Post-Election Changes To Philosophy Curriculum By Subject: Epistemology


The shock of the 2016 presidential election is still being felt keenly by educators, many of whom see in its victor, Donald Trump, the embodiment of so much of what we aim to overcome: ignorance, incompetence, carelessness, and a lack of concern for the truth. 

A man who does not know how an idea goes from policy proposal to law, nor what most of the actual responsibilities of U.S. presidents are, is soon to become president. Regardless of political affiliation, educators should at least be disturbed at the success of someone so breathtakingly unprepared for the role.

And there is the variety of bigotries Trump and those with whom he surrounds himself display, his autocratic leanings indifference to rule of law, his disregard for protocol, and his hypersensitive responses to criticism.

In light of all this, what can educators do? I made three general suggestions last week, but more can be said.

Madeleine Ransom, a PhD student in philosophy at the University of British Columbia, suggested a series of posts soliciting suggestions for teaching materials or lessons that are both relevant to concerns about the election and appropriate for the subfield of the course. She writes:

For example, I’m teaching a class on the philosophy of mind next semester and I am now planning on incorporating a module on implicit bias. I would love to hear about how others teach it, and see any teaching materials people are willing to share. I imagine there are many other people in roughly my position: wanting to make a change but lacking in expertise in that given area and short on time. 

There are some general resources out there, such as the Diversity Reading ListBest Practices for the Inclusive Classroom, and the APA’s Diversity and Inclusiveness Syllabus Collection, but more specific ideas and advice would be very helpful.

So let’s start this series with epistemology. What readings or lessons or teaching strategies can be used to address election-related concerns in an epistemology course?

Folded Book Art by Rosy Hammersley

Folded Book Art by Rosy Hammersley

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Shane Epting
4 years ago

When addressing the mind in intro courses, I include W. E. B. Du Bois, The Souls of Black Folk & Gloria E. Anzaldúa, “The New Mestiza” to shake things up a bit.Report

Brannon McDaniel
Brannon McDaniel
4 years ago

For a book-length treatment, David Coady’s _What to Believe Now: Applying Epistemology to Contemporary Issues_ looks promising, though I’ve not yet read it:

https://www.amazon.com/gp/product/1405199946/ref=ox_sc_sfl_title_48?ie=UTF8&psc=1&smid=ATVPDKIKX0DERReport

Chris_Buford
Chris_Buford
4 years ago

I will be teaching epistemology again in the spring. The last time I taught the class we spent the first 12 weeks doing good old-fashioned epistemology (e.g. Gettier Cases, Skepticism, Internalism/Externalism, Testimony, Disagreement). I pitched this part of the course as preparation for the final section of the course. The last 3 weeks were devoted to working through David Coady’s What to Believe Now: Applying Epistemology to Contemporary Issues. We covered the chapters on rumor, conspiracy theories, expertise, and voting/democracy. I thought the class went well and plan on doing pretty much the same thing this time. I am considering adding Michael Patrick Lynch’s The Internet of Us as well. I haven’t yet thought through changes that might be made due to the election.Report

Critilo
Critilo
4 years ago

To Madeleine Ransom, I would briefly mention two ideas worth considering:

(1) Depending on the size of the class, either (a) choose a day to take all of your students to a computer lab and take a test of their choice (or yours) at Harvard’s Project Implicit; or (b) assign students to take one of Project Implicit’s tests themselves. In either case, require that all of them take it in a place that will allow them to print their results, and collect these in advance of the relevant lecture period to discuss it with the class. I found this incredibly fruitful and eye-opening, not just for what it reveals, but also to underscore to students that implicit bias applies also to marginalized groups. (If Project Implicit’s findings are to be believed, African-Americans generally have an implicit bias toward European-Americans in preference to themselves, and women generally have an implicit bias toward men and against their own sex.)

(2) Show your students that you’re willing to put your money where your mouth is by taking a few of the tests yourself.

(3) Let’s face it, some number of students will write the tests off reflexively as bullshit or unrigorous nonsense. To curb social desirability bias, be very sure if you do this to send out Project Implicit’s FAQ section to your students and explain some of its salient points during class to offset this and discuss possible points of genuine scientific uncertainty. Balancing open inquiry with our best current evidence demonstrates a willingness to give the topic its due diligence (including philosophical skepticism), and discuss the subject intelligently in light of students’ results.Report

Critilo
Critilo
Reply to  Critilo
4 years ago

Er, make that three ideas.Report

Madeleine
Madeleine
Reply to  Critilo
4 years ago

Thanks Critilo!Report

Lucas
Lucas
4 years ago

One skeptical worry (hey, epistemology!) about IAT results is that the science is mixed and many of the effects of important studies aren’t holding up under meta-analytic review. So be wary of that material, for now.

I also wonder if the appropriate response is to spin traditional topics in new ways given recent events in the election. One example: how might facebook’a admission of spreading misinformation bear on debates about the epistemic value of testimony? Instead of looking for new material, why not look for new angles on the old questions?Report

Richard Zach
Richard Zach
Reply to  Lucas
4 years ago

What science is mixed and how? What meta-analysis? Citation please.Report

Carnap
Carnap
Reply to  Richard Zach
4 years ago
Richard Zach
Richard Zach
Reply to  Carnap
4 years ago

See the comments right before and after that post.Report

Carnap
Carnap
Reply to  Richard Zach
4 years ago

Prof. Zach,

I am not sure what those comments are supposed to show about the scientific standing of IA tests. I take the comments to suggest that IA test effects are real effects. As I understand the Oswald et. al. piece, such effects are of uncertain robustness and, more importantly, may not measure anything which influences discriminatory behavior. Perhaps I have misunderstood.

Moreover, even if the science was clearer it isn’t clear to me why taking such tests should be part of an epistemology course. Not every interesting subject of debate among psychologists is epistemology. Is the idea that the findings are relevant to the extent of our self-knowledge as they may show that we are unaware of our biases? Is it that they are relevant for the meliorative project in applied epistemology, suggesting that we ought to take various steps to avoid being influenced by such biases?Report

Jonathan Jenkins Ichikawa
4 years ago

I think that Charles Mills’s “White Ignorance” is very helpful and very important. Somehow I got through grad school and became a professional epistemologist without ever reading it; no one should do that.Report

Breno Guimarães
Breno Guimarães
Reply to  Jonathan Jenkins Ichikawa
4 years ago

I came here to offer this exact suggestion!
Thanks, Jonathan!Report

Jerry Green
4 years ago

I’m currently teaching an intro course this term that was built to address some of these issues, partly motivated by recent political events. But the focus is on irrationality in general, so the content is broadly applicable. The whole course was designed around the theme that (i) we’re not very good at being rational, given the numerous biases and fallacies we’re subject to, so (ii) we should learn to identify and try to resit these biases and fallacies, so that (iii) we’ll be in a position to try to become more responsible epistemic agents. I find that focusing on epistemic virtue and on justification/evidence works better than focusing on knowledge.

Here’s a list of some of the relevant material we covered:
Kahneman (2011) Thinking, Fast and Slow Ch1
Dobelli (2011) The Art of Thinking Clearly excerpts
McRaney (2011) You Are Not So Smart excerpts
Haack (2015) “Epistemology Who Needs It?”
Zagzebski (2009) On Epistemology Ch.1
Casam (2015) “The intellectual character of conspiracy theorists” (online @ Aeon)
Code (1984) Toward a ‘Responsibilist’ Epistemology §4
Monmarquet (1993) Epistemic Virtue and Doxastic Responsibility Ch. 2
Lenz (2015) “Fact-checking Grandma” (online @ Aeon)
Nagel (2006) Epistemology: A Very Short Introduction, Ch.6
Lackey (2012) “What’s the rational response to everyday disagreements?” (online @ TPM)
Musser (2016) “Metaknowledge: A Mathematical BS Detector” (online @ Aeon)

I’d be happy to chat about how we covered this material in class, lessons learned, etc.Report

Charles Pigden
Charles Pigden
Reply to  Jerry Green
4 years ago

I am surprised that Jerry Green lists Cassam’s “The intellectual character of conspiracy theorists” a teaching text since it simply takes for granted the conventional wisdom that Conspiracy theories *as such* are somehow suspect or unbelievable, and therefore that conspiracy theorists (in the main) are epistemically vicious. He does this in apparent ignorance of the extensive philosophical literature that has called this assumption into question, not to mention the many well-authenticated conspiracies (and hence well-confirmed conspiracy theories) that have played a part in determining the histories of (among other nations) the United States of America. (I recommend in this connection, Kathryn S Olmsted’s *Real Enemies: Conspiracy Theories and American Democracy, World War I to 9/11*. ) If you want to make your students dumber, and more inclined to patronize opponents without engaging with their arguments, then setting them Cassam’s paper is definitely the way to go. In fact it represents just the kind of smug intellectual elitism against which Trump’s victory is partly a backlash. He does not quite say that conspiracy theorists are a basket of deplorables but that’s the take home message.

For less ill-informed readings on the topic of conspiracy theories try:

1) Chapter 3 of Coady, David *What to Believe Now*
2) Coady, David ed *Conspiracy Theories: the Philosophical Debate*
3) Dentith, M X. *The Philosophy of Conspiracy Theories*

For responses to Cassam himself, see:

1) Basham and Dentith ‘Bad Thinkers, Don’t’ be So Gullible’ 3 Quarks Daily, 17/8/2015
and my
2) Pigden, Charles (2016, forthcoming) ‘Are Conspiracy Theories Epistemically Vicious?’ in Brownlee, Coady, Lippert-Rasmmussen eds *The Blackwell Companion to Applied Philosophy*, Oxford, Wiley-Blackwell. (An extended play version can be found on my academia.edu website.)

PS. I am also in broad agreement with Dan Kaufman and Proud Democrat. It is just that if people *are* going to adjust their curricula in the light of recent developments, they might as well do it properly.Report

Chris Stephens
Chris Stephens
4 years ago

I’ve used Elizabeth Anderson’s “The epistemology of Democracy” in my introductory epistemology class: students find it very engaging and interesting, even in years when there’s no big election.Report

Jared Millson
Jared Millson
4 years ago

I’ve had success teaching an intermediate epistemology course focused on conspiracy theories—seems more pertinent now than ever. Here’s the syllabus: https://www.academia.edu/10401112/The_Epistemology_of_Conspiracy_TheoriesReport

Reuben
Reuben
4 years ago

An epistemology question for Justin: How do you know that Trump “does not know how an idea goes from policy proposal to law”?Report

Tyler Hildebrand
Tyler Hildebrand
4 years ago

I’ve used the following strategy to connect my course material to real-world issues.
I assign short papers asking students to explain an epistemological issue and explore its relevance to one of their cherished beliefs. We follow up with class discussion. For example, here’s part of a prompt I assigned on the problem of induction.

“Identify one belief that (a) is important to you and (b) for which a large part of your justification is empirical. Now suppose that you cannot defeat the argument for inductive skepticism. Does this make a difference to the way in which you form or attempt to justify the belief that is important to you? Is there a non-epistemic sense in which you could justify that belief even after you’ve decided that induction is unjustified? Would this make a difference to how you relate to those who do not share the important belief in question?”

Note: These types of assignments/activities can be adapted for most courses, but I’ve found them most effective when students see them as central to the course. I focus on the normative dimensions of epistemology, and from day one I tell students that our goal in studying epistemology is to improve our belief-forming practices. I didn’t do this explicitly the first time I taught epistemology, and the assignments weren’t as well received.Report

Fritz Warfield
Fritz Warfield
4 years ago

No changes.Report

PeterJ
PeterJ
4 years ago

If I was teaching someone how to avoid becoming Donald Trump I would start with a discussion of the ego and end with it. If he was the student, heaven forbid, then I would consider epistemology to be too long a word for the first year of study.Report

Laura
Laura
4 years ago

Standpoint epistemologies (Marxian and Feminist) would be my suggestion. http://plato.stanford.edu/entries/feminist-social-epistemology/ Hartsock in particular.Report

Daniel Kaufman
4 years ago

I have been teaching philosophy for over 20 years, and I have to say, I have never seen such delusional thinking among my kin.

Trump won this election with non-college-educated voters. Unless you are going to ban them from voting, I don’t see how messing around with your college epistemology course — or any other college course — is going to help. A good part of the problem is precisely the disconnect between our class and and the people who work the country’s farms, mines, and other industries.

Those of us who consider ourselves liberals or progressives have to engage in some serious self-examination, rather than just run the old “the ignorant rubes are running amok” line, the constant shouting of which at working class and rural voters is partly what lost us the election in the first place. You cannot win national elections with a coalition of cosmopolitan professionals, environmentalists, and identity-politics enthusiasts. We have known this since McGovern lost to Nixon. Bill Clinton understood this, which is why he has been the only successful Democratic president since Nixon. And before you say Obama has been successful, his entire presidency is about to be effectively erased by Trump.

For those who would like to chose self-examination over academic smugness, here are a few good places to start:

https://theintercept.com/2016/11/09/democrats-trump-and-the-ongoing-dangerous-refusal-to-learn-the-lesson-of-brexit/

https://hbr.org/2016/11/what-so-many-people-dont-get-about-the-u-s-working-class

https://www.theguardian.com/commentisfree/2016/nov/06/republicans-and-democrats-fail-blue-collar-america

Or we could just keep congratulating ourselves for our own brilliance over their stupidity/ignorance/racism. Just remember, theirs is the stupidity/ignorance/racism that just cleaned our electoral clocks.Report

Daniel Kaufman
Reply to  Justin Weinberg
4 years ago

I find the notion that rational warrant has substantial political valence bizarre and yes, a kind of smugness. The notion that the trouble with the Editors of National Review or The Weekly Standard — and remember, we are talking about the college educated here, which is why I choose these examples — is that they suffer, epistemically, in comparison with their counterparts at Mother Jones and The Nation is, I’m afraid, not serious.

A much better use of one’s time might be to better acquaint college students — and their professors — with the lives, experiences, and concerns of working class and rural people.Report

Daniel Kaufman
Reply to  Justin Weinberg
4 years ago

Yes, I am taking it as a Left/Right issue. Perhaps I am wrong, but I can easily imagine the same conversation taking place among our tribe had Ted Cruz been elected president.

Happy to see that you agree with 3.

My main concern is that I’m seeing from our side exactly the same sort of behavior that contributed to our loss in the first place. Rather than take seriously the concerns of these voters — and they are voters, with real concerns, as the links I provided indicate — we’re just shouting Racist! Sexist! Homophobe! even louder than before. And all that will do is lose us the next election too.

I’ve given my own analysis of the situation, for anyone who is interested.

https://theelectricagora.com/2016/11/11/the-silent-majority-strikes-again/

I appreciate your speaking with me, Justin.Report

David Wallace
David Wallace
Reply to  Daniel Kaufman
4 years ago

The Editor of the Weekly Standard is Bill Kristol, one of the most consistent conservative critics of Trump and the main force behind Evan McMullin’s third-party campaign.

National Review came out swinging against Trump during the primaries and remained, on average, neutral on him once he was the nominee, with some high-profile writers (Jonah Goldberg, David French) opposing Trump vociferously, and others supporting him with varying degrees of enthusiasm.Report

Daniel Kaufman
Reply to  David Wallace
4 years ago

Seems to pretty much miss the point. I think it’s pretty clear what I was getting at.Report

Preston Stovall
Reply to  Daniel Kaufman
4 years ago

“A much better use of one’s time might be to better acquaint college students — and their professors — with the lives, experiences, and concerns of working class and rural people.”

Thank you for your remarks Daniel, and for this in particular. I am saddened by the moral and intellectual condescension that some people on the left seem to be taking toward rural and white working class Trump voters, as it seems to me to spring from a source that has very little understanding of the positions and concerns that motivate these people. The rural and working class block that voted for Trump doesn’t share the elite-educated left’s narrative on the significance of the Trump phenomenon. I worry that the changes proposed in these threads are not addressing that deeper divide.

Teaching students from a position that characterizes the man as “the embodiment of so much of what we aim to overcome”, as with condemning Trump voters tout court as racist, sexist bigots, will further alienate these people from the left today. And as you point out, many of these people don’t move in the circles of higher education anyway. Those who do are probably smart enough to see the partisan politics at work in this sort of pedagogy.

The result, I fear, will be a deepening of the perceived divide between these people and the elite-educated left that fill the halls of academia. Just look at Michael Moore’s October remarks on Trump’s impact with Ford union workers, or Kanye West’s rant about why he would have voted for Trump from yesterday, to get a sense of how out of touch this tack is. We all need to be rethinking some of our cherished political totems.Report

beauvoir's baby
beauvoir's baby
Reply to  Daniel Kaufman
4 years ago

“A much better use of one’s time might be to better acquaint college students — and their professors — with the lives, experiences, and concerns of working class and rural people.”

We should not lose sight of the fact that many students and professors do come from working class backgrounds. And many of them have been scarred by those backgrounds for being “different” – I know I have. Many of us are grateful refugees in the world of letters and the arts. Nevertheless, I agree that intellectuals should engage with the working class for many reasons. That should be through a) instigating and supporting programs and policies that help the working class access university and in supporting them while they study; b) articulating the economic interests of the working class in a way that is appealing to the working class; and c) educating the working class, without resorting to shaming and silencing tactics. Contra Preston, we most certainly do not have to give up on our most “cherished political totems”. We just have to be smarter about being smart.Report

Preston Stovall
Reply to  beauvoir's baby
4 years ago

“Contra Preston, we most certainly do not have to give up on our most “cherished political totems”. We just have to be smarter about being smart.”

In the shift from my context of use to yours I don’t think the phrase “cherished political totems” has maintained a stable connotation such that we could agree on what it denotes (in any context). Still, I think we can establish some common ground.

First, notice I said we should be willing to rethink these totems; I was not prescribing that we give them up. Certainly I didn’t mean to be ruling out the practices you list in your a-c. Rather, as I’d hoped was clear, the political totems I had in mind are the kinds of thing that lead people on the left to condemn white working class and rural Trump supporters as racist, sexist bigots. No doubt some of them are. No use in denying that, so no point in ‘giving up’ that totem. But what sort of reverence is it owed?

I think we should be questioning the presuppositions that lead people to condemn white lower class Trump voters. There are racist sexist bigots in every demographic, and the presuppositions exhibited in the tendency to treat lower class white men and women as intellectually and morally defective people are political presuppositions about the motivations these people had to vote as they did. Those presuppositions need to be questioned, particularly when they’re fielded by scientists whose research is supposed to be helping us understand our societies (I’m not saying this about you in particular). Thankfully, we seem to be seeing that from organizations like the Heterodox Academy.

At Quillette, Uri Harris has put up a series of essays that go some way toward outlining what a revaluation of social science in the wake of Trump’s election might look like.

http://quillette.com/2016/11/12/donald-trump-and-the-failure-of-mainstream-social-science/

I thought this remark from ‘Whyaxye’ in the comments of that first article was spot-on:

“Teacher training is a real issue here… The real danger here is not that a few top academics will make fools of themselves, but that a large number of uncritical teachers will make idiots of our children.”

Contemporary academics, as a group, are more univocally left-leaning and progressive than the rest of the United States. If we, as educators, don’t take seriously the need to reassess some of the things we take for granted in how we see our fellows outside the academy, we must take some responsibility for the confusion we sow when the people we teach get out into the world and discover it’s not like it was presented to them by their teachers.Report

beauvoir's baby
beauvoir's baby
Reply to  Preston Stovall
4 years ago

It seems to me, then, that by “cherished political totem” you mean something more like window dressing, that is, how the message is presented as opposed to the content of the message. I took “cherished political totems” to mean “fundamental beliefs or values”. If I am understanding you correctly, then I am in complete agreement that when preaching tolerance, equality and respect for diversity, name-calling and shaming tactics are both hypocritical and strategically mistaken. But I don’t think those sorts of behaviours (which have lead to the term “SJW” being used as an insult) should be understood as a necessary consequence of leftist beliefs. They’re just unfair and shortsighted tactical errors that can be abandoned without abandoning core beliefs. We can maintain our commitment to leftwing values, but advocate for them more effectively and with more humility.Report

Preston Stovall
Reply to  Preston Stovall
4 years ago

Hi BB, thanks for the follow-up. I think we agree about more than we disagree about here. One clarification–by “cherished political totem” I meant something intermediate between “window dressing” and “fundamental beliefs or values”. I have no doubt that the urge to condemn rural and working class Trump supporters (Trumpeters?) as racist sexist bigots does not express a fundamental belief of (most of) those on the left. At the same time, I don’t think it’s so superficial as to warrant the term ‘window dressing’, but that’s not really all that important. My problem is that while the condemnation that comes with that urge may not be “essential” to the left, it has certainly been used by some to dismiss the concerns of these people, and in ways that strike me as socially and intellectually confused.

But yeah, the left’s apparent disregard for these people is at best is a misguided strategy, or a shortsighted tactical error (as you put it), and not something that’s essential to leftist political thought. It’s a bad habit of practice, not a reflection of a considered view, I believe. That’s why I wanted to second Daniel Kaufman’s recommendation that professors and their students endeavor to acquaint themselves “with the lives, experiences, and concerns of working class and rural people”. The best way to break out of those kinds of habits is to get to know some of the people whose views one unreflectively condemns. I understood you to be saying something similar, though with the added consideration that some people have had negative first-hand experience with rural and working class communities. There’s no denying that the right in America today needs to break out of old habits as badly as does the left, even if the habits in question have different characters.Report

Experimental Philosopher
Experimental Philosopher
4 years ago

Lucas is completely right to say that there has been a lot of careful empirical and statistical work casting doubt on some of the claims about pervasive implicit bias that seem to be taken for granted by philosophers commenting on this thread. However, this does not mean that we should stop teaching students about those claims. What it means is just that we should be providing them with evidence on both sides of the debate and giving them the tools they need to think rigorously about these issues.

For example, I agree with many of the commenters above that it would be good to give students a paper that argues as forcefully as possible for the claim that IAT results show that people are implicitly racist. However, if you do that, you should also give them a paper that uses rigorous empirical and statistical methods to argue for the opposite conclusion. For example:

https://www.researchgate.net/publication/239732934_Predicting_Ethnic_and_Racial_Discrimination_A_Meta-Analysis_of_IAT_Criterion_Studies

More generally, many of the commentators above are completely right to say that we should be exposing students to the strongest evidence in favor of claims about pervasive implicit bias. But surely, it would be a big mistake to give students the impression that our aim as educators is for them to come away thinking that these claims are true. (As though a student who tried to develop careful arguments for the opposite position would be somehow going against the aim of the course itself.) Instead, we should be giving them a sense for the complexities of this issue — it really is a complex issue from an empirical perspective — and helping them to understand and evaluate the evidence on both sides.Report

Carolyn
Carolyn
Reply to  Experimental Philosopher
4 years ago

Agreed. And yet another study, on the meta-analysis mentioned: “A meta-analysis of the main effect of discrimination in the studies suggests that there is no reliable amount of discrimination to be predicted by the IAT. Indeed, the average effect of discrimination is zero, and the results are widely inconsistent between different studies. Attempting to meta-analytically test the correlation between IAT and discrimination thus appears futile. We are, essentially, chasing noise. We simply cannot expect any strong, or even moderate, correlations, based on the current literature. Thus, although our re-analysis showed highly similar correlation between IAT and discrimination (r = .15) we are reluctant to draw the conclusion of Oswald et al. (2013) that this suggest poor predictive validity of the IAT. In our view, this figure is as high as one could hope for given the lack of main effects in the discrimination outcomes.” https://lnu.se/globalassets/lmdswp201511.pdfReport

Experimental Philosopher
Experimental Philosopher
Reply to  Experimental Philosopher
4 years ago

Carolyn,

Yes! It is so deeply important that we expose students to material like this when we teach courses that discuss implicit bias. If students get an opportunity to read serious scientific papers like this one, which really grapple with the complexity of these difficult empirical issues, they will be in great position to evaluate the evidence for themselves.

Perhaps more importantly, by assigning papers like the one you recommend, we will be reaffirming our commitment to to genuinely seeking the truth about the these questions. In the era of Trump — where the value of truth-seeking itself seems under attack — this is probably at our most important responsibility. We can reaffirm our core values by making it clear that we are not trying to indoctrinate students into one particular position but are trying our best to expose them to rigorous empirical studies on both sides of the issue.Report

Daniel Kaufman
4 years ago

Apparently, Mark Lilla at The New York Times agrees in good part with what I’ve been saying about the election. That it represents the ultimate backfiring of identity politics, and that liberals should drop it.

http://www.nytimes.com/2016/11/20/opinion/sunday/the-end-of-identity-liberalism.html?_r=0Report

beauvoir's baby
beauvoir's baby
Reply to  Daniel Kaufman
4 years ago

It’s true that white supremacism is a form of identity politics. And the nativism underlying Brexit is a form of identity politics. Identitarians don’t really have a way of distinguishing “valid” identities from “invalid” identities: if all that matters is one’s subjective sense of oneself, who’s to tell the KKK they aren’t really members of the superior race? Power asymmetries can’t do that work for them, because then they’ve moved away from identity politics and into structural analysis. And anyway, power asymmetry backfires for them when they stand accused of being the power vanguard, as we see with the term “liberal elite”.Report

ProudDemocrat
ProudDemocrat
4 years ago

Oh to think that my high-school-dropout parents and hometown friends would’ve voted differently if the colleges and universities had just asked their students to read different papers! What a laughable thought. Anyone who is a college student is already well on his or her way.

What we need to worry about if this: the millions of disaffected, lonely, isolated people outside of the colleges and the cities who woke up one day to find that their jobs were gone, their hometowns were decimated, they couldn’t afford health insurance, they have no opportunities, their friends and relatives had turned to drug and alcohol abuse to cope, and their values — all they had left — rendered them ‘deplorable’ racists/sexists/homophobes. The millions who witnessed the wholesale destruction of their financial, physical, mental, and communal health, and then were laughed at and dismissed for voicing their concerns. The hundreds of thousands of square miles full of people who overwhelmingly voted against the elites who’ve snubbed them for 30+ years. What we need is to sit down with these people, here their concerns, listen to their experiences, and start working together to improve their lot. Changing up the epistemology curricula is about as far removed as possible. Seems to me that it would be far better to put down the books, leave the office, get off campus, and actually fucking talk with and listen to someone with a different opinion.Report

ProudDemocrat
ProudDemocrat
Reply to  ProudDemocrat
4 years ago

Another thought: Perhaps the best way to reach these disaffected millions and help make their lot in life (and our country) better would be to advocate more forcefully for free community-college education, paid tuition to public universities, reduced tuition at private universities, student loan debt forgiveness, public access to research and academic publications, a more prominent, public role for the academy. Maybe that would do something. Changing up the curriculum is a far cry from any of this.Report

recent grad
recent grad
Reply to  ProudDemocrat
4 years ago

The post is about what we might do qua philosophy teachers. What you’re asking is for things we might advocate for as people. Not that the things you list aren’t worth fighting for, but they completely miss the point of Justin’s post. In addition–and I want to scream this, given the comments here and by Leiter–we’re not faced with a choice between changing our syllabi or doing all these other things. One can do both.Report

ProudDemocrat
ProudDemocrat
Reply to  recent grad
4 years ago

True, I get that. It’s just that, in my experience in academia, the majority of academics (1) think stuff like this matters far more than it does, and (2) pursue stuff like this rather than other, more constructive actions (based on their false belief in (1)).Report

Daniel Kaufman
Reply to  recent grad
4 years ago

Don’t scream. It’ll damage your vocal chords.

If you think Leiter and I and others don’t understand that, you’re selling us pretty short. Between us, we’ve been teaching philosophy for almost half a century.

Our concern is that there’s a kind of implicit self-congratulation, not to mention cluelessness, that is manifested in some of these suggestions. And to deny that there is a smugness implicit in “Well, we’re just going to have to do a better job teaching epistemology, logic, etc., if the voters are going to elect someone like Trump,” strikes me as rather disingenuous.

Given that we not only lost the election, but were absolutely convinced we were going to win, right up to the end, it’s rather rich to say that it’s someone else who needs better lessons. Seems to me rather that it’s us who need them.Report

another grad student
another grad student
Reply to  ProudDemocrat
4 years ago

While the exit poll data may be limited, it tells a different story: 54% of white men with a college degree voted for Trump, 45% of white women with a college degree voted for Trump (see ref below). Now consider all the incidents of hate speech that have surfaced on campus, many of these perpetrated by students. Reforming the syllabus to discuss issues of race and gender is one way to help students consider other perspectives.

To respond to some other comments that have surfaced in the comments – it’s not about indoctrinating students into liberalism. The idea is that by talking about these issues (while providing a balanced and critical perspective on the research or issues) students may be able to reflect on people who are different from them, come to have more empathy for others, and generally develop a more nuanced view of gender, sexuality, and race.

The thing about voting for Trump is that he ran with an explicitly racist and anti-LGBTQ platform, and he made many openly misogynistic remarks. Even if, let’s say, college educated voters didn’t vote for him on this basis, these elements were still not deal breakers. This points to a lack of care or empathy for how damaging many of Trump’s policies would be for these groups – their marginalization was seen at least as acceptable collateral damage.

https://www.washingtonpost.com/graphics/politics/2016-election/exit-polls/Report

Hey Nonny Mouse
Hey Nonny Mouse
4 years ago

One good problem to deal with in our epistemology classes is how to break out of echo-chambers. This should not just be directed at the conservative echo-chambers, but also at the liberal echo-chamber and our various academic echo-chambers. Another good topic would be how to make sure that we challenge our own views, rather than just seeking to have them reinforced.

Another thing we can do is to try to lead by example by breaking up our own echo-chambers.Report

Hey Nonny Mouse
Hey Nonny Mouse
4 years ago

Any suggestions for how we can teach epistemology beyond the classroom? Potential Trump voters don’t seem to flock to epistemology classes. I teach epistemology, and I have yet to have a student who identifies themselves to me as a conservative. I get plenty of working class students, and I get conservatives in compulsory introductory classes, but no self-confessed conservatives in epistemology.

I think that if we are going to talk about epistemology to people who might vote Trump, we have to find new venues and new ways of talking. If we just talk to our epistemology classes, I fear that we are still in the same old echo-chamber, preaching to the converted. I am very pleased to see interest on this site in taking action, as philosophers, in response to this election. I fear, though, that we don’t know how to reach people who might not already agree with us.Report

Kathryn Pogin
Kathryn Pogin
4 years ago

It would be great if Agnotology: The Making and Unmaking of Ignorance, edited by Proctor and Schiebinger, was taught more.Report

Narpac
Narpac
4 years ago

Is Donald Trump the end result of intuition-based philosophical thinking?

http://justmorephilosophy.blogspot.com/2016/11/donald-trump-is-end-result-of.htmlReport

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

Nope. Philosophers turn to intuitions when matters can’t be resolved empirically. That’s not the same as ignoring empirical information and making up your own facts instead, which is what the author is criticizing Trump supporters for doing. .Report

Narpac
Narpac
Reply to  Hey Nonny Mouse
4 years ago

Philosophers do ignore empirical information.

See e.g. the paper Rethinking Outside the Toolbox by French & McKenzie or the first chapter of Every Thing Must Go by Ladyman & Ross.

There was also this nice paper published in Metaphilosophy:

“Philosophers who do not possess empirical knowledge of relevance to their research often make assumptions that are in fact empirical without their noticing. Also, they wrongly conceptualize empirical problems as if they were solvable from the armchair. … Empirical issues repeatedly crop up in philosophy. Philosophers who subscribe to the erroneous doctrine that they do not, and who do not master the relevant empirical discipline, are bound to fail to notice when they pass into its territory. Instead, they will try to solve the problems in question by means of their standard armchair methods.” (Schubert: Ernest Gellner’s Words and Things: A Case Study of Empirical Philosophy, 2015)Report

Narpac
Narpac
Reply to  Hey Nonny Mouse
4 years ago

From Every Thing Must Go:

“There are three ways in which analytic metaphysicians who rhetorically emulate science sometimes or often fail to follow through their naturalistic pretence:

(1) They ignore science even though it seems to be relevant.

(2) They use outdated or domesticated science rather than our best contemporary science.

(3) They take themselves to be able to proceed a priori in the investigation of matters upon which they claim science does not bear.”

This is the same thing as ‘ignoring empirical information and making up your own facts instead’.Report