adding, “I’m not asserting that this group’s limitations deprive them of moral personhood, and I support their legal rights to pursue their projects.”

Comparing homosexuality with the desire to blind oneself is saying something strongly negative about homosexuality. It is also obviously an unwarranted comparison. (“Unwarranted” is putting it gently.) Thus the comparison is offensive.Report

Preston Stovall
Preston Stovall
Reply to  Preston Stovall
4 years ago

Thanks Rob, this helps. You write:

“The analogy with Shuping still makes no sense. It’s not just a bad analogy. It is down-the-rabbit-hole bizarre. We gay people do not have a desire to disable ourselves. So why are you comparing us with someone who committed a gruesome act of self-harm?”

I understand you’re still missing the point of the analogy, so let me try again. Some people seem to think that believing that homosexuality is a disability is to disregard homosexual persons in a morally significant way. But as the Shuping case shows, we can believe that someone has a disability, and indeed has a desire to have that disability, without morally disregarding the person in question. Indeed, we can think that it may be our duty to help them realize that desire. Nevertheless, we can believe that they value something that we recognize as a disability.

That’s all I’m saying–it does not follow that insofar as one regards some state as a disability, one thereby disvalues the person in that state. And remember, this isn’t something I’m myself committed to. So, I disagree with this claim:

“Comparing homosexuality with the desire to blind oneself is saying something strongly negative about homosexuality.” The comparison was in the context of a conditional claim the antecedent of which I did not affirm, and it was made with the purpose of explaining how someone who *did* accept that antecedent could regard someone as valuing a disability without morally disregarding that value or the person holding it.

At any rate, I’m personally of the mind that whereas persons and organisms are both sorts of things such that talk of their values and purposes is apt, one of the differences between persons and mere organisms is that our values and ends are not simply given to us by our biology. Instead, we are creatures of self-determination. And it seems to me the ends we set for ourselves concerning who to love are precisely the sorts of things that can’t simply be ‘read off’ our biology.

Does that help?

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Rob
Rob
Reply to  Preston Stovall
4 years ago

If you only wanted to say that one can regard someone as having a disability without morally disregarding that person, you could have made that point without talking about people choosing to have Drano poured into their eyes.

I’m glad we agree that the ends of persons are not given by biology.

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Preston Stovall
Preston Stovall
Reply to  Preston Stovall
4 years ago

Well, the woman who chose to pour Drano into her eyes because she had a desire to live in a way some people find shocking illustrates the point that just because some people find her behavior distasteful, it doesn’t follow that those who find it distasteful are either 1) condemning her as a person, or 2) ignoring the fact that she desires to have a disability (again, this is all embedded in a conditional the antecedent of which I am not asserting, etc.). So I do think it proved useful in the context of our conversation. Still, it saddens me you thought I was using the example to say something else, particularly given that was something I was most certainly not saying. I do think I was pretty careful to be clear about what I was doing with that example, and either way I’m glad we seem to have come to some mutual understanding. Report

NN
NN
Reply to  Preston Stovall
4 years ago

You don’t have to come up with your own argument here, neither do you need to take Swinburne’s comment at the conference as the sole cause for the offense. Swinburne has been arguing like this for quite some time, and his arguments and positions can be found in his book “Revelation”, that was mentioned in other comments. To quote at length:

“The first thing to recognize is that homosexuality is a disability. For a homosexual is unable to enter into a loving relationship in which the love is as such procreative. It is a great blessing, the normal human condition important for the continuance of our race, to have children which are the fruit of loving acts of parents towards each other. (p.304) Children need two parents of different kinds (biological, emotional and mental), so that they have different examples of behaviour to emulate, with each of whom the child can identify in virtue of sharing some of their nature, on whose different kinds of support they can rely, and which ideally serve as examples of loving co‐operation despite diversity. While not everyone may choose to become parents of this kind, the inability to do so is a disability.

Perhaps some complicated operation can be performed whereby the genetic material of each of two men or each of two women is put into a cell and the cell inserted into a womb, which would then develop into an embryo in the normal way. But this is a poor substitute for the normal means of procreation—for several reasons. First, of course, the resulting pregnancy would not be the result of a loving act of the parents. It would as such have nothing to do with any such act. Secondly, if two men were involved, they would need to use the egg of a woman which would contain some genetically influential matter, and also to hire a womb and allow a woman to give birth to a child which they would then take away from her. Or if two women were involved, the embryo could not contain a Y‐chromosome, and so only a female offspring would be possible. Not merely would the parents be of a similar kind, but children would be of the same similar kind.

[…]

I suggest that there is a category 1 obligation on everyone not to strengthen anyone else’s homosexual desires and so, fairly evidently, not to solicit anyone (e.g. any adolescent) whose homosexual desires are not (p.306) firmly fixed. But, I suggest further, that (barring a divine command) it is supererogatorily good for any homosexual to take steps to prevent and cure his state, and so not to indulge his homosexual desires in any way, but rather, actively to encourage others to seek a cure. Hence God has reason again of the second kind (B) to make it obligatory on everyone not to commit homosexual acts.”Report

Preston Stovall
Preston Stovall
Reply to  NN
4 years ago

Right, and that passage makes clear that Swinburne thinks the disability isn’t the desire, but the absence of a capacity. That’s the point I was making in the post you’re responding to. Thanks for the extended passage from Swinburne, though. He claims that any sort of artificial insemination involving genetic material from two same-sex partners would “not be the result of a loving act of the parents”. He says “of course”, but I don’t see why this is true. We can do all sorts of things in a loving way, and I don’t see what that can’t count as one of them. At any rate, I think Leiter’s commentary on this whole debacle is basically right, and that the Swinburne situation isn’t nearly as professionally irresponsible as what happened with Shelby.

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Johnny_Thunder
Johnny_Thunder
Reply to  NN
4 years ago

“While not everyone may choose to become parents of this kind, the inability to do so is a disability.”

This is a howler.

In addition to Preston’s criticism:

First, many homosexuals are able to lovingly procreate with a member of the opposite sex. And it would be silly to assume without argument that “indulging” their homosexual urges lessens this ability.

Second, the idea that being unable to do a really, really good thing is a disability is preposterous. Writing beautiful poetry is great for humanity. I can’t do it. That doesn’t make me disabled. Being unable to do a particular thing that’s important for the continuation of the species doesn’t make one disabled either. Breast-feeding is important for the continuation of the species (we can manage without it, but only through modern technology–same as procreation). That doesn’t mean (cis) men are disabled. Finally, if neither of two properties (being able to do something good, being able to do something important for the continuation of the species) is sufficient for disability, one cannot reasonably assert without argument that they’re jointly sufficient for it.

A howler, I say.Report

NN
NN
Reply to  Johnny_Thunder
4 years ago

You might fomd Clayton Littlejohn’s take on Swinburne’s argument interesting:
http://claytonlittlejohn.blogspot.se/

It is kind of astonishing that Christian philosophers in the U.S. still debate these kinds of things. The argument has looked the same for as long as I can remember, and the weaknesses have been known for about the same amount of time.Report

Dan Daniels
Dan Daniels
Reply to  Preston Stovall
4 years ago

To push back on the notion that morally upright people believe that homosexuality is a disability, I’m curious about your motivations for this claim. One reason might be that people believe this is because they think it’s implied by their religious convictions, and so it’s excusable for that reason. But is this right? Hitler, as a result of his religious convictions, thought being jewish was a kind of disability/genetic disorder, and that jews ought to be exterminated to get rid of that disorder. Suppose he did not do anything otherwise that was morally questionable and in fact did many things that were morally commendable. Would he be morally upright despite holding this belief? I certainly don’t have that intuition. It seems to me clear that holding certain beliefs can be morally bad.Report

Damon
4 years ago

Getting back on topic, I’d expect disagreement to be at least as acceptable at a resonance conference as at other kinds. At least, if I go to a conference full of people with broadly similar goals and commitments, I’m *hoping* to find disagreement. I’ll expect disagreements to be to be interesting and fruitful. I know I’ll share certain assumptions and starting-points with the people there, that I’ll share common goals with them, and I’ll be interested to reconcile my own views with the points they make, all in pursuit of those shared goals.

At more diverse conferences I’m not sure disagreement is so fruitful. As an extreme case, we could look at something like the old Buckley–Vidal debates, but my point is that if you go in with a set of assumptions your interlocutors don’t share, and if it’s hard for you to see their motivations and empathize with their goals, your disagreements are going to be frustrating rather than interesting, and barren rather than fruitful. Even if we expect professional philosophers to be empathetic and self-critical enough to engage with someone they totally disagree with, we still need places to engage and debate people who share our projects, goals, etc., which doesn’t seem possible without resonance conferences.

If I’m right that that’s what resonance conferences are for, you wouldn’t expect a conference for the SAF to invite an anti-feminist, or one for the SCP to invite someone unsympathetic to Christian philosophy — obviously this would bring in elements of the latter kind of disagreement, which we have plenty of room for at other conferences. But I think the SAF would to bring in a philosopher with the same feminist commitments as their members, who would nonetheless challenge them on as many other points as possible. Even if you’re trying to avoid the kind of broad and total disagreement I’ve been talking about, a weekend of agreeing with each other sounds equally pointless.

Maybe it’s a difficult balance to strike, but I think having participants who disagree as much as possible without sacrificing certain shared assumptions and goals is what resonance conferences (should) aim at. I won’t venture to guess whether that was the case in the two conferences mentioned.Report

Rebecca Kukla
Rebecca Kukla
4 years ago

This is probably pointless and will just result in shit being heaped upon me, but I would just like to flag the performative/social/epistemological bad effects of a bunch of people who I assume from their sign-offs are mostly men (and who I assume from the fact that they are philosophers are mostly not black) explaining how the black women at a talk they were not at were just being oversensitive or missing the point or whatever. Maybe just for once you should grant some testimonial authority and just assume they are not stupid or irrational and are likely right about what they heard and experienced and you did not.

Sincerely,
A white woman who was actually there but that’s beside the point.Report

SCM
SCM
Reply to  Rebecca Kukla
4 years ago

No one in this thread has, as yet, informed those of us who are not in the know what it is that Shelby said that was considered objectionable. It’s very difficult to have any opinion one way or another without that information.Report

Preston Stovall
Preston Stovall
Reply to  Rebecca Kukla
4 years ago

Hi Rebecca, I don’t think your comment is pointless, as it does a good job of locating the disagreement. So far I see no explanation of just what was objectionable. So testimony comes in to play here only insofar as there’s something to be said about what the problem is. But we don’t have that.

Also, Justin, can you tell me what happened to the comment I submitted a couple hours ago?Report

Rebecca Kukla
Rebecca Kukla
Reply to  Rebecca Kukla
4 years ago

SCM: Why? Why is it difficult? A bunch of people who were there are telling you that it was. If a whole bunch of people come home from work and tell you that there was a corporate lunch and the food was awful, do you find it very difficult to have an opinion about the quality of the food until you have the menu described to you in great detail? Why not just accept the words of those who were there as overwhelming, though of course defeasible, evidence that what they said happened in fact happened? Report

Preston Stovall
Preston Stovall
Reply to  Rebecca Kukla
4 years ago

Well, one reason not to accept their word is that people may have substantive disagreements about what counts as good-quality food. Either way, if it’s so obviously bad, there ought to be something one could say in support of the judgment. I don’t see why that’s so difficult, and appeals to the privilege of testimony can’t substitute for an explanation of what’s objectionable when an explanation is called for.

Also, thanks for putting up my first comment Justin.Report

SCM
SCM
Reply to  Rebecca Kukla
4 years ago

I’ll just repeat my FB comment to you: because those of us not in the know might stand to learn something valuable about the fact that people took X as objectionable if we know what X is. But since you say there are other reasons not to explain more, I’ll leave it at that.Report

Johnny_Thunder
Johnny_Thunder
Reply to  Rebecca Kukla
4 years ago

“explaining how the black women at a talk they were not at were just being oversensitive or missing the point or whatever.”

Rebecca,
I take it this comment is supposed to apply to me, since I mentioned ‘oversensitivity’ and have a male handle.

The other thing is that my comment is conditional on Justin’s characterization of what Shelby said. My point was that, Shelby said something offensive, SAF people had better correct Justin’s characterization. So, to reiterate in a slightly different form what others are saying, did Justin misreport Shelby’s remarks?

Maybe at certain moments while I was writing, I accepted the antecedent of said conditional. If so, I apologize for jumping to conclusions. But I think we should refrain from drawing too many conclusions about my psychology from that; it could just as well have been a simple processing error as a an instance of a general tendency to deny blacks or women testimonial authority. (One defeasible reason to doubt the latter hypothesis is that I grant blacks and women testimonial authority every day of my life.)

As for the defeasibility of testimony: I find testimony concerning offensiveness *highly* unreliable, particularly concerning charged political topics like Shelby’s. By analogy, if audience members at an AIPAC organized event accused one of their speakers of anti-Semitism, I would be somewhat skeptical that the claim was anti-Semitic. And I’m very sure I don’t deny Jews testimonial authority. I know that issues surrounding Israel and American racism are different in lots of interesting and important ways. My point is just that the degree of controversy surrounding an issue tends to influence the judgments of humans of all races, genders, etc., concerning the offensiveness of statements on the issue. That being said, you’re right that the testimony is defeasible evidence. However, testimony about the content of what was said combined with a paper with the same title, for me, roughly cancels that evidence. So in my AIPAC example: if someone with connections to AIPAC reported that the speaker merely expressed sympathy for a boycott of Israel until it withdraws from the West Bank and Gaza, and if this someone also linked to a paper by the speaker in which he makes the point in question about boycotts, I would give that at least as much weight as the testimony of the AIPAC audience. That’s why I haven’t come to a firm conclusion yet, and would like to know what Shelby actually said.

Question for you, Rebecca, or SCM: What reason is there/was given for not sharing the relevant comments by Shelby? We already have one characterization of them that don’t support the claim that he was highly offensive. If he did in fact say something highly offensive, I can’t see how it serves SAF to withhold evidence to that effect.Report

Johnny_Thunder
Johnny_Thunder
Reply to  Johnny_Thunder
4 years ago

Oops, editing a bit but not very much makes the start of this comment a little rough. Hope it gets better…Report

QG Grad
QG Grad
Reply to  Rebecca Kukla
4 years ago

I think this is right, but I do want to add that there’s a moral learning problem here, too.

Being able to connect the synopsis with a reason for offense (not just the fact that it was offensive) is important because without being able to do so, it might be difficult to avoid committing a similar offense in the future (ie, one that is offensive for the same reason). So, there’s good reason to want to know more even after one accepts the fact that the talk was offensive.

(This still requires accepting the requested testimony about the connection between the talk and the reason for offense, of course.)Report

Rebecca Kukla
Rebecca Kukla
4 years ago

I don’t have an issue with the curiosity. I have an issue with people acting suspicious of whether there was really something offence-worthy that happened, and questioning whether the reaction was justified, and saying – from a distance of like 4 steps removed – things like “But as of now there looks to be nothing to support moral outrage.” Here’s why it looks like there was stuff to support moral outrage: a huge number of women, especially black women, were morally outraged. If that counts as ‘nothing’ by way of support, that is a HUGE PROBLEM.Report

QG Grad
QG Grad
Reply to  Rebecca Kukla
4 years ago

That’s definitely true. (Is it *at all* surprising that a bunch of (probably white, probably male) academics would phrase their inability to understand the offense as a complete lack of evidence that should exist?)Report

Preston Stovall
Preston Stovall
Reply to  QG Grad
4 years ago

I get that you’re cheering for the team, but try this out:

“Is it *at all* surprising that a bunch of (probably black, probably female) academics would phrase the call for explanation as bunch of white men not sympathizing with the black experience?”

Stereotypes about identity are a poor basis for pursuing shared understanding in situations like this.
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Preston Stovall
Preston Stovall
Reply to  Rebecca Kukla
4 years ago

Well, unless I’m missing something, when I wrote that it wasn’t part of the common ground that a huge number of women, especially black women, were morally outraged. So that can’t count as something covered by my ‘nothing’ in the context in which I asserted it (again, unless I’m missing something). And the point remains. In the absence of being able to spell out what was so morally outrageous, the feeling of outrage is of little epistemic worth. I for one think it’s a problem when the privileges of identity are appealed to as a basis for mobilizing group condemnation when the parties doing the mobilzation aren’t willing to spell out why we should be outraged. Having said that, I can understand that there may be other reasons to not want to go into the details. But then, please also try to understand why, in the absence of details, some of us are going to resist the call to mobilization.Report

Kate Norlock
4 years ago

It is difficult to have an opinion about SAF’s event or apology, and it is difficult to connect anecdotal synopses with reasons for offense without accepting the required testimony, I agree. As the president of SAF, I was there and could offer you my testimony for your acceptance. I could speak for others, including women there, and including women of color, so that you might judge their reasons and enjoy some intellectual play online as you assess the reactions of participants in a conference that you did not attend. I could then convey to you the letter of our organizational response, the content of our apology to participants and our solicitation of comments and feedback from them, and I could relay some of the responses that they have constructively supplied. Perhaps we could enjoy internet commenters’ advice, then, as to our errors of interpretation and reaction. Indeed, in not submitting the experiences and testimony of myself and my organization and our conference participants to you, I reduce the amount of moral learning that could occur in the comments section of a Daily Nous thread.

And then I remember that there is actually no compelling reason to do any of the above. Perhaps some who did not attend the conference wish to have an opinion about it, but surely philosophers so keen to have opinions about conferences could seek out, for example, conferences to attend, there to opine.Report

Preston Stovall
Preston Stovall
Reply to  Kate Norlock
4 years ago

“And then I remember that there is actually no compelling reason to do any of the above. Perhaps some who did not attend the conference wish to have an opinion about it, but surely philosophers so keen to have opinions about conferences could seek out, for example, conferences to attend, there to opine. ”

Well, as someone who doesn’t toe the party line on a lot of mainstream analytical feminism, if it turns out that the conferences in question are ones where people who *do* toe the line are subject to moral condemnation, some of which occurs in public, and the people involved think there is “no compelling reason” to explain why the condemnation is called for, then you can be that I, for one, will not be seeking out those conferences.Report

Johnny_Thunder
Johnny_Thunder
Reply to  Kate Norlock
4 years ago

“And then I remember that there is actually no compelling reason to do any of the above.”

How about this as a reason: avoid the impression, given by Justin’s rendering of Shelby’s comments, that your organization inappropriately reprimanded Tommie Shelby. Why that matters: if invited speakers really get reprimanded for saying things like ‘the oppressed have moral duties too’, then speakers should worry about getting reprimanded for speaking honestly on controversial subjects.

To Rebecca’s point below, which appeared while I was typing: “People are not comfortable speaking for those who were most offended, for good reason”.

Ok, I take that point, and I understand. But Justin already has spoken on the subject, so if no one else speaks, his account will be the only one available.

Anyway, what began as curiosity on my part (which I would never insist you have to satisfy) about a prominent scholar being reprimanded over saying that the oppressed have duties has turned into nausea at what I find to be unnecessary, unhelpful, and gross attacks on me based on my (rightly inferred) identity. So I’ll just sign off by saying I now understand and respect your decision not to report Shelby’s comments and hope you can understand that my attitudes relating to the situation are not what you assumed them to be.Report

Rebecca Kukla
Rebecca Kukla
4 years ago

People are not comfortable speaking for those who were most offended, for good reason. People are not comfortable calling out a black speaker we generally respect, for good reason. People are not comfortable rehashing a painful event in the extended detail that would be required to give a compelling picture, for good reason. And very importantly: women in philosophy (in general) don’t trust men in philosophy (in general) to take our testimony about what happened in good faith rather than coming back for another round, with attacks on our ‘sensitivity’ or our ability to understand philosophy, for all sorts of reasons. Plus as Kate Norlock says, we don’t owe anyone a blow-by-blow. Certainly none is forthcoming from me. Your curiosity is not our main concern.Report

Preston Stovall
Preston Stovall
Reply to  Rebecca Kukla
4 years ago

Fair enough, I can sympathize with this point of view. But I would hope we could count on some expectation that all parties involved are conversing in good faith. Publically condemning someone is a substantial commitment, and pushback against that condemnation, when to date no explanation of what is so horrible has been offered, don’t stem from mere curiosity, it seems to me. Report

Rebecca Kukla
Rebecca Kukla
Reply to  Rebecca Kukla
4 years ago

Preston, I just want to point out that no one from SAF publicly condemned anyone. The apology was private, to members and attendees. This became public via gossip, not via a speech act of public condemnation.Report

Preston Stovall
Preston Stovall
Reply to  Rebecca Kukla
4 years ago

Hi Rebecca, thanks for this. I’m certainly disposed to defer to your judgment on speech acts and what does and doesn’t count as public condemnation here. But I took it that Justin’s post, together with the back-and-forth in the comments, counted as public condemnation on account of the fact that at least some people have been publically stumping for the position that what Shelby said should be regarded as offensive. Either way, I may have been hasty in saying that there were calls for group mobilization in support of that condemnation. It’s not clear to me that defense of the condemnation counts as encouraging others to do the same, but given that the judgment is one in ethics (rather than, say, taste), I’m inclined to think there is this further implication as well. Report

Johnny_Thunder
Johnny_Thunder
Reply to  Rebecca Kukla
4 years ago

“People are not comfortable calling out a black speaker we generally respect, for good reason. People are not comfortable rehashing a painful event in the extended detail that would be required to give a compelling picture, for good reason.”

Just wanted to say this makes sense to me too. Maybe it makes me sound (or reveals that I am) stupid, but this hadn’t occurred to me. (Why this straightforward and reasonable response had to follow all the stuff about how I deny testimonial authority to blacks and women is what’s beyond me.)Report

some person or other
some person or other
4 years ago

Thank you Kate Norlock.

Generally: I see how the SCP business is now in some sense public business since a public apology was issued. But I am really unclear about why the SAF business is or should be public business. Report

QGG
QGG
4 years ago

Justin, would it be possible to set up another thread that asks your central question but doesn’t provide the dry kindling context? It’s a discussion very much worth having, but it doesn’t seem likely to happen here.Report

HFG
HFG
4 years ago

First things first, I wasn’t there, so the following is based only on this thread. But I think maybe Shelby was giving an opposing view a charitable interpretation in order to show that even on that charitable interpretation, it was the incorrect view to hold.

I think maybe some people in the audience were concerned about the moral implications of offering any charitable interpretation for such a view.

I think the analytic feminists might be sympathetic to both sides. And no matter what, I think they’re probably putting a lot of thought and time into doing good work.

And I think the rest of us might be too eager to make fun of our own discipline or something- less sure about this part.

Anyway, if I’m right, the moral of the story is something like this: analytic tools are effective for separating reasons from feelings. Sometimes that’s really helpful because feelings can bias. That’s good. Other times it’s not so helpful. Divorcing feelings from reasons has the potential to go beyond being merely off-putting and can turn into a genuine form of disrespect for people’s lived experiences. That’s bad.

Again, I wasn’t there. I’ve only read this thread. I don’t know anything else. But I have taught analytic philosophy to a lot of different people from many different backgrounds. So I’m drawing from that experience too. Report

Kate Norlock
4 years ago

“SAF people had better correct Justin’s characterization.”
“But Justin has already spoken.”

As I said earlier, there are no compelling reasons to provide the testimony of participants to a set of blog commenters. That Justin has spoken is, I would think it obvious, not in itself the least bit compelling. Report

Preston Stovall
Preston Stovall
Reply to  Kate Norlock
4 years ago

“As I said earlier, there are no compelling reasons to provide the testimony of participants to a set of blog commenters.”

And you were given no less than two reasons when you made that claim the first time. It would be good to at least register this disagreement. For all the accusations about identity inhibiting one’s ability to converse in good faith, I can’t help but feel that sometimes it’s the physicians who need to cure themselves.Report

A poor black woman who was there
A poor black woman who was there
4 years ago

Why I am even responding to this, I haven’t the slightest clue. But here it is anyway:

A keynote typically involves a q&a session – and that is where most of the offense took place (for me).

Shelby was asked multiple questions concerning the context and methodology of his arguments and he overtly did not answer several of these questions and flat out ignored one. He had to be prompted directly by the moderator to address a metaphilosophical question that was posed to him concerning the work he was and was not engaging with and he belittled the question as “asking for a bibliography.” He responded that his conclusion was the same as other voices (black women’s voices) on the matter of black women’s reproduction, which ignores the differences in any presuppositions being made to arrive at the same conclusions. Even though I am very junior, I doubt philosophy is solely concerned with ‘conclusions.’ If philosophy’s primary focus is on the end result, then indeed the discipline is in trouble.

Shelby also proceeded with the response that he ‘was just trying to do philosophy’ effectively demeaning the questions being posed to him and implying that those (black women) who were raising particular issues were not doing philosophy. (Last time I checked metaphilosophical and instrinsic critiques do qualify as philosophy).

Did I find the talk itself to be offensive? Yes. However, any offensives could have easily been addressed with Shelby’s responses during the q&a, but he resorted to poor argumentative moves and personal attacks.

In regards to his lack of engagement with black women’s work concerning black women’s reproduction, a sufficient answer (albeit one I would disagree with, but it would have prompted a different line of questioning) could have been something along the lines of ‘I’m attempting to engage with a particular line of reasoning’ or ‘This argument is addressed for people with such and such presuppositions.’ But he responded with unprofessional dismissive remarks and straw maning the questions being raised.

In regards to some of the comments above, it is quite crass to assume that those in attendance were not charitable or ‘resilient’ or incapable of engaging in lines of reasoning that may be directly bearing on their lived existence. I was indeed charitable. No, I did not miss the point, even despite being upset. No *the* issue is not the notion that ‘the oppressed have moral duties too.’ Shelby actively silenced and belittled black women during a keynote where black women’s bodies were the object of discussion.

That is offensive.
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Preston Stovall
Preston Stovall
Reply to  A poor black woman who was there
4 years ago

“Why I am even responding to this, I haven’t the slightest clue. ”

How about because accusations of moral failure made against a colleague are serious, particularly when made public and with institutional backing, and you believe they are warranted in this case? Seems to me that’s a pretty good reason to weigh in.

At any rate, thank you for your take. Without prejudice as to the facts, I can see how one would be offended in a situation such as you described. I hope everyone reached a point of resolution from which the breach in community can be mended.Report

Preston Stovall
Preston Stovall
Reply to  Justin Weinberg
4 years ago

Right, thanks Justin, I appreciate that. I’ve been trying to be careful not to claim that its was the SAF that made the accusations public. I apologize if I’ve slipped up somewhere or gave the impression I think otherwise.Report

Johnny_Thunder
Johnny_Thunder
Reply to  A poor black woman who was there
4 years ago

I think much of this is really helpful, APBWWWT. Often when we are told a bad thing happened, but we’re not told what, our imaginations go to worst case scenarios. So, while Rebecca and Kate claimed to be worried about calling out a colleague they respected, having now heard (one version of) the accusation, I think sharing this is actually better for Shelby than accusations of unspecified offensiveness on the subject of poor black women’s procreation.

I also think the attempted “discreet” email apology was a mistake on SAF’s part. That had no chance of remaining discreet, as anyone who’s used the internet should know. If you’re going to effectively reprimand someone like that, might as well do it openly.

I have to say one more thing in response to the comments about trusting members of out-groups and how this plays into what people are saying in this thread (not in response to APBWWWT, but in response to Rebecca and prime): it’s so strange to me to see that kind of prejudice so openly embraced by supposedly progressive people. I’m not going to argue that any particular woman or black philosopher should trust male or white philosophers in general. But I always thought it was bad, and obviously so, to interact with particular individuals on the assumption that these kinds of generalizations are true of the particular individuals. In other words, it’s wrong to assume of *this particular individual before you* that they conform to stereotypes. Is that approach to conversation between individuals now considered passe?Report

David Mathers
David Mathers
Reply to  A poor black woman who was there
4 years ago

If this post is correct, and I’ve no reason to think it’s not, though I don’t want to condemn Shelby without hearing his side of the story, I think Justin did the organizers rather a disservice in saying that what people objected to was merely that Shelby said that oppressed people have duties, rather than to him being rude and dismissive towards people in the Q and A. It unfairly plays into a narrative of feminists (and people working on race) as unusually dismissive of dissent, when, at least from the account given here, that wasn’t what was going on at all.

(This is not to be read as an endorsement of all the people saying ‘just trust us; you couldn’t possibly understand anyway’. The history of that sort of argument is genuinely pretty grim.) Report

prime
prime
4 years ago

In that case, RK and KN, I’ll add this.

Blacks in philosophy (in general, and I am black), don’t trust whites in philosophy (especially those coming from historically no-blacks departments) to take in good faith our wariness about your testimony about what some (highly credible) black person said or believes when you are offended.

I certainly don’t expect you to think that you “owe” the likes of me anything professionally. (Maybe I’ll get around to asking Shelby directly about this case.) But I didn’t raise any concern about the “sensitivity” of mainly white women. I’m not very interested in your sensitivity and judgment about “procreative ethics” regarding “poor, black women.”

But I am concerned about the perspective and experience of the self-identified “black woman” in this thread, though we evidently wouldn’t agree about what counts in this case as “effectively demeaning,” “implying,” and “actively silenced.” I take her testimony seriously. I can only wish that her white analytical feminist allies might eventually find a home for marginalized voices such as hers in their respected, historically no-blacks departments.Report

Kate Norlock
Reply to  prime
4 years ago

prime, assuming that by KN, you mean me, allow me to clarify that I did not provide you testimony. I at no point described myself as having offense or sought anyone’s interest in my sensitivities. So I do not understand what portion of your response is directed to me. If you took me to testify or speak of my feelings, I point out that I did neither.
Report

prime
prime
Reply to  Kate Norlock
4 years ago

KN, the clarification is superfluous. While I’m aware of the notion that some of us by nature are relatively slow, no need to trouble yourself when it comes to “prime.” By a similar token, I’m confident there’s no need for me to clarify my previous comment for you.Report

Roberta Millstein
Roberta Millstein
4 years ago

Justin, in your OP you wrote, “Knowing how comment threads go on matters like this, it would probably be best if we didn’t assess the substance of these views here. You have the rest of the internet for that, ok?”

So, you knew there was likely to be a s***storm from your post and yet you posted it anyway. And then you allowed comments on the substance of the views, instead of insisting that things stay on your proposed topic. You’ve been running this blog for awhile now. I’d think you’d know better. So, why the post? On balance, do you think you’ve done more harm or good by your OP? To many of us, it looks like harm.

The whole presupposition for your stated purpose in posting this is questionable in any case. Are there really two types of conferences, resonance and “standard”? And do you presume that things don’t get heated (or or emotional or personal) when people disagree at so-called “standard” conferences? You need to get out more. And perhaps think about why it might be insulting to imply that some conferences are “non-standard” and overly optimistic to think that there are conferences where it is not the case that “there’s some set of substantive claims associated with each, and many of the attendees at these conferences endorse a sizable subset of those respective claims.”

Are you having any regrets yet? I would hope so.Report

Preston Stovall
Preston Stovall
Reply to  Roberta Millstein
4 years ago

Attempts to publicly shame Justin aside, I hope this isn’t true:

“To many of us, it looks like [more harm than good was done by Justin’s post].”

Or, if it is, the people who share this view have the same assessment of whatever discussions were going on in the “number of social media conversations about the meeting over the past week” that Justin tells us already took place. If anything, I think it’s better that the reasoning at work in these kinds of episodes becomes more publicly evident. I’ve learned something from hearing what people say, not least because it gives me a better picture of the kind of motivations that are at work in group dynamics of the sort on display here.Report

Preston Stovall
Preston Stovall
Reply to  Justin Weinberg
4 years ago

“On the plus side, though, over the course of the discussion there seemed to be some serious reflection and attitude adjustment on the part of a few potentially hostile commenters here.”

I’d like to see specific cases where you think this applies, specifically with regard to the phrases “attitude adjustment” and “hostile”. With quotes and explanation. I don’t think I’ve seen anything hostile here, but if other people disagree then I’d like to know where the disagreement lies.Report

Preston Stovall
Preston Stovall
Reply to  Justin Weinberg
4 years ago

Alright, that’s fine. If you don’t mind my asking, would it be possible, going forward, to exercise a little more reserve with terms like “hostility”, particularly if you think you’re not going to be willing to explain just what you mean? There’s a lot of moral scolding that goes on in some places, and accusations of hostility, like accusations of violence or disrespecting poor black women, are serious and should be treated as such. (And I just want to emphasize, as I say below, that I think you’re doing a real service to the profession in having a place like this; I hope more people take you up on it.)Report

Roberta Millstein
Roberta Millstein
4 years ago

Hi Justin,

I don’t know why you assume that I was only talking about the SAF conference. In both cases, comments that people found hurtful were repeated and hashed over in a very disrespectful way. Surely after all your time running the blog you have noticed that comments on blogs tend not to be a good place to discuss sensitive topics. That doesn’t mean that the topics shouldn’t be discussed, or that your blog isn’t overall a good one (I think I have made it clear before that I am generally supportive). It’s a question of time and place. And just because the conversation could conceivably occur somewhere else just as public does not mean that you should be the one to facilitate it. “Something bad is going to happen so it might as well happen here” isn’t a good argument. Again, you yourself said this was not the place for the content of the remarks to be discussed. Are you taking that back? My point was only that once you raised the issues, the rest was inevitable.

To call the groups “non-standard” is to set these them outside of the mainstream. Maybe they are seen that way by some. That they are so seen is bemoaned by many, as you know. You are entrenching that “othering” by your terminology.

I truly don’t think you’ve picked out a difference between resonance groups and non-resonance groups. Even just as a philosopher of science I have asked questions that philosophers of language found utterly baffling (and vice versa), simply because the question challenged basic presuppositions of the field. If we think we are in an area where there are no core suppositions that are never challenged, it is probably just because we haven’t exposed ourselves to enough different ideas.

I hope you continue to challenge the PC scare mongerers. This isn’t about who is good or who is bad, or about being on one side or another. I am trying to suggest that this entire post was a mistake. We all make mistakes. I make them on a regular basis, sometimes just by thinking that I can have a reasonable conversation with someone on the Internet. Hopefully, this isn’t one of those times.Report

Philodemus
Philodemus
Reply to  Roberta Millstein
4 years ago

It’s arguable that Justin’s post was a mistake. But it’s laughable for you to express a desire to “have a reasonable conversation with someone on the internet,” given the needlessly rude tone of your initial message to Justin. I might expect someone to speak to a child in such a chastising manner, but to speak that way to a colleague, whom you presumably respect and whose blog you generally support, is pretty crappy imo. Especially in public.Report

Preston Stovall
Preston Stovall
Reply to  Justin Weinberg
4 years ago

“— “Surely after all your time running the blog you have noticed that comments on blogs tend not to be a good place to discuss sensitive topics.”
This is true sometimes on some sensitive topics, sure. But it is also a kind of self-fulfilling prophecy which discourages the participation of the thoughtful and sensitive. I’d prefer more of DN’s readers to participate in discussions here, rather than, say, retreating to Facebook. There is a value to having public squares in the profession, a value that’d be enhanced if those who like to scorn the comments here from a distance instead took part in them. I can provide the space, and I can encourage participation, but I cannot do the good that I estimate would be done if just 5% of my colleagues in the profession who discuss DN stories exclusively on FB commented here instead, under their real names. ”

I wholeheartedly second this encouragement. Whatever the source of the hostility Justin was worried about, or the “very disrespectful things” Roberta claims were said here, someone with my conversational sensibilities finds this discussion to have been immensely rewarding and overall unconfrontational. The disagreement was strident at points, but I don’t think I’ve seen anything I could say was hostile or disrespectful.

Indeed, to the extent that I have a sense for what confrontation there was, it comes by way of the chastising Roberta is giving to Justin, the remarks upthread about how it’s unsurprising that white men are saying what we’re saying, the apparent supposition that it is somehow morally wrong to query the basis of a moral condemnation when someone of a particular identity has spoken (or someone else from a different identity has spoken on their behalf), or the recommendation by the president of the SAF that people should attend conferences where speakers can expect to be treated as Shelby has been here and, evidently, on Facebook.

I don’t think any of these remarks are objectionable in a moral sense; they’re more like the distasteful outbursts that sometimes accompany the gloating of a sportsfan over another team’s loss. The point is, to the extent that terms like ‘hostile’ and ‘disrespectful’ get a grip in this conversation, it looks (to me) like they apply disproportionately to the side making those accusations. That’s something one might hope would decrease over time as people with different political and affective sensibilities took the time to stridently disagree with one another under the aegis of public debate and in one’s own name. That can’t be done when these little moral scoldings are kept secluded in the eddies of Facebook. So I do hope that more people take the time to contribute publicly to the venues Justin has provided when matters like this arise and people feel the urge to opine in public and semi-public fora.

And I hope it’s clear that I can say all of that without having any fixed view about ether the events up for discussion (the SAF and SCP meetings), or the principles at issue in those events. I’ve tried to be very careful not to weigh in on any of that (other than to say I know some people whom I regard to be morally upright who hold views in the vicinity).

I wish more people like Roberta, Rebecca, Kate, Matt, and Justin would talk about this stuff in public and let us see where they’re coming from. For me, these debates re-establish the conviction that the politics of identity, as it’s practiced by some of its more strident proponents, is on very shaky intellectual and social footing.
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Hey Nonny Mouse
Hey Nonny Mouse
4 years ago

It limits our public usefulness as philosophers if we cannot weigh the arguments on all sides of issues that are live issues in the public mind. That isn’t in itself to defend the conduct of any particular professor at any particular conference, nor does it imply that there are no abhorrent opinions. It does mean that she should be careful to ensure that offensive speech is adequately protected.Report

Hey Nonny Mouse
Hey Nonny Mouse
Reply to  Hey Nonny Mouse
4 years ago

“We” not “she”!Report

Shelley Tremain
Shelley Tremain
4 years ago

Philodemus, you wrote: “It’s arguable that Justin’s post was a mistake. But it’s laughable for you to express a desire to “have a reasonable conversation with someone on the internet,” given the needlessly rude tone of your initial message to Justin. I might expect someone to speak to a child in such a chastising manner, but to speak that way to a colleague, whom you presumably respect and whose blog you generally support, is pretty crappy imo. Especially in public.”

I noticed, Philodemus, that your initial comment that you submitted yesterday, in which you made a misogynistic, reactionary, and snide parenthetical remark about my efforts against ableism in the profession and discipline, was removed from the thread. Did you voluntarily remove it? If so, I will assume that you came to recognize your mistake in posting it. If not, then I guess someone else drew it to Justin’s attention. Many thanks to whoever that might have been. I had intended to respond to it today. You saved me the time and the trouble.

For my part, I very much wish this post had not been made. Most of the comments that have been articulated about disability are uninformed and presuppose, or even explicitly proclaim, outdated and oppressive ideas about the epistemological and ontological status of disability and what social responses to disability should be. That was a predictable outcome.
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Philodemus
Philodemus
Reply to  Shelley Tremain
4 years ago

Professor Tremain, you’re referring to when I suggested that Justin rephrase his original post, since it might be taken to imply that disabled people are necessarily defective people. Then I said jokingly “lest you summon the wrath of Shelley Tremain.” This was a joke, one which was predicated on your efforts against ableism, but not one which was deriding your efforts against ableism. Why did you find it misogynistic?

Also, why did you preface your remark by quoting my comment to Professor Millstein? I can only assume it’s because you think my comment to her was somehow hypocritical. I plead not guilty. I didn’t attempt to publicly shame you and then suggest that I just want to have a reasonable conversation with you. I made a joke that in ordinary contexts (read: outside the bubble of academia) would be regarded as mild and playful, rather than “reactionary and snide.”

Finally, I can understand why some people would think Justin’s post was a mistake. I actually sympathize. But I will note first that I do not believe that I personally articulated any position on disability that is “uninformed,” “outdated” and “oppressive.” I didn’t really say anything about disability, except it’s a mistake to suggest that disabled people are defective people, and that what counts as a disability seems to be highly contextual. And even if others did express regressive views, I don’t think that fact by itself would make Justin’s post a mistake. I don’t think that a blog post is a mistake just because some of the comments are mistaken.Report

Daniel Silvermint
Daniel Silvermint
4 years ago

Considering that one of the SAF conference’s co-organizers, Carol Hay, *literally wrote the book* on the obligation victims have to resist their oppression, the suggestion floating around (here and elsewhere) that SAF apologized for the substance of that view, or tried to silence a keynote in order to enforce ideological purity, is cartoonish. For folks not in attendance, a bit of charitable interpretation might be called for.Report

Daniel Silvermint
Daniel Silvermint
Reply to  Daniel Silvermint
4 years ago

P.S. WHY DO YOU HATE OBLIGATIONS SO MUCH, CAROL?!Report

Daniel Silvermint
Daniel Silvermint
Reply to  Daniel Silvermint
4 years ago

More serious postscript, in light of Update #3: I don’t take myself to be saying anything particularly new, as a number of people above clarified the same basic point long before I did, and provided far more helpful context than I did. I just wanted to emphasize the kind of work being done in contemporary feminist philosophy, and why folks perhaps less familiar with the literature should be suspicious about claims that an organization like SAF would apologize for a substantive view about resistance obligations.Report

JAM
JAM
4 years ago

i have yet to attend a non-resonance conference. Even APA conferences are resonance conferences. In a way, they point to a fundamental problem in practicing philosophy – philosophy should be, in principle, open to careful examination of any proposed view and philosophers should go, as it were, wherever arguments take them. Yet, at the same time, philosophers are just as horrible and self-centered human beings as anyone else (this writer including) and mostly use arguments to rationalize their own already held views – just doing it in a very sophisticated way. At a conference, whether explicitly resonant or not, this inevitably manifests itself in the fact that they are generally unable to persuade anyone about anything BUT are quick to assign stupidity to speakers, views, or arguments that they dislike or happen to disagree with. There is nothing new here and nothing that will change. But I do wonder how a genuine non-resonance conference would look like – a meeting of people completely apathetic to anything?Report

ajkreider
ajkreider
4 years ago

APW’s comment above brings the OP’s question into relief. Leiter has an email from the person who asked the question, “‘Why on a talk on black women and black women’s bodies, black feminist theorists were not being engaged?’

What are the permissible responses in a venue like the SAF? Is a response like, “I don’t find those relevant to the argument I’m presenting here”, legitimate or beyond the pale?

I can imagine such a response being reasonably viewed as dismissive – of the questioner and of those theorists. I can also imagine becoming frustrated by being pressed repeatedly on the matter, in a manner that doesn’t engage with the argument being presented – say, because it might be interpreted as a “you didn’t check the right boxes in your paper” comment. That back and forth will be familiar to anyone who’s presented a fair number of papers. You (as the presenter) want your paper discussed, not someone else’s. And if you think you’ve got a stand-alone argument, you want that discussed – not your lack of providing a literature review (not philosophy?).

I’ve no idea whether this is what went on in the Shelby case. And obviously, there are minimum standards of politeness that apply across all such settings.Report

Johnny_Thunder
Johnny_Thunder
4 years ago

“What are the permissible responses in a venue like the SAF? Is a response like, “I don’t find those relevant to the argument I’m presenting here”, legitimate or beyond the pale?

I can imagine such a response being reasonably viewed as dismissive – of the questioner and of those theorists.”

Dismissive perhaps, but surely not inappropriately so. I’ve seen this a few times–someone says “you didn’t mention the right people” without saying anything about what the right people said and how it pertains to the talk (so I’m not assuming the SAF situation fits this model). That’s just bad philosophy. It would be nice of the speaker to respond with, “could you suggest a particular view or argument and explain where I should have discussed it and why?” But given that the questioner made no effort to engage the content of the talk, and given that the question is often partially an admonishment, I wouldn’t say speakers *ought* usually to respond this way.

Attitudes towards this kind of question probably does reflect different conceptions of how philosophy is to be done. Some are mostly concerned with arguments and concepts without regard to who utters them. Others are more interested in historical, political, social, and other facts about the people speaking or listening; and specifically, take such facts to bear on the evaluation of what the arguments.. And perhaps some people find themselves somewhere in between. But you see the divide in this thread. I think both sides of the divide should try not to convey disdain for the other’s presuppositions. It might help in some cases to openly acknowledge the methodological disagreement. For instance, the question could go like this: “we might have a larger disagreement about the importance of the identities of the authors we cite. Maybe you don’t think that’s important. I think it is because XYZ. So with that in mind, I think it matters that you didn’t cite any [insert group]. I don’t know if we can resolve this big metaphilosophical disagreement here and now, but I would like to at least hear your initial response to this concern.” I think this gives the speaker something substantive to respond to without feeling admonished. (Again, I don’t assume this reflects the conversation at the SAF meeting.)Report

Robert Gressis
Robert Gressis
4 years ago

Here’s an attempt at trying to make Swinburne’s position more understandable:
Imagine a world that is very well off — there are no children who are in need of loving homes, and so no adoption agencies exist. In this world, there are gay people. Some of them get married. Some of those who are married want to have children. In order for them to have children, they would have to employ a method that doesn’t rely on having sex with their beloved. Does it make any sense at all for any of these people to wish that things were different — namely, that they could have children via having sex with their beloved? If so, then, prima facie, those people *might be* lacking something. (I saw “might be” because it could be that one could run a version of this argument for any kind of difference at all.)

At this point, I think there are (at least) two directions you could go with this (at most, there are an infinite number of directions): (1) in a good world, no one would have same-sex desires, and so everyone would be able to have children via having sex with their beloved; or (2) in a good world, same-sex couples could have children via having sex with each other. From what I can tell (I haven’t read the talk or read his Revelation), Swinburne opts for (1) instead of (2). But in both cases, there is something same-sex couples lack right now. I think that’s what Swinburne meant by calling them disabled.

On another note: I thought for a while before writing this post. On the one hand, I think it’s crucially important for the world in general that we be able to enter into one another’s point of view, including the points of views of people who are condemned as bigots; on the other hand, I believe, though I doubt that I appreciate, that sometimes publicly expressing the point of view you’ve simulated, just for the point of understanding matters, is itself disrespectful. I hope there’s a way to do it such that it doesn’t disrespect the humanity of others, but maybe not. Report

JR
JR
4 years ago

Here is another, more coherent and well thought out take on Swinburne’s presentation.

http://wisdomandfollyblog.com/swinburne-homosexuality-society-christian-philosophers/Report

SH
SH
4 years ago

Regarding the SAF, a thought for those who are planning “resonance” conferences: it is a very good idea to build in opportunities for participants to decompress and discuss privately, and also events like plenary sessions or broadly-construed “business meetings” where these sorts of things can be addressed. It seems clear that the organizers did not mean for this message to become public, they did not mean to publicly shame the speaker, and did not want to subject concerned WOC participants to a poorly informed public referendum on the validity of their opinions. An emailed apology, however, fails on every count: as an apology, it will be seen as an indictment of a respected and well-intentioned scholar; lacking a detailed account of his alleged sins, it will be seen as another instance of political correctness gone mad; and of course, of course, it will not remain private.

I am not an “A” and have no idea how the SAF is structured. But to fellow conference planners, I have had great luck with closing plenary discussions, which allow this sort of thing to be hashed out in person. We began by having each keynote and at least one of the conference organizers speak briefly about their reactions and observations of the conference–which invites the speakers to respond to each other, among other things–and then opened the floor for conference participants to share their own thoughts and concerns. There were certainly some challenging conversations. In addition to being less gossip-worthy than an email, I found these discussions to be quite productive, and they relieved the organizers of the impossible job of speaking for all of the members. Report

Carnap
Carnap
4 years ago

Now comes a statement from the APA Committee on the Status of LGBTQ Philosophers in the Profession, reading in part:

“The APA Committee on the Status of LGBTQ Philosophers in the Profession laments that a keynote speaker at the Midwest meetings of the Society for Christian Philosophers, Professor Richard Swinburne, argued that homosexuals are disabled and have an incurable condition. While the argument betrayed ignorance of both empirical research and humanistic scholarship on homosexuality as well as disability, the fact that this argument was put forward as a keynote address by a prominent philosopher at meetings of a respected philosophical society that regularly holds meetings at the annual meetings of the APA, contributes to the stigmatization and alienation of LGBTQ philosophers and philosophers with disabilities. ”

http://www.apaonline.org/news/310185/Statement-from-LGBTQ-committee-on-SCP-keynote.htmReport