Politically, What Should Philosophers, Qua Philosophers, Do?


A pair of philosophy graduate students write in with a topic for discussion:

Dear Philosophical Community,

Like many of our graduate student and faculty colleagues in philosophy, we are becoming increasingly alarmed by our political situation as the Trump administration has made good on reprehensible campaign promises.

Given that both of us primarily work in ethics, we feel a great responsibility to do something to combat the grave injustices that we are currently seeing, and which we expect to continue to see in the near future. Yet, at the same time we feel rather powerless—we are, after all, graduate students with limited time, energy, and resources, at very early stages in our academic careers, taking on a formidable opponent. We understand that despite this we can take steps as individual citizens to attend protests, call our senators, and donate our pay to select causes and organizations. We are doing as much so far.

However, we know that our greatest strengths lie in our philosophical training and want to take advantage of this. Are we wrong to think so? If not, what should we do qua philosophers to be politically effective? (We respectfully disagree with the view that philosophers, qua philosophers, should steer clear of politics.)

Should we be structuring our courses differently? Should we be organizing events on campus, and if so, of what nature? Should we be doing more public outreach (e.g. to schools and prisons) with the long game in view? Or is our best means of resistance to write long articles to one another?

Thanks for your time.
Concerned and Distressed

There has been some discussion of this on Daily Nous. On the day after the election, I posted about “three contributions to Trump’s success that philosophers and other academics can address in their courses and engagement with the public in a largely nonpartisan way.” I also ran several posts about election-inspired changes to courses in various subfields of philosophy, suggested we emphasize the unpresidential characteristics of Trump and his staff, reported on one collective repudiation of a Trump policy by philosophers, and published Rachel Barney’s anti-authoritarian academic code of conduct, among other things.

But a lot has happened in the opening weeks of Donald Trump’s presidency, so I’m open to further discussion with a focus on what, if anything, philosophers, qua philosophers, can and should do.

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A. J. Garrett
A. J. Garrett
4 years ago

The only thing philosophers qua philosophers can do is to study the fundamental assumptions and reasoning behind liberalism, conservatism, nationalism, religious fundamentalism, and other ideologies and political views.

What are the normative premises that liberals accept and conservatives deny? How do Trump supporters justify his policies? What exactly are the arguments? Is there any way to convince a nativist that immigration is a right, or are the fundamental premises just too different?

Instead of political activism, philosophers qua philosophers should be mostly interested in arguments, logical consistency, and the justification of fundamental normative premises. They should clarify these so that citizens and politicians, both liberal and conservative, are well-informed about them.Report

Hey Nonny Mouse
Hey Nonny Mouse
Reply to  A. J. Garrett
4 years ago

I agree that we must study these things, but how do we turn our studies into something that will help liberal and conservative citizens and politicians to be better informed? I think philosophers do wonderful academic work, but tend to just talk to one another.Report

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

I tend to agree with Nonny. It seems to me that philosopher qua philosophers also have a role in considering and discussing how arguments and theory might be applied. For example, I think it’s within our wheelhouse to discuss the practical implications of the work of folks like Rawls and Dworkin — both of whom I think make arguments that are eminently relevant to contemporary political discourse.Report

Matt LaVine
Matt LaVine
4 years ago

“Instead of political activism, philosophers qua philosophers should be mostly interested in arguments, logical consistency, and the justification of fundamental normative premises. They should clarify these so that citizens and politicians, both liberal and conservative, are well-informed about them.”

Why should one assume that being interested in these things needs to replace political activism? I think that focusing on clarity, rigor, and consistency in argumentation is more than sufficient for deep political activism in the current climate. It seems to me that nothing from Trump’s campaign, transition, or administration comes even close to meeting these goals. Furthermore, the vast, vast majority of philosophers I’ve talked with about such things feel the same way. Because of that, though, I also wouldn’t begrudge a Trump-supporting philosopher working on some political activism by trying to reconstruct Trump’s worldview in such a way that some semblance of argumentative sophistication becomes apparent.

I guess I really have two fundamental questions here:

(1) If we should be teaching students about clarity, rigor, and consistency in argumentation so that they can become better-informed political actors, why would our own focus on clarity, rigor, and consistency in argumentation not be connected to being political actors?

(2) Why is the default position that philosophers should not be political activists? Throughout the history of philosophy all around the world, we have seen the opposite.
Report

A. J. Garrett
A. J. Garrett
Reply to  Matt LaVine
4 years ago

I didn’t say that philosophers qua citizens shouldn’t be politically active. Of course they should. It is just not their job as _philosophers_.

Being a political activist means trying to win a political battle. Total intellectual honesty, which is my ideal for philosophical debate, is not well-suited for that kind of mission.Report

Hey Nonny Mouse
Hey Nonny Mouse
Reply to  A. J. Garrett
4 years ago

A.J., I think that the importance of total intellectual honesty probably makes philosophers poor leaders for political activist groups (or at the very least, unlikely to be placed in leadership positions in such groups). However, I don’t see any problem with being a political activist and intellectually honest per se. Political activism doesn’t require endorsing every simplistic slogan spouted by someone on “your side”.Report

DocFEmeritus
DocFEmeritus
Reply to  A. J. Garrett
4 years ago

I think I should point out that this position relegates us to the “Ivory Tower” that has stigmatized philosophy. We are not above the political fray, or at least should not be. The APA has urged philosophers to take a more active role in public discourse. I think we ought to do so.Report

B John Doyle
B John Doyle
4 years ago

I think philosophers made the mistake of foregoing discussions on the content of morality and leaving this to quantitatively prone social scientists. Clearly they have not done a good enough job to carrying that torch.. Maybe part of us fears that discussing the content of morality is somehow taking his back to Victorian times. Maybe that’s where we need to go or at least visit once in awhile. If a sexually predatory racist bully can make his way to power with the support of people who insist that he is an exemplar of true courage and honesty, we clearly need to pay more attention to articulating the content of morality. Our exasperated guffaws and quiet superciliousness is not enough.Report

Hey Nonny Mouse
Hey Nonny Mouse
4 years ago

Concerned and Distressed ask, “Should we be structuring our courses differently? Should we be organizing events on campus, and if so, of what nature? Should we be doing more public outreach (e.g. to schools and prisons) with the long game in view? Or is our best means of resistance to write long articles to one another?” I think there are some fine ideas here. We can look for opportunities for our courses to address the political issues of the day, and for our students to discuss politics in class. We don’t have to preach or take a side to do this. I don’t know how helpful campus events are, because I suspect they will only be attended by people who are already against Trump. Public outreach to schools and prisons is awesome. Again, we mustn’t preach, but can help others to think through the issues more clearly.

Writing long articles to each other, as the authors hint, does not on its own hold much promise of influencing the public. On the other hand, writing for the public strikes me as essential. We can reach many more people through mass media than we can otherwise. Some philosophers have written splendid editorials for newspapers. The APA committee on Public Philosophy might be a useful resource on how to go about this. One barely exploited venue are the popular books that relate philosophy to popular culture. If we can relate political issues to examples drawn from popular culture, we can potentially get significant numbers of readers, and what’s more, we can probably get significant numbers of conservative readers who might not otherwise be interested in reading what we have to say.

Finally, while Concerned and Distressed have my profound respect, I hope they take into account how competitive the job market is and the pressures on grad students to publish or perish. When they are looking for work, what will count is those long articles written for other philosophers and published in books and journals that only professional philosophers read.Report

Brian Weatherson
Reply to  Hey Nonny Mouse
4 years ago

> When they are looking for work, what will count is those long articles written for other philosophers and published in books and journals that only professional philosophers read.

I’m not at all convinced that is true. At least, I’m not convinced if “what will count” means “the only things that will count”.

It is necessary to have those long articles written for other philosophers. But there are many times more people who have those articles than there are jobs available. It is also important to stand out from the crowd. And public writing (of just the kind you’re endorsing) is a good way to do just that. Especially for grad students from schools (like my alma mater) that don’t always get taken seriously in the job market, having something distinctive on the resume, or having a name that people recognise when they see the file, is valuable. It’s not enough on its own, but I’m pretty sure that it matters.Report

DocFEmeritus
DocFEmeritus
Reply to  Hey Nonny Mouse
4 years ago

What would Socrates do?Report

Brian Weatherson
4 years ago

Writing philosophy doesn’t have to just mean writing for each other in specialised journals. Some excellent political philosophers have been doing publicly accessible writing on topical issues, drawing on their philosophical knowledge, for years. For one example worth emulating, see: http://crookedtimber.org/author/chris-bertram/

I know ‘get a blog’ sounds like horribly dated advice these days, as if we’re back in 2002 or 2003. But a lot that is happening now feels like things that happened in the run up to the (second) Iraq War, and maybe looking back at what worked and didn’t work then is a good idea.Report

dmf
dmf
4 years ago

I think the best thing academic philosophers can do in these matters is to try and get their unions to resist attacks on their uni funding and attacks on tenure, and stop making their livings selling debt to many more students than can possibly find jobs. If there is any arena where philosophical reasoning has value/influence it might be in philo depts and liberal arts colleges and if not there then why think it would/should work elsewhere? a bit of x-philo in the making…

http://first100days.stsprogram.org/2017/02/06/post-truth-alt-facts-and-asymmetric-controversies-part-i/Report

Michael Cholbi
4 years ago

You may think I’m kidding, but we should follow the Socratic dictum that philosophy is preparation for death, i.e., help students and the wider public engage with the fear of death that seems to foment support for authoritarianism: http://wapo.st/2lSGd5C
Report

Greg Gauthier
Reply to  Michael Cholbi
4 years ago

Your book on Kant’s Ethics (https://www.amazon.co.uk/Understanding-Kants-Ethics-Michael-Cholbi-ebook/dp/B01JGMEA8K/ref=tmm_kin_swatch_0?_encoding=UTF8&qid=&sr=) is fantastic. I’m on Chapter 3 right now, and loving it. Thanks for the effort. I’m finding it very rewarding.Report

John Fensel
John Fensel
4 years ago

Academics need to stop using their positions to push their political beliefs. Conservatives are already discouraged from participating in discussions because so many professors come in with the assumption that everyone is anti-Trump like they are. Report

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

Academics should not uses their classes to push their political beliefs. On the other hand, academics need to do more to talk about politics with the broader public, which can include arguing for specific political conclusions.Report

DocFEmeritus
DocFEmeritus
Reply to  John Fensel
4 years ago

So no conservative professors push their views? I find nothing wrong with presenting a political view to be considered by a class — and subject to open criticism both positive and negative. I totally agree that any professor who shoves their views down students’ throats and is intolerant of opposite views is acting unethically and is just plain wrong to do so. But that is not the same as presenting a view for discussion.Report

Brian Weatherson
4 years ago

Actually, maybe the best thing for philosophers qua philosophers to do would just be to do our jobs as academics. That seems to be working pretty well as far as it goes.

http://www.people-press.org/2017/02/16/in-first-month-views-of-trump-are-already-strongly-felt-deeply-polarized/1_10-4/Report

BB
BB
4 years ago

On the view I am inclined to take of philosophy and the reasons commitment to it generates, perhaps the most natural way of asking this question makes bad presuppositions: saying that philosophers qua philosophers should try to address the current political problems seems just as wrong-headed as saying that mathematicians qua mathematicians or poets qua poets should. (Of course some great poets are political, but it would be a shame if every poet, or even every poet living in troubled times, had to be.) Rather, if anything our responsibility is to put less energy into philosophy and put more into politics.

That said, I do think our troubled times do make a different to what we should do qua philosophers. For one thing, it should perhaps matter to how we teach applied ethics. I’m teaching applied ethics and found I just couldn’t stomach the standard puzzles about abortion (in the way Thomson and her main interlocutors approach it), euthanasia, etc; it seemed too precious and too distinct from the pressing issues about racism, inequality, the disintegration of public discourse and trust in government, the threat of living under undemocratic conditions, the origins of dictatorship, etc. that are staring my students in the face. But I do not teach these things because I want to use my teaching (and my students!) as means to the end of fighting injustice; I see my reasons as deriving from a purely pedagogical responsibility to teach applied ethics in a way that will help my students make better sense of their situations. At present, that happens to make my teaching more political.Report

Ciaran Cummins
4 years ago

Justin great to see a post on this, thank you for opening up a discussion!

I am the editor-in-chief for undercurrentphilosophy.com. We are a public philosophy site founded last year by a group of current and former postgraduate philosophy students from London. The site initially started as a platform for students and alumni to have their philosophical engagement with current affairs and public life (which has so far just been through writing, but we encourage all media) published as little or as often as they’d like. We’ve now altered our remit to include occasional posts from professional philosophers, but with a focus on public philosophy here also, and are currently in the process of creating an interactive map of community philosophy groups in the UK and Ireland (though are submissions aren’t exclusive to this area).

I think one of the best things philosophers can do, along with the many fantastic suggestions made in this discussion, is to simply keep the discussion going. “Well duh” you might be thinking, but I think part of the reason this question need be asked is because it hasn’t had enough sustained exploration. Moreover, I think it repays exploration as public life and our political cultures shift, meaning we can’t assume what older such explorations concluded.

I believe there’s many small, and some large, ways philosophers can engage in public life and in politics that they do not already (or do not in greater numbers). But we will only get a better understanding of this is we keep discussing it.

How best, then, to keep the discussion going? Here is good for now, but of course posts run quiet eventually. I would suggest the PPN (http://publicphilosophynetwork.ning.com/) but it seems very dormant.

Anyway, thank you again Justin for keeping the discussion going here!Report

DocFEmeritus
DocFEmeritus
Reply to  Ciaran Cummins
4 years ago

Great idea for your site, will check it out. And I agree 100% with your comments.Report

Moderate
Moderate
4 years ago

While it’s certainly a good thing to write public philosophy, doing so is unlikely to have much of an impact in the current situation. The fact is that the vast majority the people who care what professional philosophers think about politics are *already* opposed to Trump. Trump’s supporters simply don’t care what professional philosophers think, since they view our profession as an echo-chamber of liberal elites who have no respect for–and no understanding of–their view of the world. That conception isn’t entirely accurate, but it’s not entirely inaccurate, either.

Before public philosophy is going to make any difference, philosophers have to try to regain some degree of credibility with (reasonable) conservatives. Given that the APA seems to be doing everything they can to make sure this never happens, it seems to me that it will have to start with individual professors in the classroom. Teach conservative ideas charitably, treat conservative students with respect (even, perhaps, when they don’t merit it), make a modicum of effort at being politically neutral in the classroom. (This, I take it, is not different from the advice to simply do our jobs.) If every philosophy teacher does that for 20 years or so, maybe a future conservative voter will take public philosophy seriously.
Report

DocFEmeritus
DocFEmeritus
Reply to  Moderate
4 years ago

Yes, we need to appeal to the anti-intellectual element of American society??! Just kidding, and I do agree with the idea of how to teach conservative ideas in our classes. I remember being excoriated in a grad student discussion group for daring to say William F Buckley had some good views on the topics we were discussing and I agreed with them. So, yeah, let’s be fair in our presentations, but also aware that whatever we say publicly will be dismissed as “elitist” by a large portion of the public.Report

Mark Jago
4 years ago

My dept is putting on a new module, Philosophy in the Contemporary World. We’re aiming to get students talking about topics like Implicit bias, Refugees & migration, gender identity, climate change denial, and more. We’re hoping this will have several advantages:

– Getting students talking, at a high level, about important topics they might not otherwise discuss in academic terms
– Exposing students (of all opinions or none) to the scientific facts of the matter (e.g. on climate change)
– (If all goes to plan) it will show students a way to debate these issues in a respectful way.

It goes without saying that we can teach courses like this without pushing any view on our students!Report

Kathryn Pogin
Kathryn Pogin
4 years ago

I agree a bit with Moderate above — specifically, I agree with Moderate that we should teach conservative ideas charitably, and make positive efforts to make conservative students feel comfortable in the classroom (as we should with any student), and in a way that facilitates participation. I think this is part of doing our jobs, but I also think it’s politically important to create space for genuine dialogue, to cultivate curiosity, and critical thinking.

That said, I don’t think Trump is a conservative. I’m not merely saying that as an outsider looking in on the conservative American community — I come from a conservative family. I grew up on Ayn Rand, Milton Friedman, Rush Limbaugh. Obviously, Trump ran on the Republican ticket, but that doesn’t mean he’s a conservative.

As for what we should do, as philosophers, I don’t really know, but here are some other ideas:

1. Getting in contact with some of the student organizations on campus that represent affected students, and seeing if there are ways to help. (That’s not necessarily making use of your training as a philosopher, but there are unique ways academics can help, e.g., pushing university administrators to respond appropriately, or requesting help for fellow students where the university might not realize there’s a need).
2. Following various campus student orgs on facebook to know when protests, demonstrations or teach-ins organized by others are taking place.
3. If you know people who are impacted, think about if your academic network has any helpful resources, e.g., if you know someone impacted by the immigration orders who needs legal help, do you know anyone in a law school who can help direct you the right places to get them support?
4. Make an effort to engage people across the aisle — like I said, I don’t think Trump is a conservative, so I think there are coalitions to be built there, but beyond that, I think there’s something that can be deeply humanizing about taking someone seriously as an epistemic agent, and correspondingly, that real conversations (when possible) can open us up to evidence we might otherwise reject out of hand — ad as ethicists you have evidence to get on the table — e.g., http://www.newyorker.com/magazine/2015/11/23/conversion-via-twitter-westboro-baptist-church-megan-phelps-roper

Report

prime
prime
Reply to  Kathryn Pogin
4 years ago

“[S]pecifically, I agree with Moderate that we should teach conservative ideas charitably.]

Serious question: What are some of these ideas?

The global warming consensus among climate scientists is a liberal hoax? The country should return to “the good old days” before the Civil Rights Movement? There should be no legally protected right to an abortion, regardless of the diversity of values in the country and the practical consequences for women? Immigration policies should focus on border control and deportation rather than on penalizing businesses that unlawfully employ immigrants? The immorality of homosexuality is a matter of public concern? Voter suppression tactics are fair as long as they’re in technical compliance with the law? Radical and growing economic inequality is not a moral or political problem, at least to any extent that warrants direct intervention by the state? Intense (White-Black) racial segregation is a fact of American life about which, in deference to personal liberties and colorblindness, the state must remain neutral? State provision of affordable basic health care should not be an entitlement in our affluent country?

Maybe I’ve missed other “conservative” ideas that are at least as compelling.Report

Urstoff
Urstoff
Reply to  prime
4 years ago

Thinking about them as charitably as possible, I see. Report

Kathryn Pogin
Kathryn Pogin
Reply to  prime
4 years ago

If you’d like a serious response I’ll give one, but despite the preface, your comment reads as sarcastic rather than serious. Report

prime
prime
Reply to  Kathryn Pogin
4 years ago

I was not being sarcastic. Maybe you’ve encountered reasonable conservative ideas. That’s why I asked. I see no reason to assume that ideas branded “conservative,” ‘liberal,” whatever are due respect in the political domain simply because some or even many people happen to take those ideas seriously.

American conservatives used to demand that pro-slavery and pro-segregation claims be taken seriously. I’m sure conservative ideas have gotten better than that, but I seriously don’t know what they are.Report

ajkreider
ajkreider
Reply to  prime
4 years ago

Here are a few, some just characterized differently than those you mentioned:
(I trust “reasonable” will not be confused with “true”)
1. Lowering taxes on businesses and the wealthy stimulates the economy in a way that helps people to a greater degree than would raising taxes to fund redistributive policies.
2. Income inequality is not bad in itself.
3. The kinds of policies suggested to keep global climate change at bay will hurt the poor more than the impact of global climate change.
4. Open borders are a bad idea, and rewarding those who entered or stayed illegally with normalized status is an injustice to those attempting to enter legally.
5. Abortion is a great moral wrong, and at the very least should not be funded by tax dollars.
6. Affirmative action punishes innocent people for the wrongs of others.
7. People should be permitted to spend as much of their own money as they want to support the election of their favored candidate.
8. The federal government has claimed authority in areas more properly left to states and local municipalities.
9. Social welfare programs discourage work and foster dependency, and this is reason to reform them and limit their scope.

Etc.Report

prime
prime
Reply to  ajkreider
4 years ago

I appreciate the statement of ideas. I still don’t grasp what would make most of them “conservative,” even if they’re more often held by people who take themselves to be conservative. In response:
1. The truth or plausibility of an empirical claim can’t be conservative. But a value claim about what “helps people” might be.
2. Many non-conservatives would agree about the “in itself” part.
3. See (1).
4. Many non-conservatives are inclined to agree.
5. Many non-conservatives would agree re the use of taxpayer funds.
6. The intellectually impoverished framing of affirmative action isn’t charitable to conservatives.
7. This seems more like a libertarian idea than a conservative one.
8. This certainly can be a conservative idea, depending on what those “areas more properly left to states” (e.g., civil rights protections) are.
9. See (1). No one would disagree if the empirical claim is indeed true.

Maybe the real and reasonable point is that ideas voiced by “conservatives” shouldn’t be dismissed largely on that basis.Report

Kathryn Pogin
Kathryn Pogin
Reply to  prime
4 years ago

Thanks for clarifying prime. One point is the one ajkreider already made. Another is that I don’t think treating ideas charitably is the same as treating them as if they are compelling. I watched a video earlier today where Milo Yiannopoulos advocates for the view that it’s permissible (sometimes good) for adults to have sexual relationships with young teenagers (I think he said as young as 13, but I’m certain he included references to 14 year olds). I don’t think this is an idea that’s compelling — I think it’s obviously wrong, but for just that reason, if a student were to come to me wanting to write a paper on this issue in connection with his argument, it seems all the more important that I treat the idea charitably so that any objections I raise would be objections to the view as it is, or can be, understood by those who hold it. Third is that I wasn’t suggesting conservative ideas deserve charity because people hold them — I think in the classroom we should treat ideas in general charitably. But when it comes to political issues, there’s an additional practical benefit in charity which is that it helps people actually talk to one another rather than past each other. For example, I think the average conservative does not think of voter ID laws as voter suppression — some politicians might, but that’s not how they’ve sold it to their constituents. So, for example, I think describing someone who supports voter ID laws as thinking voter suppression tactics are fair as long as they’re in technical compliance with the law is likely to result in someone self-defensively shutting down when they might otherwise be open to hearing arguments against their view.

I do, of course, think there are limits to charity, but I also think there can be benefits in terms of facilitating dialogue. Report

prime
prime
Reply to  Kathryn Pogin
4 years ago

“Yet academic studies and election-law experts broadly agree that voter fraud is not a widespread problem in American elections. Rather, they say, it is a widespread political tactic used either to create doubt about an election’s validity or to keep one’s opponents — in most cases, Democratic voters — from casting ballots. In unguarded moments, some Republican supporters of the laws have been inclined to agree.”
https://www.nytimes.com/2016/09/17/us/some-republicans-acknowledge-leveraging-voter-id-laws-for-political-gain.html?_r=0Report

Kathryn Pogin
Kathryn Pogin
Reply to  Kathryn Pogin
4 years ago

Yeah, I’m not denying that some people think this. I’m saying I don’t think that’s the majority. Report

Moderate
Moderate
Reply to  Kathryn Pogin
4 years ago

I agree that Trump is not really a conservative (although a lot of people who voted for him are.) My personal take is that conservatism has lost its way in part because there are so few visible conservative intellectuals, and Trump is a symptom of that. Conservatives have lost faith in educated, articulate people generally, and the vacuum has been filled by people like Trump and Sean Hannity, who have no consistent political vision at all, let alone a consistently conservative one. If I’m right about that, that’s another reason to teach conservative thinkers in class. I’d much prefer my conservative-leaning students to be drawing inspiration Roger Scruton rather than Milo Yianoppolous or Ann Coulter.Report

Urstoff
Urstoff
4 years ago

Nothing, qua philosophers. The original philosophical virtue is skepticism, particularly of one’s own beliefs. I doubt most philosophers (not to mention most people) are sufficiently skeptical of their own beliefs, particularly political beliefs, that the answer to the question posited could be anything but “don’t do anything and instead ask more questions of the positions you and others are taking”. Leave the classroom activism to the True Believers. Report

Bharath Vallabha
4 years ago

In American politics, economic and cultural issues are running head long into each other. There is anxiety about jobs, income inequality, the disruption of going from an industrial to an information age, etc. There is also of anxiety about social, cultural issues, in particular, “Is the white, Christian American identity being destroyed, and overtaken, by identity politics?” Put these two anxieties together, and many are moved by the idea that losing their jobs and losing their culture are connected, and have to be resisted together.

What can an academic philosopher qua philosopher do about this? First thing to do is to see that the situation is exactly analogous to what is happening within academic philosophy.

In academic philosophy too the economic and cultural issues are running into each other. There aren’t enough jobs for everyone with a PhD. And more and more, women and other minorities are getting PhDs and making a claim on many of the jobs which before went to white males studying traditional Western philosophy. This economic anxiety morphs into questions of whether feminism or non-Western philosophy is really philosophy or is a lower order of philosophy.

if academic philosophers can create a space of trusting, meaningful conversations between the meta-bros and the social justice warriors in their own profession, then they can help model and pass that on to society more broadly. We are in sore need of such balanced interactions. It’s not sexy. It doesn’t give immediate gratification. But, it seems to me, it is the only solution in the long run.Report

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

White men with tenure or who are on tenure-track and not competing with anybody or feeling the economic squeeze from anybody’s competition.Report

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

Sorry. I meant that such white men ARE not competing with anyone.Report

dmf
dmf
Reply to  Bharath Vallabha
4 years ago

“if academic philosophers can create a space of trusting, meaningful conversations between the meta-bros and the social justice warriors in their own profession” this seems key, whenever people talk about philosophers as sorts of exemplars (or just how to experts) for democracy/cooperation/civil-discourse/etc I always want to ask if they’ve seen comment threads on these sorts of sites let alone been in faculty meetings.Report

Alan White
Alan White
4 years ago

A seriously rhetorical question: are there world views that are so unfounded empirically, so economically unjust by any reasonable standard, so racist and sexist as devoid of moral credibility, that they are not be entertained at all, but shunned? Clearly any world views that failed all three of these tests are not deserving of advocacy, but only criticism–they are morally lost worlds.

Somewhat less rhetorically, are there world views that incorporate traits of this triumvirate quality of a morally lost world? Sure. Plenty–and labelled as conservative, liberal, and many others neologized in the political blender.

I see our job as philosophers as exploring known world views for the degree to which they are closer to or farther from being a morally lost world. The morally lost world is the baseline–what we need to establish is what are morally workable worlds that achieve enough of truth, economic justice, and equality as to be plausible.

We need to work off some agreed horror of morally lost worlds that must be avoided at all costs, and go from there. FWIW.Report

Edward Teach
Edward Teach
4 years ago

I think we need more public figure heads who are regularly engaged with the media where possible. Say what you will about Tomi and Milo, they get people watching, they present arguments which, whilst severely lacking, are enough to give their supporters tools to dismiss the ‘outrage’ coming from us leftie ‘snowflakes’ as nonsense, and if you like what they say well, their demeanor and style is appealing. They’re essentially a brand that people can buy into that also has the appearance of intellectual debate. I’m definitely not saying give tit for tat or emulate what they do, but having some consistent figures that non-philosophers can feel they can get on board with, or aspire to be like, who can also give simple answers to the arguments being made could go a long way.

WSJ and NYT etc. are taking up the mantle against fake news, we need people to take up the mantle against fake arguments. Report

Concerned Ethicist
Concerned Ethicist
4 years ago

[Editor’s Note: Commenting at DN normally requires either a social media login or a a working and accurate email address (see comments policy). I am making an exception from this policy for the following comment, which was submitted without either. Don’t expect further exceptions to be made.]

“Like many of our graduate student and faculty colleagues in philosophy, we are becoming increasingly alarmed by our political situation as the Trump administration has made good on reprehensible campaign promises.

Given that both of us primarily work in ethics, we feel a great responsibility to do something to combat the grave injustices that we are currently seeing, and which we expect to continue to see in the near future.”

I’m a philosopher, I work on ethics, I voted for Trump, and I support the majority of his policies to date. Why exactly should I “do something” about what I believe Trump is right to do, and furthermore, why exactly should I take any of his policies as something that I need to “combat” as a “grave injustice”?

Most of this hand-wringing about Trump is indistinguishable from hysterics in the media, which are themselves amplifications of what were, as recently as 5-10 years ago, fringe views in fringe academic departments.

Why should any philosophers, let alone philosophers qua philosophers, have any dog in this so very obviously partisan fight? Please don’t slip into the comfy view shared by an unsettingly large minority of the profession (those active on social media) who feel the need to conflate their personal opinions and feelings with philosophy tout court. Report

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

I’m confused about what the problem is here. If you approve of Trump’s actions, you will have no reason to fight them. On the other hand, those who do not approve of Trump’s actions will have reason to think that they should be fought, and to ask what philosophers should be doing to fight them.Report

Kate Norlock
Reply to  Concerned Ethicist
4 years ago

“Why should any philosophers, let alone philosophers qua philosophers, have any dog in this so very obviously partisan fight?” This is a good and important question, and it merits a better answer than I’ve time to write, but I would like to say at least a bit in reply.

It is a pressing question which fight one means. Some of the objections to Trump’s policies are partisan, indeed. But some are not. For example, on my campus, several philosophers held a public panel on the concern that the US President’s repeated description of journalists as ‘so dishonest’ and news as ‘fake’ is undermining of how we are to understand our options with respect to information, trust, and facts. Philosophers of epistemology, ethics, and science expressed a multiplicity of reasons for concern that our students may be receiving the wrong messages from a very powerful and influential figure as to what counts as news, as a fact, as trustworthy or biased yet true reportage.

Another example is that of the rejection, on the part of some of us, of the value of a travel-stop that seemed primarily to disadvantage, arbitrarily, some who happened to be traveling on that weekend, including a family from Iran with a four-month old baby scheduled for heart surgery in the USA, a long-scheduled operation which transparently was not a matter of, as the President suggested, “our national security at stake.” The travel-stop further included detaining landed immigrants with green cards who have already been through the long, slow, and expensive vetting progress that takes multiple years and thousands of dollars. If anyone president’s administration suddenly stops the right, to travel in and out of one’s new country, of a landed and legal immigrant, ethicists and philosophers are (I suggest) reasonably startled by such a move.

I say this knowing that when I was asked to be on that aforementioned panel on my campus, I hesitated. I am aware that I am not a member of the President’s party, and I needed time to sort out what matters to me as a member of a politically opposed party, and what matters to me as a professor of ethics and political justice, before speaking to our students. I believe that it’s complex, and that your central question ought to be sorted out by all of us who want to do something on our campuses and as Justin said, qua philosophers. I believe I successful sorted it out, myself, and our students reported that they appreciated the panel, that it did help them think about some nonpartisan issues of truth, trust, epistemology, and social justice. I encourage others to hold events on your campus that are open to all members of your campus community. Offer philosophy to those who do not take your classes. Bring to bear some of the analyses that we’re skilled at to issues that, as it turns out, some of our campus members are hungry to discuss.Report

Emma Ragnhof
Emma Ragnhof
4 years ago

I may be off, but there’s something that I think philosophers as well as any other person could focus more on:
To articulate that they understand why anyone would vote for Trump. We need to understand where people come from before we try to change their opinion, and our opponent needs to know that too. It will not work if we articulate against them with all our might. They’ll feel attacked.
Look at the pages about “I regret voting for Trump”. Maybe you’ll find some sympathy there. Maybe you’ll understand why it’s a tricky road to be heard as a philosopher. I think this is key before any academic tools will ever come in useful. Report

Dan Hicks
4 years ago

Marx wrote that “the philosophers have, so far, only interpreted the world; the point now is to change it.” This thread makes it clear that his criticism of philosophy is still painfully apt.

Here are some philosophers who were or have been involved in social movements and political organizations, held elected office, served on expert advisory committees for government agencies, etc. These are just the people I can think off at the top of my head at 6:30am.

John Stuart Mill
Karl Marx
Rosa Luxemburg
John Dewey
Bertrand Russell
Moritz Schlick
Otto Neurath*
Rudolph Carnap
Simone de Beauvoir
Jean-Paul Sartre
Frantz Fanon
Martin Luther King*
Huey P. Newton
Angela Davis
Alasdair MacIntyre
Iris Young
Elizabeth Anscombe
Kristin Shrader-Frechette
Judith Butler

* philosopher by courtesyReport

James Meyer
4 years ago

The philosopher is determined to seek the love of wisdom. Is this not to question in open dialogue that which one sees as unwise. I would add Foucault, Agamben and James with Dan’s list, not so sure about Evola.Report