Scholarship and Care


Over the past few days, many members of the philosophical community have been expressing disappointment, sadness, and outrage over the recent controversy concerning the journal Hypatia‘s publication of “In Defense of Transracialism,” by Rebecca Tuvel (Rhodes College), and the journal’s response to criticism for publishing it. As more than one person put it, the situation is “a mess.” 

It needn’t be a useless mess, though. It would be good if something constructive came of it. 
In a Facebook update earlier today, Lisa Miracchi (University of Pennsylvania) raised a question I thought would be worth sharing with the broader philosophical community:

The central question raised by Tuvel’s article and Hypatia’s handling of it is: what standards of care and scholarship are required when working academically on social justice issues (as author, referee, editor, etc.), especially when one is not a member of the underrepresented groups being discussed? This is an incredibly important and pressing question for us to talk about, and I do not want it to get lost here.
I appreciate Professor Miracchi’s permission to post her question here, and welcome constructive discussion of it. 

(If you happen to think that this question is not worth asking, please do not bother taking up space in the comments to say so. If you think other questions are worth asking, feel free to email them to me as suggestions for future posts. Thanks.)

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Alex Gregory
3 years ago

One thought (obviously not intended to be decisive): If the standards for writing about social justice are set much higher than those for writing on other philosophical topics, the effect may not be that more high quality work is published about social justice, but that very little is published on it at all. Most of us have various workplace incentives to be publishing regularly, and if publishing on social justice requires more work, the area will become to that extent less attractive to work in.Report

Juliet
Juliet
Reply to  Alex Gregory
3 years ago

I wonder how we can define “care and scholarship”? Especially, say, for a young researcher or PhD student (should young researchers refrain from entering these fields?)
Would a good will be enough to be defined as caring? Or does that mean only good paper should be allowed? But isn’t it the purpose of peer review to define what is good from what is bad?
And if it mean something else, what is it? Maybe caring in that context would mean caring about the outcomes of one’s paper?
Still, it’s possible to care a lot about something, to make your best efforts and rigor into it, to have the best intentions for the outcomes, and still fail somehow. I’m afraid the concept of care is too ambiguous to solve the debate here…
Report

ikj
ikj
Reply to  Alex Gregory
3 years ago

I think we just have to admit that in the present climate, there is essentially no incentive for people who not members of the underrepresented group to do work on issues of race, gender, sexuality. The issue is less one of difficulty (i.e. “care”) than it is one of diminishing returns. While I understand the urge to say that there have been enough white, cis, so forth people opining on these matters to never hear from such people again, it is not really a sustainable position if the goal is to change things for the better. And yet here we are, where as a friend of mine recently said via text, “This is why I don’t want to touch race and gender with a 10 foot pole.” How can this be a good thing for inquiry?Report

Will Behun
Will Behun
Reply to  ikj
3 years ago

I think many of us will agree that we need to hear from and prioritise the voices of the people most directly impacted by these inquiries. I steer clear not because I don’t have opinions I think are worth considering, and not because I think I will do injury to the people whose interests are represented, but because I fear my own privilege and blind spots as a cis het white man will ultimately pose too great a risk that I will do damage or injury inadvertently. Best, in these cases, for me to shut the hell up and listen, both to the voices of marginalised thinkers and to those who, while outside of the marginalised group, have more well considered things to say.

I don’t consider myself to have been frozen out of the discourse or silenced in any way. I think that better voices are just having a chance. So, I think that the questions here of care and rigour is exactly the one we ought to be asking; are the traditional methods of peer review appropriate? Who counts as a “peer” in these cases? Does anonymity help or hinder our care for scholarship? Is there a place for “dangerous” positions? Where do we draw the line between earnest but dangerous expression and speech-violence? What role do social media play in working out these questions? Is there a limit to the extent of intersectionality? What are the consequences if there is? If there isn’t?

As you can see, I’m much better at asking questions than giving any substantive answers, so for that I beg forgiveness. Report

Urstoff
Urstoff
Reply to  Will Behun
3 years ago

“I fear my own privilege and blind spots as a cis het white man will ultimately pose too great a risk that I will do damage or injury inadvertently”

What kind of damage or injury are you afraid of causing? Can you give an example of what you think might happen or an instance of something that has happened in the past (by anyone, not you in particular)?
Report

krell_154
krell_154
Reply to  Will Behun
3 years ago

”I don’t consider myself to have been frozen out of the discourse or silenced in any way. I think that better voices are just having a chance. ”

What does ”better voices” mean here? Voices that provide better arguments? Shouldn’t anonymous peer review be the judge of the quality of arguments presented in a paper? You know, the procedure science invented in order to curb as much as possible biases and shortcomings of subjectivity?

If not (and it seems to me your words lean on ”not”, since you do seem to question the need for peer review in the remainder of your comment), then it should be clearly stated that that kind of work on race and gender, in which ”better” does not mean ”better according to blind peer review”, does not satisfy the minimum requirements of scientific methodology, and is pure activism.Report

David Mathers
David Mathers
Reply to  krell_154
3 years ago

‘ in which ”better” does not mean ”better according to blind peer review”, does not satisfy the minimum requirements of scientific methodology, and is pure activism.’

Last doesn’t follow from the other claims without further argument. If you think that peer review is irredeemably biased on a particular topic, and you can give good reasons for this, it’s not ‘pure activism’ to then be dubious that peer review on that topic means terribly much. (Not an endorsement of the claim that it is irredeemably biased on the topic at hand, or that there is a better alternative if it is.)Report

krell_154
krell_154
Reply to  David Mathers
3 years ago

Correct.

But I don’t think that blind peer review is irredeemably biased on a particular topic.

To be more precise: there is no method that does the job of curbing subjectivity and biases better than blind peer review does it.

I hold it almost self-evident that science (in the broad sense, not just natural sciences) is all about curbing biases as much as possible; therefore, removing blind peer review from the equation would make the whole equation much less scientific (and if you think that the best we can do in curbing biases – by blind peer review – is also the minimum we can do to ensure some work is scientific, then it would follow that removing blind peer review would make a certain discipline unscientific)Report

Trans Grad
Trans Grad
Reply to  ikj
3 years ago

“While I understand the urge to say that there have been enough white, cis, so forth people opining on these matters to never hear from such people again, it is not really a sustainable position if the goal is to change things for the better.” Can you expand on this? I personally have had enough of what white and cis people have to say on these topics and if our discipline is supposed to be growing more inclusive and welcoming, maybe white and cis people DO just need to sit down and stop talking about them for awhile and make room for black, PoC, and trans voices.Report

ikj
ikj
Reply to  Trans Grad
3 years ago

To be clear, I don’t think I’m arguing that white, cis, hetero, etc. people don’t need to shut up and listen. The debates on these matters have and will continue to profit from sensitivity and thoughtfulness, as would most (all?) debates.

At the same time, I see the more or less explicit exclusionary disciplinary practices that the open letter throws into relief as initial steps in defining activist work rather than particularly strong methodological or ethical approaches. As initial steps, they serve a purpose, which is to bring out that which has been erased and to insist that the people whose lives these matters affect must be listened to and taken seriously. If in order to do so they chill contributions from members of over-represented groups for a time, so be it.

But these initial moves of (self)definition need, in my view, to be overcome for a few reasons. First, the bigger the tent, the more likely we are to see real change. Second, failure to include “outside” perspectives assumes that the “inside” perspective is not subject to critique or revision except from inside, which can lead to groupthink. Third, and related to the first, I would argue that if social/political change is the goal, what is needed from members of the rest of the demos (the folks who are not members of the underrepresented groups) is not “allies,” but partners. That is, you want people who are invested in the struggle for justice not because of their relationship to a specific–let’s say trans* person–or to an abstract sense of morality, but rather people who are invested in a crucial way in that struggle for justice. And it is difficult, if not impossible, to be a partner to someone who is not interested in hearing your thoughts on the struggle, no matter where that lack of interest comes stems from. Report

GG
GG
Reply to  Trans Grad
3 years ago

It seems to me like there’s room for everyone to talk. There’s no need to shut down anyone: we can hear everyone just fine. (Of course, some of us close our ears when others talk, but shutting up one group (whoever it is) isn’t going to change that.) Report

Grad Student
Grad Student
Reply to  Alex Gregory
3 years ago

“I think many of us will agree that we need to hear from and prioritise the voices of the people most directly impacted by these inquiries.”
“I personally have had enough of what white and cis people have to say on these topics”

I wonder: Has anyone before Tuvel presented the kinds of arguments that she develops? For example, she replies to some objections to the claim that Dolezal could be black and, from reading the article, it looks to me like some of these are her own original replies. Perhaps she has followed the debate surrounding Dolezal closely for a while and felt that some very important considerations were not given any attention in the debate or have been dismissed too quickly. For example, in replying to an objection that says Dolezal could not be black because she was not subject to racism while growing up, Tuvel asks why it is not sufficient to have been subject to racism as an adult (as Dolezal very well may have been). That seems like a good question to raise in response to that particular objection, and a quite challenging one. So, if no one in the debate surrounding Dolezal had previously brought up this point or provided a clear answer to the question, it may be fine for Tuvel to make this point, even though she is not trans or black?

The broader point here is the following: suppose you are committed to prioritizing the voices of people most directly impacted by a certain type of inquiry and you listen to them and educate yourself on the issue etc. But, after following the debate for a while, taking into account your own epistemic limitations, given your social position, you still are convinced that some very important arguments have not been considered in the debate. It seems to me that, at that point, it is fine to chime in. Interested to hear your thoughts on this. Perhaps the Tuvel case is not actually an instance of what I am describing in this paragraph. But the more general question still seems relevant as we are going forward.Report

Trans Grad
Trans Grad
Reply to  Grad Student
3 years ago

I can’t tell whether you are replying to me but I’m going to respond since you quoted me.

“But, after following the debate for a while, taking into account your own epistemic limitations, given your social position, you still are convinced that some very important arguments have not been considered in the debate.” I don’t think there is any conceptual reason that limits people, in principle, from doing this. However, white and cis scholars have shown that they are unable to treat these topics with care time and time again (so, I’m not convinced that people who aren’t from the marginalized groups in question are able to do this part in particular: “after following the debate for a while, taking into account your own epistemic limitations, given your social position”). There was an excellent list of examples going around in the Nora Berenstain facebook post that was shared widely, and some examples came up in the last thread hosted here as well including high profile feminist philosophers like Sally Haslanger. The Tuvel case is just another in a long list of examples showing that this is a systematic problem in philosophy. It is confusing to me why people are insisting on discussing this conceptual case when philosophers have shown that they are unable to do this in practice.Report

Grad Student
Grad Student
Reply to  Trans Grad
3 years ago

Thanks for your reply, Trans Grad.Report

Joe
Joe
Reply to  Trans Grad
3 years ago

“However, white and cis scholars have shown that they are unable to treat these topics with care time and time again.”

I’m sorry, a list of a few examples of (allegedly) problematic pieces by white/cis scholars is not even remotely sufficient to justify what would be, in other contexts, an extraordinarily offensive blanket generalization about a huge group of scholars that is based solely on their race or demographic status. We are already admitting that there are epistemic limitations and positional biases (as everyone should). But now Daily Nous is publishing comments which suggest that these scholars are *literally unable* to overcome these biases and write productively on these topics. SURELY such declarations need to be substantiated more fully. Swap the relevant demographics and they’re the academic equivalent of my drunk Uncle Jim going on about how people of certain ethnicities are naturally violent because he’s had two or three bad experiences.

Doubtless, however, this is just my positional bias talking.Report

Eric Johnson-DeBaufre
3 years ago

I think an equally central question raised by the recent controversy is this: what standards of behavior ought to be in effect among members of the academic community when responding to scholarship with which one disagrees and which is produced by someone working on social justice issues but who is not a member of the underrepresented groups being discussed? That too is an incredibly important and pressing question, and we should not let it get lost here.Report

Eric Johnson-DeBaufre
Reply to  Eric Johnson-DeBaufre
3 years ago

There is, in other words, not a *single* central question raised by the recent controversy but a *double* question. The meta-question is whether the profession can commit itself to this dialectical awareness.Report

junior
junior
Reply to  Eric Johnson-DeBaufre
3 years ago

Following Eric’s excellent point, I think we should also distinguish one more question: of the standards of care and scholarship that required when working academically on social justice issues (especially when one is not a member of the underrepresented groups being discussed), which if any are such that violations of them justify official scholarly sanction and collective public shaming?

(I take it these will be a proper subset of the standards Prof. Miracchi proposes we talk about, to put it mildly.)Report

Will
Will
Reply to  Eric Johnson-DeBaufre
3 years ago

Along these lines, I have a suggestion.

I feel that massive and disproportionate online responses to misconduct, real and perceived, are becoming a major problem in the philosophy community. If you disagree with me, that’s fine.

But if you agree, here is a modest proposal:

Whenever you are concerned that a colleague has behaved inappropriately, or have ethical concerns about a colleague’s work (as author or editor), consider whether contacting that colleague as an individual might result in a good outcome.

If the answer is yes, do not raise the issue in public online until after you’ve attempted to resolve the matter by contacting the colleague individually.Report

Tom
Tom
Reply to  Will
3 years ago

This idea has been around at least since the New Testament, and yet despite its obvious appeal it can’t seem to catch on.Report

Eric Campbell
Eric Campbell
Reply to  Will
3 years ago

Even earlier than the New Testament:

“…you ought to have taken me privately, and warned and admonished me; for if I had been better advised, I should have left off doing what I only did unintentionally…but you indicted me in this court, which is a place not of instruction, but of punishment.

Socrates to Miletus, in ApologyReport

Happily tenured, but still not going to do this with my name attached
Happily tenured, but still not going to do this with my name attached
3 years ago

It seems to me that a far more pressing question than the one Lisa asks is: What standards of care are required when criticizing the scholarship of our fellow philosophers, especially when their position in the profession is less established than our own?Report

Sherri Irvin
Sherri Irvin

Also a good question, sure, but why “far more pressing”? Yes, we have duties toward our colleagues, especially junior ones. But the question at hand is about the duties of care members of dominant groups have toward members of marginalized groups who have been systematically excluded from our discipline.

I suppose it is a symptom of a discipline that practices such exclusion that a comment like this, which proposes turning our attention elsewhere, gets so many “likes”. Report

Eric Johnson-DeBaufre
Reply to  Sherri Irvin
3 years ago

I agree with you the issue raised by Happily Tenured–and which I raised earlier–is not “far more pressing,” hence my characterization of it as “equally central.” However, in criticizing those of us who want to insist that the harms (both actual and potential) that have befallen Tuvel not be rendered invisible–which you clearly do when you suggest that responses like these “propose turning our attention elsewhere”–you engage in the same kind of partiality as Miracchi. In other words, you seem to want to insist that there is a *single* central question raised by this controversy and that *that question* is the duties of care we owe to members of marginalized groups. This turns attention away, in advance, from the question–equally central–to the duties of care we owe to junior colleagues and which have been in such deplorable absence throughout the early stages of this whole affair.

Can we *please* be a bit more dialectical in our approach?Report

Daniel Kaufman
Reply to  Sherri Irvin
3 years ago

Or it could be the occasion for some self-reflection on your own part, as to the validity of your own commitments and the fact that those hundreds of others *might* have some point.

Just a wild thought.Report

André de Avillez
André de Avillez
3 years ago

This is indeed an important question to ask, so thank you and Professor Miracchi for turning to a more constructive direction on this issue. In the spirit of contributing to this conversation, let me make the following proposal:

When publishing on social justice issues, especially when one is not a member of a underrepresented group in question, one should strive to engage scholarly work by members of that group. It should be incumbent on referees and editors to suggest works to be engaged when an otherwise promising article is lacking in this. Given that works by underrepresented groups are, perhaps by definition, less abundant, it is understandable that authors may overlook them (especially if they are trained in programs that overlook such works). It is presumably not as forgivable for editors and referees (the latter being supposedly familiar with scholarship in the area in question, and as the former is supposed to pick referees who are competent in such areas) to let such problems go uncorrected towards publication.

Had this been the case with Professor Tuvel’s article, she would have had the opportunity to revise her article. Perhaps such revisions would have led to her taking on a somewhat different perspective on the issue, perhaps not. But I think that most of the main grievances I’ve seen voiced on Twitter and Facebook would have been avoided, and some (many? most?) of her current critics may have felt better able to engage her argument by responding with their own articles.

Some may object that this would put an additional strain on referees for such articles, which would disincentivize scholars from performing that work. One possible solution would be to make referee work more visible and rewarding (personally and professionally). Admittedly, this would require a substantial revision of the way academic publishing and promotion take place (i.e. referee work must count for promotion and tenure). This would be no easy task, but to the extent that these are structural problems, it seems fitting to seek for structural reform.

For what it’s worth, the Public Philosophy Journal (for whom I worked as a graduate assistant in the past) seeks to do this by making peer reviews open, and embracing scholarly writing as a process. It seems that the Daily Nous has highlighted a similar project in a post yesterday (though I admit to have merely glanced at it at the moment).

I’m curious to hear what others think of this proposal.Report

assistant prof
assistant prof
3 years ago

The question focuses on the standard of scholarship and care required by those responsible for producing academic work on social justice issues: authors and, indirectly, editors and referees, insofar as they’re responsible for green-lighting the work. I think that here as elsewhere the principle of charity is crucial in different ways. Authors working on highly-charged issues owe it to their interlocutors to discuss and respond (to the best of their ability) the conscientious objections that might be raised against their views. Editors and referees owe it to the broader philosophical community to ensure that these objections are raised and considered by the author.

As Eric and others above note, the question doesn’t mention the standard of scholarship and care required by the broader philosophical community that is responsible for receiving, discussing, and evaluating academic work on social justice issues. But here again the principle of charity is crucial: the members of this community owe the authors of such work the best possible reading of their position and the fullest intellectual engagement, without imputing questionable motives of ill will to the author/editors/referees of the work and making blanket assertions of their ignorance. The sheer number of signatories to the open letter suggest to me that most of them fell short spectacularly on this score.Report

Erik H.
Erik H.
3 years ago

Demanding that philosophers follow a standard of care seems nice.

But it would suggest that people should consider the effects of their discussion, and act on them to protect some group. That in turn carries the implicit assumption that philosophers are capable of predicting the effects. Otherwise it would be a simple guess.

But outside the very short term (“so-and-so will be upset”) there doesn’t seem to be the slightest bit of evidence that such predictions are possible. No individual can accurately predict the societal or philosophical outcome of their own statement–much less the outcome of the entire discussion, including counter-arguments.

Perhaps you will make a “bad” statement, opening the door to a brilliant and socially beneficial counter. Perhaps you will make a “good” statement, opening the door to an evil and socially detrimental counter. Larry Summers’ speculation on intelligence certainly would have been suppressed under a “standard of care” analysis; the long term effects were probably a net positive for feminism. Dr. Tuvel’s article may well have a net positive effect; conversely the vitriol aimed at her may have a net negative effect. Or not. Anyone who claims to know the outcome should be given no credence.

Pretending that these outcomes are predictable is a hobby of a certain subset of folks, who use their fortune-telling to suppress views with which they disagree. This is anti-philosophical at the core.

So: What standard of care is due? None.
Report

Will Behun
Will Behun
Reply to  Erik H.
3 years ago

To be sure *if* such a prediction or reasonable expectation were possible, we would have to take it into account. If in fact there’s an effect that could not possibly have been foreseen, we can’t hold a scholar responsible for not foreseeing it. Report

Erik H.
Erik H.
Reply to  Will Behun
3 years ago

Yes, if you were able to predict the outcomes then you would have to take it into account, though of course that might simply involve discarding it. But when the claim evolves to predicting the future, the proof is on the claimer. And both feminists and philosophers are damn shitty at it.

The people claiming that they can cogently shut down future harm by moderating expression in the present (often based on their “lived experience”) are not living the kinds of lives which one would expect if they were possessed of a magical ability to select only future-positive actions. Neither have they made hard predictions and demonstrated their accuracy.

Rather, such folks are just like everyone else: which is to say that their opinions are no more valid in the harm-prediction arena than anyone else’s.

This is what happens when you mix single-goal activism in a tank with multi-goal information seeking. Report

Danny Weltman
Reply to  Erik H.
3 years ago

This argument seems like it eats itself. That is, if we can’t predict if people saying X will have negative or positive effects so we should all just shut up and let people say X, it seems like it’s also true that we can’t predict if people saying “don’t say X” will have negative or positive effects, so we should all just shut up and let people say “don’t say X.” So for instance if this whole situation leads to every philosopher being much nicer and more considerate and more reflective when writing articles and so on, then it was all good, and your efforts to shut down some parts of the conversation are unhelpful, etc. Or is there some way to keep your argument from having these conclusions?Report

Carnap
Carnap
Reply to  Erik H.
3 years ago

Here is a paper (or, rather, a reference to a paper no longer available via the link included) which argues that *if* the pro-life position is correct, then it is permissible to assassinate abortion providers. The author, I believe, intended it as a reductio of the pro-life position. Still, should it not even be discussed as it *might* be taken by a pro-lifer to justify murder and so violates some appropriate standard of care?

https://whatswrongcvsp.com/2016/03/16/does-the-pro-life-position-entail-the-permissibility-of-killing-abortion-providers/Report

Benji
Benji
3 years ago

When I was in grad school, my department paid a straight white man a bunch of money to come tell us why gay sex and abortions are wrong because of, you know, Aquinas and potentiality and shit. Naturally I found the conclusions outrageous and the methodology deeply misguided. I’d say this guy’s level of privileged, theory-from-on-high, abstracting-away-the-lived-experiences-of-marginalized-people makes Tuvel look like frickin’ Vandana Shiva. But of course he attracted no real outrage for his remarks.

One can imagine that he could get himself excommunicated from his tribe for saying the wrong things, but those things would a lot more to do with flouting the party line of Christian philosophy than with insensitivity to social issues. Same thing here. It’s a bit tedious to see people characterize this as a general issue of social responsibility in philosophy, because if it were, you could find a lot worse then Tuvel. It’s about defiling a sacred cow in a particular philosophical circle, and an attempt by that circle to monopolize all inquiries into matters of race and gender.Report

Professor Plum
Professor Plum
3 years ago

OMG, this is quite rich, coming, as it does, from a signatory of The Open Letter. Sometimes there isn’t any good to be found in an awful situation where people culpably displayed their vices, and to presuppose that there is is to entrench and strengthen the wrong done.

But to answer the question. The standard of care to be taken is open engagement with the objections raised against one’s argument. This is obviously the standard of care to be taken when doing philosophy more generally. Sometimes, the objection can take the form of something like “your account does not resonate with my lived experience.” In response, one should think carefully about why that might be, what assumptions one is making, and so on. Appropriate care in this domain can’t consist in capitulating to reports of lived experience, but it should involve taking them seriously as something like considered judgments in a process something like reflective equilibrium. Report

s
s
3 years ago

It is important to pay attention to the sources one cites with an eye to making sure that one isn’t perpetuating inequities by citing primarily people of certain groups when there are other sources out there that would be good to cite in a particular piece of writing, and that attention demands a certain kind of work and “care.” But I worry that some of the talk about “care and scholarship” that is emerging from this mess would push philosophy writing too much in the direction of the kind of “book report” scholarship that is more common in fields such as political theory. Maybe that would not be a terrible thing, and maybe it is needed in order to rectify injustices in our field, but, honestly, much of that kind of “survey the literature” book-report kind of writing that I find in other nearby fields and in certain sub-fields of philosophy is just boring and seems to be a substitute for doing what I think of as really interesting philosophical work.Report

Kathleen Lowrey
Kathleen Lowrey
3 years ago

On the general issue of the ethics of writing about relatively powerless groups of which one is not a member, anthropology has a large literature interested philosophers might wish to peruse (I’m an anthropologist). Sherry Ortner on ethnographic refusal is a good place to start, or Gayatri Chakravorty Spivak’s essay “Can the Subaltern speak”.

But I’m not sure this question is apposite here — this is not the first time that the moral force of anti-racism has been brought in to denounce any challenge to trans self-fashioning. Caitlyn Jenner is not underprivileged or oppressed and to suggest that likening her to Rachel Dolezal is akin to being an “all lives matter” racist requires a couple of disingenuous double twists. I’m not trans, but I don’t think I am oppressing anybody if I take a pretty gimlet-eyed view of billionaire former U.S. Army officer Jennifer Pritzker’s notion of womanhood and her massive bankrolling of the same. Intersectionality isn’t a universally transitive property.Report

SH
SH
Reply to  Kathleen Lowrey
3 years ago

That’s an excellent point. I hope that philosophers won’t try to reinvent the wheel in this matter, which would itself involve ignoring the work of many scholars from marginalized groups. Feminist philosophers would benefit greatly from sustained engagement with feminist work in other disciplines, which have addressed these methodological concerns at length. Unfortunately, our training, publication and hiring practices, etc conspire to discourage this. Report

Matt Weiner
Matt Weiner
Reply to  Kathleen Lowrey
3 years ago

I’m not trans, but I don’t think I am oppressing anybody if I take a pretty gimlet-eyed view of billionaire former U.S. Army officer Jennifer Pritzker’s notion of womanhood and her massive bankrolling of the same. Intersectionality isn’t a universally transitive property.

I’m not sure what you’re saying here. Can you be more specific as to what it is you’re taking a gimlet-eyed view of?Report

Matt Weiner
Matt Weiner
Reply to  Matt Weiner
3 years ago

That question may have been kind of vague. I guess I mean something like this: Is your objection here specifically to something like an idea of trans self-fashioning that lets rich people do what they want? Then I’m not sure how to target the objections to self-fashioning particularly to rich people.Report

Kathleen Lowrey
Kathleen Lowrey
Reply to  Matt Weiner
3 years ago

What I mean is when someone is in a financial position to influence academia and medicine like so:

http://www.chicagotribune.com/news/local/breaking/ct-transgender-studies-chair-pritzker-donation-met-20160119-story.html

https://www.dnainfo.com/chicago/20160623/streeterville/billionaire-jennifer-pritzker-helps-fund-clinic-for-trans-kids-at-lurie

Then I think it’s fair to scrutinize their agenda in the same way we would scrutinize that of an oil company funding a new chair in ecosystem management or Halliburton funding a conference for sheriff’s departments.

When their agenda promotes a massive increase in medical treatments that can permanently sterilize children and youth, the long-term side effects of which are very understudied, then I think it’s not “oppressive” to pay skeptical attention.

When Pritzker’s and Jenner’s politics are reactionary Republican politics, which is to say consistently anti-feminist, anti-lesbian, anti-poor people, and anti-people of color, then I think it’s not oppressive to inquire into whether their view of sex/gender that takes these to be two equal and opposite teams and announcing one has switched (in Pritzker’s case, via an email to her employees instructing them to behave accordingly: or get fired, I guess?) from one to another really needs to be treated with the same degree of “care” by non-trans people as the perspectives of, say, black Americans on the justice system might be treated by white people.Report

Matt Weiner
Matt Weiner
Reply to  Kathleen Lowrey
3 years ago

Thanks for the clarification!

I agree that it’s fair to scrutinize their agenda, particularly about the early childhood interventions that I think you’re talking about; though in this case I don’t think the oil company analogy is quite on point, because it’s not as though Pritzker has a financial interest in anything to do with gender in the same way the oil company is. It seems more analogous to think of what we’d say if Pritzker founded a chair in Jewish studies; we might legitimately look to see if this was advancing a reactionary agenda in some way (like, if it was part of an attempt to support the occupation of the West Bank or something), but it’s not like the oil company/Halliburton case where the very fact of this support would be grounds for suspicion.

In any case, did Pritzker or Jenner sign the open letter, or did the people signing the open letter express a “view of sex/gender that takes these to be two equal and opposite teams” such that a trans person simply switches from one to the other? Because if that’s not the case, I’m not sure how they’re relevant here. Report

Crispus
Crispus
3 years ago

I note that most other disciplines in the humanities have long addressed this cluster of issues without the glaring enormity of the recent dysfunction. That is, English, Af-Am, Women’s and Gender Studies, Comp Lit and so on all have learned how to evaluate and respond to scholarship on social justice issues written by scholars who are not members of the particular underrepresented groups being discussed. It really does speak to the parochialism of academic philosophy, I dare say, that you all are blowing yourself up over issues that the rest of the academy figured out long ago. Report

ikj
ikj
Reply to  Crispus
3 years ago

I don’t think this is correct. While there may have been a point at which the disciplines you mention had constructive dialogues about these issues with people outside of the affected groups, that tendency is in decline (at least at my university). In fact, I would note two things. First, the very rhetorical positioning of the open letter is something that much more closely resembles the language you’d find in one of these other disciplines than it does the language of Anglo-American philosophy. Second, it’s interesting to note the addendum from 5/1 about anti-Blackness that has been added to the open letter. Leaving aside whether or not the addendum is warranted, what you see in it is very much the way in which these other disciplines come under the same kind of fire Tuvel does in the letter.

Put perhaps more clearly, what you see in the open letter–I’d argue–is very much modeled upon the ways in which these other disciplines in the humanities tend to interact with each other in the present.Report

Justin Kalef
Justin Kalef
3 years ago

There seems to be an important tension between two desiderata here:

1) Any work of philosophy, to count as genuinely philosophical, must be open to, and ideally actually survive the process of, rigorous peer review.

2) There are demands on the part of (and on behalf of) certain historically marginalized groups to strongly prefer writing by members of those groups. Indeed, it seems that people who do not belong to these groups feel a taboo against writing on those issues, and that they would definitely feel wrong doing so if they did not sympathetically invoke the reasoning produced by those within the groups.

Imagine a parallel universe in which a small religious minority group, the Fliptesians, have undergone intense state-sponsored oppression and violence, and in which Fliptesian people and communities are still in a very uneasy place today. A number of Fliptesians have published several articles on Fliptesian metaphysics and epistemology. However, it seems to other metaphysicians and epistemologists that the Fliptesian works are filled with blunders that one would not expect to see even at the end of a freshman philosophy course. (I’m not at all suggesting an equivalence between my fictional universe and the real world: I’m setting out a fresh thought experiment to see how others respond to an extreme case). These critics of the prominent Fliptesian works are not themselves Fliptesians, and have never faced the persecution that many Fliptesians have. They also cannot refer sympathetically to any of the philosophical writings of Fliptesians on these matters, since it is a staple of Fliptesian metaphysics and epistemology that interactive substance dualism is true and that there cannot be anything wrong with believing that on faith. Both these views are fundamental to Fliptesianism, and happen to be unquestioned by any Fliptesian philosopher.

My question is twofold: first, would it be inappropriate, in this parallel universe, for the non-Fliptesians to publish their critiques of Fliptesian metaphysics and epistemology, and to make those critiques just as forcefully as they would against anyone else publishing such views in philosophy journals? Or should they refrain, and allow that the Fliptesian positions and arguments have as much merit as any others, even if (say) the most famous Fliptesian arguments straightforwardly operate by denying the antecedent?

Second, suppose that every Fliptesian work of philosophy takes for granted a number of metaphysical and epistemological claims that pretty well all non-Fliptesian philosophers reject on the basis of familiar arguments, and that they then move from those dubious premises to various conclusions using forms of reasoning that are accepted within the Fliptesian community but not outside of it (appeals to popularity, say). Should the fact that Fliptesians are in an indisputably bad social position suffice to disqualify anyone who hasn’t both a) read a large number of Fliptesian works and b) found many positive things to say about them (to the point of being prepared to work ‘within the Fliptesian tradition’) from critically discussing articles written about Fliptesian metaphysics and epistemology by Fliptesians?

If the answers to this twofold question are not no and no, then I think we have satisfied desideratum 2 at the expense of desideratum 1.

More generally, it seems to me that the demands of philosophy require us to subject any genuinely philosophical work to serious criticism by as many people as are willing to offer those critiques, regardless of their affiliations, background, and commitments. In fact, the more diverse the pool of critics of an argument or idea, the better philosophy functions. Those working within a school of thought can have important insiders’ knowledge that could help them with the fine nuances of an argument or position within that same school of thought; but there is no substitute for critical engagement by outsiders who openly and even radically oppose the presuppositions of that school of thought.

Is that under dispute here?Report

krell_154
krell_154
Reply to  Justin Kalef
3 years ago

That is precisely under dispute here.

Of course, one side of the controversy will disagree with your characterization, and they will say that the history of oppression suffered by Fliptesians puts them in an epistemically privileged position, and since these questions are central to Fliptesian identity, it is extremely hard for a non-Fliptesian philosopher to have justified beliefs to the effect that Fliptesian claims and arguments are false and unsound.

The most concerning aspect of your thought experiment is how close to reality it could get. Are there religious groups in the actual world that have suffered long oppression by other groups? Yes. Among those groups, are there such that some of their central beliefs are in conflict (or at least serious tension) with contemporary science, or in conflict/tension with philosophical positions best supported by contemporary science? I’d say yes. Imagine now that the climate currently surrounding issues of race and gender appears around issues of, I don’t know, mind-body relation, the origin of the universe, causality, physical laws… Imagine that university groups start protesting talks of renowned physicists for the harm caused by their (the physicists’) insistence that the physical universe is finitely old? Or canceling talks by neuroscientists for claiming that there is no mental activity without corresponding nervous system activity? Imagine students asking for trigger warnings in philosophical syllabi, because the professor will teach how 17th century occasionalism was false, because their religion teaches that occasionalism is true?

In the light of current events, and current university climate, can anyone be reasonably certain that something like that cannot happen?Report

bex
bex
Reply to  Justin Kalef
3 years ago

I don’t think we need to get so extreme as to say that acknowledging that the Fliptesians might have an epistemically unique position (I want to avoid saying “privileged” here, for reasons it would take too long to explain — bear with me) is entirely at odds with their philosophical work being subject to robust criticism and peer review from the wider community. It seems pretty clear to me that there’s a not-all-that-hard middle path, where we subject Fliptesian work to “rigorous peer review” while also acknowledging that in order to *understand what they’re actually saying* and treat their work charitably, it might be necessary to spend a bit more time than usual trying to orient oneself to the intellectual history of their culture and how it may impact how they use the relevant terminology or understand certain concepts. (This process should already not be particularly alien to historians of philosophy, I’d imagine).

If we’re stipulating that Fliptesian work does just straightforwardly commit various errors that any decent undergrad would avoid, then sure, “rigorous peer review” away. But stipulating that sort of begs the question, does it not? Whether or not we should criticize clearly bad arguments isn’t really what’s at issue; what’s at issue is something like whether we’re even understanding the arguments properly to begin with, given that there’s a different socio-cultural context for those arguments (and the language/style used to make them) than the one we are used to operating in. If that’s the worry, then the solution seems relatively simple to me: it’s basically just applying the principle of charity, clarified somewhat to include cultural context as a relevant consideration to keep firmly in mind.

[I don’t pretend to represent anyone else’s view here, and I’m sure there are people who would take a more “radical” stance than me on this. I mostly just wanted to dispel the notion that recognizing the cultural context and epistemic position of the author is somehow at odds with their being open to criticism from the wider community in general].Report

Crispus
Crispus
3 years ago

Your mileage may vary, I suppose. But I strongly disagree. I cannot think of an example in any of those disciplines that comes anywhere near this. Imagine for example the collective editorial board of Callaloo writing a letter disowning and calling out an article published in their own journal. It’s unthinkable. Journals, departments, hiring committees routinely in other disciplines read, vet, discuss with collegiality, and teach scholarship by people who are not members of the affected groups all the time. The example of the late Eve Sedgwick comes to mind, but there are many others, more every year in fact. Once again, the inability of philosophy to handle these questions testifies to the immaturity of the field with respect to the underlying issues. Report

Crispus
Crispus
Reply to  Crispus
3 years ago

Sorry that is intended, obviously, as a reply to IKJ above. Report

Minimus
Minimus
3 years ago

I find it problematic that people even think that the original paper itself is unacceptable – as philosophers, we subsist on asking questions, questions which are sometimes obviously “controversial” (think of the very origins of Western philosophy – what was the fate of Socrates?). The intellectual thrill of “philosophical controversy” is why many of us even become philosophers – the thrill of asking hotly-contested questions whose very relevance is the reason why they become controversial. And when a controversial question arises, as philosophers we do not respond by saying “take that away,” but by saying, “you are wrong, and here is why”. Logically speaking, the original paper seems to me very difficult to fault (if it can be faulted, philosophers ought to write and show why); the fact that it doesn’t cite voices most affected by its topic is important but logically irrelevant. If we are bound to reason, as philosophers, we must be able to temporarily suspend the existential faults of the paper (we could criticize its lack of “care” in any responses we write) and look at its substance. Yes, the paper is controversial, but that is no explanation for why it suffered the fate it did. If such responses are the future of philosophy, then surely philosophy will soon coddle itself into non-existence.

— A Concerned StudentReport

junior
junior
3 years ago

To more directly address the OP, though: Olúfẹ́mi O. Táíwò makes what I think is an excellent start on just this question here: http://www.philpercs.com/2017/04/more-on-citation-norms-.html#comments

(I think the Kid in the Hot Seat norm, in particular, is key here.)Report

Ghoste
Ghoste
3 years ago

Honestly, this whole thing is a symbolic protest used to draw attention to the harms of deadnaming.

That is the issue, and it’s an issue that matters- and now we’ll never forget it. That’s more important than any scholarly merits the article in question has or lacks.Report

Ghoste
Ghoste
Reply to  Ghoste
3 years ago

PS: I almost wish the scholarship hadn’t been attacked, as it is not even the problem here. Report

Steven
Steven
3 years ago

Question: would our understanding of ethical and social reality be advanced if, for example, Tim Scanlon or Axel Honneth (to pick 2 figures at random) discussed intensively issues around race and its relations to equality, capitalism, and Modernity? I take it the answer would be yes on both accounts. So it can’t be that we don’t think that members of dominant groups should not touch these topics, that would be to deprive us of potentially important insights. It would be to significantly block the way of inquiry. Is it not precisely the opposite, that we want all scholars working, in this case, in practical philosophy to realize that race is a key structuring principle of Modernity, the ignorance of which undermines their insights into social reality generally? Of course, we would expect care in their handling of this material, sensitivity to previous scholarship, scholars of color, to the lived experience of race. However, I would not want to specify in advance exactly what literature that they had to look at, as many are calling for in this debate. That would deprive us of a kind of idiosyncrasy of vision that is often needed to illuminate social reality.

I recognize that the pull to discipline-ization, to the thought that anyone working in area X must look at this literature, is partially for the sake of getting scholars, whether from advantaged or disadvantaged groups, to not overlook the scholarship already done by those from disadvantaged groups. This is extremely important. But there are also costs: increased scholasticism and, perhaps paradoxically, sectarianism. I think we are seeing part of this cost precisely in this episode.
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Larry Cahoone
Larry Cahoone
3 years ago

Is it the general impression that the opposition to the Tuvel piece, embodied in the petition and Hypatia’s decision to retract, is a reaction to the author’s failure to be a member of, or sufficiently consult members of or literature by, the identities being discussed, Or RATHER PRIMARILY A REACTION TO HER POSITION OR CONCLUSIONS? That is , IF she had concluded, with the same references, style, and range of discussion, that transracial identity change CANNOT be justified or understood as legitimate or accorded the respect that transgender identity change should be — IF THAT had been her conclusion, would we now be having this discussion? Report

Ghoste
Ghoste
Reply to  Larry Cahoone
3 years ago

Yes.Report

Carnap
Carnap
Reply to  Larry Cahoone
3 years ago

No, obviously.Report

bex
bex
Reply to  Larry Cahoone
3 years ago

The implication that it is all and only about the conclusion is a little superficial though. I agree with Carnap (ha) that we probably wouldn’t be having this discussion if the conclusion had been different in the way you describe — but I also think that that doesn’t foreclose the possibility that one could argue for her conclusions in a different way (perhaps with better terminology, more engagement with certain literature, etc.) and not raise quite as much ire as this. (I don’t mean to be defending the “ire” here, because I think it is Pretty Bad, but I also think that it’s really important that we get our understanding and criticism of it right).Report

Quasi philosopher
3 years ago

As a gay man, I can speak to my experiences with some actual experience, and can try to extrapolate based on these.

I have no doubt that if we randomly chose a straight person and a gay person, chances are that the gay person is going to have a lot more information from personal experiences, from casual theorising, from specific works read from interest, etc., and so is going to have much more sophisticated views on issues that pertain to gay people. There is certainly bound to be a pattern here.

But I’ve learnt too much from straight people writing about gay issues (Martha Nussbaum’s work on disgust, for example), to actually use this pattern into an argumentative tool in an academic setting. In addition, I’ve been in activist circles in countries where being gay is (technically) illegal, and I’ve noticed that understanbly a lot of people hold rather crude views because dispassionate analysis is hard when it’s hard to get through the day. And so if the priveliged suffer blindspots because of privelige, then the oppressed can have blind spots becayse they’re oppressed. Of course politically marginalised people are seriously underrepresented in academia and this needs to be remedied, but there isn’t any reason to suppose marginalised people are always right or even better at complex theorizing about society-at-large and norms that affect everyone (eg: lgbt issues are obviously related to gender).

And most importantly, any time a straight person says something that seemed clueless and clearly a manifestation of privilege, I’ve been able to (if not immediately) point out what they missing, what experiences they’re ignoring or not taking seriously enough. With respect to the transracialism paper, I’m yet to hear a single critique that points out what Tuvel missed. Methodological criticism is fine if you can point out what the alternative methodology missed, otherwise it just looks like an attempt to impose conformity without cause.

Ultimately, even if on average marginalised people are better guides on certain issues, this isn’t some kind of fixed rule, and particularly not one that should be enforced. People should certainly make a good faith effort to read widely and pay attention to lives that are distant from theirs, but only because they miss things otherwise. And the appropriate critique is to point out what they’ve missed out, not a public burning.Report

Nick
Nick
Reply to  Quasi philosopher
3 years ago

something that bugs me with appeals to “lived experiences” is they seem to assume that we are wholly transparent to ourselves and that first-person anecdotal evidence is more reliable than other sources. But this seems to ignore swaths of social psychology, cognitive science and philosophy of mind that have dispelled this myth. We are not transparent to ourselves. We are, in fact, pretty bad at introspection.Report

Phoenix, son of Amyntor
Phoenix, son of Amyntor
Reply to  Quasi philosopher
3 years ago

Quasi philosopher: Thank you. I’ve been reading this whole thread and your thoughtful comments are extremely illuminating.Report

A
A
3 years ago

I think there may be an ambiguity with regard to or in the vicinity of the point about “when one is not a member of the underrepresented groups being discussed.” There seem to be responses to the article along the lines of ‘a discussion of Dolezal has a duty to adequately consult people of color’, perhaps generalizable as ‘other persons currently in the category into which a person seeks to be newly considered a member are to be especially consulted in discussions of this attempt at membership change.’ At the same time a version of this point is, rightly, rejected in discussions of gender transition: objections by CIS women to transgender persons’ transitions can be dismissed. This seems to me to suggest that the identification of the relevant underrepresented groups that should get particular consultation is a potentially more fraught process than it may at first appear.

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Tsung-Hsing Ho
Tsung-Hsing Ho
3 years ago

I think that the discussion about “rights to do wrong” (Waldron, Enoch, Herstein, Bolinger) is applicable to this case . If so, while we can criticize that some academic works are morally or politically wrong, they are still permitted to be published (if the scholarly standards are met).Report

Hey Nonny Mouse
Hey Nonny Mouse
3 years ago

The conversation has been focused on underrepresented groups. How does all of this apply to groups that are not underrepresented? Do the same considerations apply, just to a lesser degree, or do they not apply? Also, what is the scope of “unrepresented”? A group that is well represented in general might be underrepresented in a particular field. For instance, males are well represented in general, but not in feminist philosophy.Report

Karsten
Karsten
3 years ago

As I said before, this is not my area of expertise. Yet, I am seriously flabbergasted by the ease with which members of the philosophical community are entertaining limitations of academic freedom. It seems to me that we would want to be inclusive and we would enjoy to respectfully discuss a variety of positions and conclusions and their arguments for and against it, regardless of whether we ultimately agree with it. That’s what makes us philosophers!!! Moreover, it helps us develop and strengthen our own position (or at least it tends to do that in my own case). But to end on a political note, as we all know, in the real world people have absolutely no qualms adopting the “wrong” position. It might be good to be prepared and have some good arguments against it. In my opinion, the fact that Trump won also revealed a severe limitation of the liberal imagination. Let’s not do that again.Report

Matt
Matt
3 years ago

I’m not an algorithm guy, but here’s what I’d say for pieces written by people not from the marginalized population they want to discuss:

1) Start by asking how much “care and scholarship” you would demand from someone outside of philosophy showing up with a paper about a well-traveled philosophical topic. Let’s call this your “Phi” number.

2) Then use the following decision procedure for calculating “care and scholarship” for your own forays:

a) If you have a circle of close friends from that group who regularly invite you social gatherings where you’re the only one (or one of just a few) who isn’t (aren’t) members of the marginalized group: double your Phi number. [Caveat: if you’re in a romantic relationship with a person from the group: (i) family gatherings do not count and (ii) if you are ever tempted to say that your romance renders you immune from participation in oppressive social structures, go straight to (b).]

b) If you are not in (a), but have regular interactions with people in the marginalized group that go smoothly: increase your Phi number by one order of magnitude.

c) If you are not in (b), but you want to be “an ally” despite not really having contact with that community: increase your Phi number by two orders of magnitude. (And, you know, go meet some people.)

d) If you are not in (c), then you should think long and hard about how you could possibly be in any position at all to offer insight on something that you lack familiarity with. Report

David Mathers
David Mathers
Reply to  Matt
3 years ago

‘ If you are not in (c), then you should think long and hard about how you could possibly be in any position at all to offer insight on something that you lack familiarity with.’

How about, because you’ve spent 4 years of undergrad and 6 years in grad school training your ability to quickly assess informal arguments, including on topics your not especially familiar with. This is basically what attendance at a general departmental seminar trains you to do. I.e., if someone turns up with a philosophy of biology paper for a general seminar, philosophers with little grounding in biology are often able to ask probing questions about the argument structure, very general and abstract assumptions that seem to be relied on and so forth. (Yes, they *also* sometimes-often-ask questions that people with more expertise in the area would know were misconceived in some way. Yes, philosophers are often arrogant.) Note that having ‘something to contribute’ isn’t the same as being a complete expert on a topic.

And of course, whilst insider knowledge brings insights that are hard (sometimes in practice impossible) to acquire otherwise, and that people are in a worse position to engage with a topic if they haven’t acquired those insights, it’s equally true that being trained in informal argument brings certain competences in assessing a public controversy that those who aren’t so trained lack. Of course, there are always people with both the insights and the competence out there somewhere, and they are better placed in general to reason about a topic. But that doesn’t mean that they’re views or arguments can never be persuasively criticised by anyone else.

If you’re meaning to insinuate something about Tuvel though, you have no knowledge whatsoever of how many black and/or trans people she knows, what her interactions with them are like, or how much she reads the work of black and/or trans writers. (No you can’t infer this from the bibliography of a single article.)
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Urstoff
Urstoff
Reply to  Matt
3 years ago

What if, in answer to 1, is that I don’t really care about their amateur status? A willing, good-faith (amateur) interlocutor can result in much more productive conversation than an extremely knowledgeable interlocutor that has already decided what conclusion they want to reach and is going to pull out every trick in the rhetorical toolbox to get it. Indeed, explaining and justifying assumptions that are obvious to you but not your amateur interlocutor is often some of the most productive philosophical work you can do. I’m not sure what standards of “scholarship and care” one needs besides openness, patience, and precision. Report

David Wallace
David Wallace
3 years ago

Here’s a starting point for answering the question: are we considering the appropriate standards of scholarship and care for work supposed to appear in a journal of political activism, or in a journal of scholarship?

A journal of political activism can perfectly well have an editorial line on the right answers to contentious questions: no-one blames the Weekly Standard for not publishing Marxist analysis. It can perfectly well make its publication decisions on the grounds of what will help and harm its political goals. It can decide who to publish on the grounds of whose voices it most wants to show and to support. And it can change its mind on what it should and should not have published on grounds of how its past decisions affect its political goals.

A journal of scholarship can’t do these things. Scholarship is an epistemic exercise: its goal is increased knowledge, not politicial consequences. (That’s compatible with individual scholars also being activists, and with them selecting their research topics because they think knowledge about X will be helpful to their political goals.)

So a journal of scholarship can’t select who to publish on any grounds other than the accuracy and importance of their results. It can’t criticise authors’ citation patterns on grounds other than failure to cite scholarly relevant material. It can’t take an editorial line on the answer to a contested academic question. It can’t consider the harm that an article could cause as a reason not to publish research that is good scholarship on an important topic.
And it can only retract or withdraw publications on appropriately scholarly grounds and with appropriate evidence.

That said:

– a journal of scholarship can reasonably enforce what it regards as accepted methodology. If (I don’t know if this is true) it is pretty-much-universally accepted in feminist philosophy that something like standpoint epistemology is true, then a journal of feminist philosophy can require an article to conform to the requirements of standpoint epistemology. (It ought to be willing to publish an article that *challenges* standpoint epistemology, but not necessarily one that just rejects it in addressing some other issue – just as philosophy journals will publish articles that challenge the idea that there can be true contradictions, but not articles that just contain contradictions in their reasoning.) And that might give the journal an *epistemic* reason to require authors to engage with sources from underrepresented communities – but that needs to be separated out entirely from *harm done* by not so engaging.

– a journal of scholarship can reasonably assume certain substantive results and not publish work that rejects them, provided that those results are the consensus view of the part of the academy that it serves. No-one is going to blame Hypatia for not publishing an article that presupposes the rightness of women’s subordination to men, because pretty much everyone in the field agrees that we have overwhelming reason to think that’s wrong. But the bar here has to be very high, on pain of stifling radical progress.

– a specialist journal of scholarship can *perhaps* reasonably presuppose even some contested matter, on the grounds that it wants to facilitate academic progress within the community who accept that contested matter. I wouldn’t blame the Journal of Metaphysics for not publishing a positivist critique of the very idea of metaphysics, on the grounds that it would be better published somewhere else. Similarly, it’s pretty clear that it’s an academically contested question even within feminism how to think about various trans* issues. But it *might* be reasonable for Hypatia to adopt an editorial policy adhering to a certain answer to that question, provided it was up-front about it so that people rejecting that answer could know publish elsewhere.

– a journal of scholarship can reasonably establish norms of courtesy and writing style to avoid harm or offense. There’s nothing wrong with Philosophy of Science prohibiting me from using sexual-abuse-based analogies or obscene language in an article on quantum field theory. If Hypatia wants to establish an editorial norm that no-one should use previous names of trans people, that seems reasonable, provided they’re fairly explicit about it and they’re willing to waive it in the (possibly hypothetical) case that a paper can’t achieve its scholarly objectives without doing so.

The short version: what standards of care and scholarship are required when working *academically* on social justice issues? (Emphasis mine.) All and only those required on epistemic grounds – but that’s wider than it might look on first sight.Report

A Fan
A Fan
3 years ago

tuvel’s website says she is writing a book on the very topic of her Hypatia article. I hope she decides to follow through with this plan. Report

Professor Plum
Professor Plum
3 years ago

I’m going to use this space to respond to Haslanger. I do so knowing it contradicts her desire to have these conversations in person. While I understand and agree that many difficult conversations are best had face-to-face, I’m not convinced that is always true. If you think that white privilege makes it difficult to challenge certain behavior and persons, you should also admit that it would be more difficult to challenge those behaviors and persons in face-to-face conversations. Plus, this is how we live now.

I agree with Haslanger that there are all sorts of deep, important conversations about race and class and identity and exclusion and inclusion that we should be having as philosophers. But. *We can only have those conversations in an environment of free inquiry.* Yes, philosophy, due to its lack of diversity, hasn’t done a great job fostering such an enviroment, but the mobbing and editorial apologies undermine the very foundation of free thought. I’m dissapointed that Haslanger didn’t take a stand on this fundamental issue.

As one of the almost mythical philosophers of color that white liberals claim to care so much about, I’m tired of being invoked in defense of constraints on free inquiry. Over and over again, I’ve read how Tuval’s paper violates me and my perspective. Sorry to be so ungrateful and recalcitrant, but, for me, it doesn’t. I’m sure some other philosophers of color feel differently. That’s because there isn’t *a* People of Color Perspective. We are, like, individual persons and stuff.

I don’t know what to think about transracialism, but I assure you that I’m not harmed by the publication of the article. But I am harmed by an environment that created this mess.

Haslanger is right to point out that this moment is the product of larger social forces, but we shouldn’t let these forces undermine what is unique about the philosophical enterprise. As philosophers we should be committed to questioning everything, or at least creating an atmosphere where our fellow philosophers can question everything. If we give that up, we have given up on philosophy. Report

LK McPherson
LK McPherson
Reply to  Professor Plum
3 years ago

Professor Plum,
Overall, I’m sympathetic to the spirit of your response. But I would note that the controversy in question, re race, concerns in particular Black Americans or at least blacks — not philosophers or people “of color” generally. This matters, especially in the present context. (I’m not suggesting, of course, that there’s a unified “Black people perspective.”) Also, I’m skeptical about high-minded appeals, especially in the philosophy profession, to “an environment of free inquiry.” (Talk about “mythical”!) Free inquiry isn’t free.

I say this as one who finds the Tuvel article interestingly provocative and naively serious, with nothing nearly so outrageous about its publication in Hypatia as to warrant the kind of public and personalized backlash there has been.Report

Professor Plum
Professor Plum
3 years ago

Identifying myself as a “person of color” doesn’t mean I’m not a black American.

And yes, as I’ve emphasized, philosophy does a spectacularly bad job at creating conditions of free inquiry. The question is: does the behavior of these philosophers in this case bring us closer to this (perhaps impossible) ideal, or does it take us farther away?
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LK McPherson
LK McPherson
Reply to  Professor Plum
3 years ago

Of course it doesn’t, and I neither stated nor implied otherwise. I’m not sure why you are anonymously being cagey and defensive about this. I don’t know how you identify other than as you identified yourself. The point would stand, regardless.Report

Professor Plum
Professor Plum
Reply to  LK McPherson
3 years ago

I think you did imply otherwise since you asserted the salience of this issue to black Americans as opposed to people of color more generally. So it is relevant that the set of people of color includes blacks. For various reasons, I choose to comment under a pseudonym, and given the low numbers of people of any color in philosophy, I think it is pretty obvious why I’m cagey about my exact racial identity.
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