Analytic Philosophy’s Egalitarianism and Standpoint Epistemology’s Privileging
“My views about how to do metaphysics as a feminist are undergoing a radical transformation… chiefly because of the Hypatia affair.”
This past July, Ásta Kristjana Sveinsdóttir (San Francisco State) gave a talk at “Feminist Philosophy & Methodological Commitments,” a conference at Humboldt University in Berlin, about the controversy over philosophy journal Hypatia’s publication of “In Defense of Transracialism” by Rebecca Tuvel (Rhodes). The talk has now been reproduced in the American Philosophical Association newsletter, Feminism and Philosophy.
Ásta (as she prefers to be known) was one of the associate editors of Hypatia who signed onto a public apology for the publication of the article which said, among other things, that “clearly, the article should not have been published,” and who resigned shortly thereafter.
In her talk, she offers a kind of bridge-building explanation of her thoughts about the publication of the article—a bridge connecting the “egalitarianism” of analytic philosophy with the apparent inegalitarianism of the standpoint epistemology appealed to in some critiques of the article.
She begins by describing her background in, and attachment to, analytic philosophy:
What attracted me to analytic philosophy was the focus on clarity: What precisely is the claim? What is the argument? I had been studying mathematics but was interested in different questions than those mathematicians study. I was frankly more interested in the sorts of questions many in the continental tradition focus on. But my training was, in terms of methods, very analytic. And one of the attractive and powerful aspects of the practice of analytic philosophy that I came across in my training is that no claim and no argument is too holy to touch, none too offensive. Clarity and precision is a sharp knife for cutting through the obfuscation of demagoguery, ideological manipulation, and plain confusion…
Another thing that attracted me to analytic philosophy… is the idea that it is the claim or argument that matters, not who makes it. This was particularly attractive to me, coming from Iceland, where there is a certain tendency to accept uncritically the word of authority figures.
Judy Thomson describes insightfully in an old interview how this commitment was woven into the way philosophy was practiced in the MIT philosophy department: You may give a good paper on Friday afternoon, but when you are back in the department on Monday there is no resting on the laurels received on Friday. Your Monday morning argument doesn’t get the halo effect of your triumph on Friday: it stands or falls on its own. You and your track record cannot ease its path to acceptance. (Even if you are Judith Jarvis Thomson, I might add).
I was, and am, attracted to this radical egalitarian potential of analytic philosophy. It isn’t practiced everywhere, of course, but I was lucky enough to be at some places where that is the norm…
I think of analytic philosophy as having huge radical potential: no question is off the table, and it is claims and arguments that are evaluated, not people. Analytic philosophy has radically anti-authoritarian aspirations.
The question just is, who gets to sit at the table?
She then discusses some of the complaints about the paper, eventually turning to two questions:
The first question is how we should theorize about other people’s lives, and the second is the question to whom we are accountable in our theorizing. This second question is the same question as who gets to sit at the table of my radically egalitarian analytic philosopher.
There is a limited number of seats at the table because of the physical limitations of the room, size of table, and so on. And there is a limit to how many communities of people one can hold oneself accountable to because of limited intellectual, emotional, linguistic, material, and temporal resources.
So who are we feminist philosophers, including feminist metaphysicians, accountable to?
Publishing the essay in Hypatia without engaging the trans* and critical race theory literature about passing, identity, and related topics sends the message that the author is not accountable to those communities. But what is worse, it sends the message that the journal is not accountable to those communities. And therein lies the betrayal…
Doing so is to say to those members of our community: You don’t get to sit at our table. We are not accountable to you. We treat you as mere objects of reflection, not as people, living and breathing, and not as theorists to engage with. It is to enact epistemic marginalization. It is to enact epistemic harm. The journal is not the offense police. But it is the have-you-engaged-the-relevant-literature police. And given our feminist commitments, we as a journal are in the make-sure-we-are-not-enacting-marginalization-of-our-own-community police. We failed…
I think we need to think about whose lives are affected by our theorizing and take great care in engaging their own theoretical perspectives on the issues. These are the people with “skin in the game.” The idea of theorizing with respect by engaging people’s own theoretical perspectives, then, also has epistemological implications.
I’m not advocating that only people with skin in the game talk about a certain issue. I’m also not claiming that people with skin in the game have privileged epistemic access to certain issues in such a way that others cannot, in principle, understand them. That would be a strong interpretation of standpoint theory, and I do not subscribe to it. But I think that people with skin in the game often have perspectives on, and experience with, things that others don’t. This is soft standpoint theory, and it is compatible with radical analytic egalitarianism.
We need to listen and we need to engage. This means that analytic philosophers like me cannot continue to do theorizing about people as we have done until now.
Ásta’s point seems to be that complaints about epistemic injustice and attempts at inclusion motivated by standpoint theory are not, despite appearances, at odds with the core values of analytic philosophy. Rather, they are outgrowths of those very same values. If analytic philosophy is about considering each idea on its own merits, regardless of whose idea it is, then its practitioners ought to ensure that some ideas aren’t left out of consideration altogether because of whose they happen to be. This means taking steps to listen to and amplify voices that previously had been ignored, and engaging those personally affected by the matters under discussion with epistemic humility.
You can read the whole talk here.
Discussion welcome, though I do ask that commenters refrain from rehashing rants, complaints, accusations, demands, etc., from previous discussions of the “Hypatia affair.” If we drop the point-scoring we could have a constructive conversation. (Comments that, in my judgment, detract from, rather than contribute to, a constructive discussion will be deleted.)
As philosophers who do philosophical work are we responsible to other people or are we responsible to the truth – whatever that may be?
Imho pointing out that Tuvel didn’t reference so-and-so might explain why her work is deficient, but it doesn’t necessarily mean that her work really is deficient.
Tuvel wrote a brilliant paper.
Everyone goes on about how she didn’t reference the right people. But nobody ever explains how including those references could have improved or undermined her arguments.Report
Whether Tuvel wrote a brilliant paper isn’t the primary question Ásta’s addressing, as I understand it. The primary question is whether Hypatia should have published it. The excerpt above (but do read the whole thing!) gives good reasons for thinking Hypatia should not have published the paper even if it were brilliant.Report
If they should not have published the paper even if it were brilliant that would be more a testament to deficiencies in Hypatia than it is an indication of deficiencies in Tuvel’s work. It’s a good paper and I don’t respect a field in which good papers would go unpublished because they failed to meet highly contestable standards that are independent of the quality of the arguments presented in the work. Philosophy should not be in the business of ideological gatekeeping.Report
“I don’t respect a field in which good papers would go unpublished because they failed to meet highly contestable standards that are independent of the quality of the arguments presented in the work.”
Is it a problem that many prestigious philosophy journals require all published work to be written in English, and the few exceptions I am familiar with only allow French and German as alternatives?
Making sure that the article is written in a language that makes it accessible to the core readership of the journal seems reasonable, as does making sure that the article engages with relevant literatures that the core readership of the journal might be familiar with, even if both of those are highly contestable standards that are independent of the quality of the arguments presented in the work.Report
There’s an incredibly obvious middle ground between not publishing a paper, even if the argument seems good, if you have concerns about it not citing people from some relevant oppressed group, and simply ignoring such concerns entirely. The obvious first thing to do in such circumstances, *if you genuinely think the paper might be improved by engagement with the work of people from the group in question*, is simply to send it back with an R&R or maybe a conditional acceptance, and tell the author ‘I think this is good, but I also think it would be significantly improved by engaging with the work of trans* (or black, or gay, or disabled) scholars’. Of course, if the author refuses to do that, or claims they can’t find any relevant material, at some point your going to have to make a choice, but you don’t *have* to make that choice at first pass.Report
(I am inclined to agree with Lance that if the argument really does seem good (and original and important) to you, you should probably publish regardless if the author is absolutely insistent they can’t find anything relevant in the work of scholars from the group in question.)Report
Asta is trying to turn a rather simple thing into a very complicated one.
First of all, it presumes that every paper discussing some topics related to community of people X has to quote work from members of X. But what if the work usually produced by memebers of X is not relevant for a particular topic or an aspect of the topic that the paper in question is focused on? Could it not be that there are social reasons which explain why members of X would predominantly research some particular topics concerning their identity (e.g. topics directly relevant for the oppression they might be subjected to), whereas they are not as interested in some, more ‘scholarly’ and detached topics? So what if one is writing a paper discussing one of those dry, ‘scholarly’ topics, and what if there is no particularly relevant literature coming from members of X regarding that topic? What should one do, presuming one is not a member of X? Cite works by members of X, even though they’re not relevant? Or refrain from writing a paper in which one cannot cite work by members of X? Wouldn’t that be thought policing?
And sure, we can reasonably disagree whether Tuvel’s paper can be accurately described in this way. We can disagree about whether she missed some relevant literature. Such disagreements are common in academia. What is not common is the nature and the intensity of the public outcry that was directed at Tuvel. The reply would be, I guess, that this topic is not as impersonal as, I don’t know, debate about universals or causation. These topics, written about in Hypatia and similar journals, concerning actual humans and have the potential to bring actual harm to them. Well, I think that’s the crux of the issue – it is apparent that trying to reconcile activism with academic excellence will often times result in these kinds of conflicts, and that it is hard to fully satisfy both sets of criteria.
P.S. Ironically, I wonder what would the effects of Tuvel’s paper be if there was no outcry about it? I mean, it’s plausible that the vast majority of people who know about the paper and have read it, have done so because of the outcry. So isn’t it plausible that, presuming the part about actual harm brought about by the publication of the paper is true, the people protesting the paper have significantly contributed to that harm? (This is not my original argument, I read it somewhere, maybe even here on Daily Nous)Report
“First of all, it presumes that every paper discussing some topics related to community of people X has to quote work from members of X. But what if the work usually produced by members of X is not relevant for a particular topic or an aspect of the topic that the paper in question is focused on?”
Right, Krell_154, I don’t see a way out here for Ásta. She has to insist that such work be discussed even if it’s irrelevant to the topic. She just has to. Or, as you suggest, she has to insist that one refrain from writing on the topic. And that’s absurd. So much for her view!
Unless… hmmm, well, maybe—just bear with me a sec here—maybe she could say that when we’re writing about group X we have a reason to pay attention to relevant work by members of that group. That might just work.
I know you might be wondering whether this radical revision is compatible with Ásta’s view. That’s a good question. I think it is. But you don’t have to trust me. A close look at what Ásta wrote reveals a subtle gesture to relevance when she describes the journal as the “have-you-engaged-the-relevant-literature police.”Report
My point was that there could be situations in which one is writing a paper about a topic that deals with group X, and there are no relevant papers about that topic coming from members of X, due to a number of reasons (e.g. maybe group X has few members, and none of them researched that particular topic).
If Asta wants to deny that there could be such situations, well OK, but I wouldn’t find that denial plausible.Report
Why would you think she wants to deny this?Report
I don’t think she wants to deny this. But apart from denying it, I fail to see how she can coherently maintain that one should always cite work produced by members of X in writing about X.Report
This gets at the lack of charity I was concerned about. Why do you think Ásta believes that one has a reason to cite work produced by members of X in writing about X to the extent that if there is no such relevant work produced by members of X about X one ought not write about X? Report
Justin W., dude you literally just wrote “If we drop the point-scoring we could have a constructive conversation.“ And then you comment like this. I mean come on.Report
Hi Liz. The passage I quoted from Krell_154 in my comment displayed such an utter lack of charity towards Ásta and a failure to read (she literally says “relevant literature”) the best I could do was respond with humor. I don’t mind your objection, though; apologies to all (Krell_154 included) if I was too snarky.Report
And I literally said in my top comment ”what if the work usually produced by memebers of X is not relevant”, which clearly suggests the direction I was heading to with my argument
– namely, that it is possible that there is no relevant work produced by members of X. And I think that shows I’m well aware that relevance is the key issue.Report
Justin, for some reason I can’t reply to your comment above stating:
”This gets at the lack of charity I was concerned about. Why do you think Ásta believes that one has a reason to cite work produced by members of X in writing about X to the extent that if there is no such relevant work produced by members of X about X one ought not write about X?”
You are correct. She does not say explicitly that one must quote work by members of X when writing about X. She says that Tuvel didn’t engage relevant literature, and then she identifies relevant literature as trans and critical race theory literature on passing and identity. When she goes on to speak about people with ”skin in the game”, and the offense and hurt this paper has caused them, I interpret that as the offense and hurt caused by the lack of citation of relevant authors, including members of X (supported further by her advancement of soft standpoint epistemology).
I infer from all of that that scholars belonging to community X are by default relevant sources when one is writing about X (and that default relevance may be soft, as in soft standpoint epistemology). Do you agree that this is what Asta is claiming?
So you might construe my comments as simply the denial of that: scholars from community X are not by default relevant, even softly so, when one is writing about X. Every such situation should be considered on a case by case basis.Report
“I infer from all of that that scholars belonging to community X are by default relevant sources when one is writing about X (and that default relevance may be soft, as in soft standpoint epistemology). Do you agree that this is what Ásta is claiming?”
No. I think instead that she is saying “scholars belonging to community X who have written about the X-related subject at hand are prima facie (or defeasibly) relevant sources when one is writing about that X-related subject.”
By the way, I’m not necessarily endorsing Ásta’s argument. I do, however, think we should not strawman it. As is well-known, I was not convinced by the criticisms of Tuvel’s article in the open letter that so many people signed, and I think the associate editors made some mistakes in their hasty response. But it was clear that a non-trivial number of philosophers thought there was something seriously wrong with Hypatia publishing that article, and I think it’s worthwhile trying to understand the arguments behind that view.
Ásta’s talk is valuable for laying out one such argument—its call for a move from what could be called “formal” inclusiveness to “substantive” inclusiveness parallels arguments in political philosophy that many people have found compelling. It’s also valuable because she shares the background training and outlook of so many philosophers who found the critical reaction to Tuvel’s article objectionable.
More generally, I think we should at least try to avoid interpreting our colleagues’ work in ways that make them seem stupid. The idea that a person writing about group X, to which they do not belong, has to cite work by members of X regardless of its relevance, or the idea that such a person couldn’t be justified in writing about group X if no one in X had already written something relevant to cite—these are obviously stupid ideas. So it was irritating to see you immediately attribute them to Ásta.
It’s reasonable to assume that philosophy professors are pretty smart. That doesn’t mean the things they write are smart, or correct, or even half-plausible, but it does suggest that, generally, we should start off by trying to see how they could be.Report
Would those references have affected Tuvel’s argument? If not, it’s literal box-checking, which is patronizing, not inclusive. In addition, not every objection can be addressed in every paper. Reading charitably seems like a good regulative norm for anyone interested in truth, although that’s hardly the norm in academia (and it seems worse in those areas that are explicitly tied to activism of some kind, but that could just be a selection effect of various controversies).Report
I think this is a very nicely written response, and I’m glad to have read it. Nonetheless, I disagree.
I am glad that Asta has indicated that we are concerned with works of analytic philosophy, specifically. I have no desire to engage in the boundary-policing exercise of whether critical theory is or is not “really” philosophy. But it is clear enough, I think, that critical theory is not ANALYTIC philosophy. This being the case, no work of analytic philosophy should be considered under any academic obligation to engage with any literature in critical theory, even if those works of critical theory touch on the same subject matter. The two enterprises are so different in their methods and their assumptions, that it is hard to know where to find common ground. For an analytic philosopher, to engage seriously (rather than superficially) with a critical gender theorist would almost certainly mean tracing the disagreement between the analytic philosopher and the critical theorist to its root: very different assumptions about the nature of truth, knowledge, and discourse. There is value in having those disagreements. But it is certainly not true that EVERY work of analytic philosophy that discusses issues that have also been discussed by critical theorists must include an extensive discussion of whether knowledge is power and whether truth is relative.
If it is true that works of academic philosophy are under no obligation to engage with critical theory, then Tuvel, in writing a work of analytic philosophy, did no academic wrong in not citing those works.
If Tuvel did no academic wrong in not citing those works, calling for the paper’s retraction is inappropriate. Moral concerns are not adequate grounds for retraction of a paper in an academic journal.
Therefore, calling for the paper’s retraction is inappropriate.
One might object that Tuvel is guilty not of ignoring critical theory, but of ignoring the very communities that she is discussing – trans scholars, in particular. I respond that this is a non sequitur. If a particular work is both by a trans scholar and also a work of critical theory, then analytic philosophers are under no academic obligation to engage with it.
If there are trans scholars writing works of analytic philosophy that Tuvel disregarded, then that would indeed be an oversight – perhaps a grave one, depending on the contributions of the paper in question. But I am aware of no such relevant works of analytic philosophy. (I am happy to be corrected on this matter of fact if I’m wrong.)Report
Blurg… seriously? At the risk of becoming the “strawman-reference-to-critical-theory” police in the comments section of this blog, I have to disagree (and sorry, Justin, about the digression from the topic of the thread). Analytical Marxists didn’t seem to find it too difficult to engage with Marx, who is indisputably a critical theorist in any meaningful sense of the term (sees knowledge as historically conditioned, argues that certain critical insights are more accessible to people in certain social positions, etc.); Habermas is a critical theorist by any reasonable definition, and yet he both draws extensively on analytic philosophy and engaged in an apparently fruitful debate with Rawls, among others. Despite the initial caveat about avoiding boundary policing relative to “critical theory”, and the superficial nuance of saying not “EVERY work…”, your proposal amounts to treating (whatever it is you mean by) “critical theory” as “beyond the pale” of analytic (read: “real/serious”?) philosophy, something with which one need only engage under unspecified exceptional circumstances. And that’s a ridiculous, strawman-inspired form of boundary-policing of analytic philosophy. (Moreover, since, in your view, identifying something as “critical theory” justifies such treatment, it is presumably a matter of some importance to be clear about what is and is not “critical theory”: if it is enough to maintain that “truth is relative”, as you seem to suggest, then must Rorty and Williams become exceptional interlocutors as well? If one must also think knowledge a form of power, is Kuhn then to be ignored?)Report
Analytical Marxists didn’t seem to find it too difficult to engage with Marx …
The leading analytical Marxists spent large parts of their lives developing analytical Marxism. It’s not the sort of project you demand as due diligence for a journal article.
Habermas is a critical theorist by any reasonable definition, and yet he both draws extensively on analytic philosophy and engaged in an apparently fruitful debate with Rawls, among others.
John von Neumann studied simultaneously in three different universities in three different countries for degrees in three different subjects. Everyone’s not Habermas.
… your proposal amounts to treating (whatever it is you mean by) “critical theory” as “beyond the pale” of analytic (read: “real/serious”?) philosophy, something with which one need only engage under unspecified exceptional circumstances. And that’s a ridiculous, strawman-inspired form of boundary-policing of analytic philosophy.
Forbidding engagement with critical theory would be boundary policing, declaring it non-obligatory isn’t.
… “strawman-reference-to-critical-theory” police … a ridiculous, strawman-inspired form of boundary-policing …
You have identified no strawman.
… if it is enough to maintain that “truth is relative”, as you seem to suggest …
Now that’s a strawman.Report
Marx, … indisputably a critical theorist in any meaningful sense of the term …
“Critical Theory” in the narrow sense designates several generations of German philosophers and social theorists in the Western European Marxist tradition known as the Frankfurt School. (SEP)
As for critical theorists in the broader sense, we can’t settle by observation whether Marx would have despised them more or less than he despised say the Utopian socialists, with whom he also shared a premise or two; that he would have despised them less is less than obvious.Report
Tempting though it is to line-by-line you in reply, my original complaint was already off topic, and so I will try to be briefer than that. I think you are being deliberately obtuse: “Cautious until tenured”‘s suggestion was that, in a debate concerning with which sources it is reasonable to expect an analytic philosopher to engage, we can exclude the entire category of “critical theory”, irrespective of overlap in content, on the grounds that it is “critical theory”. If that’s not boundary-policing (analytic) philosophy, then perhaps I don’t know what boundary policing is.
Nevertheless, it is an absurd thing to suggest. “Critical theory”, even in the narrow sense, is an internally diverse set of commitments and views, any one of which can also be found in the work of mainstream analytic philosophers (the point of my examples). Thus, “Cautious until tenured”s suggestion must rest on some profound mischaracterization or misunderstanding of critical theory as radically incongruous with analytic philosophy and apparently internally homogeneous. If you cannot see that his/her argument for its exclusion therefore rests on a strawman fallacy then, well, perhaps you don’t know what a strawman fallacy is.Report
If [“Cautious until tenured”‘s suggestion]’s not boundary-policing (analytic) philosophy, then perhaps I don’t know what boundary policing is.
Those parentheses are doing a lot of work there. Delete them, and you get descriptive claim that CUT did make but that can’t reasonably be taken as boundary policing. Delete the whole parenthesized expression, and you get an claim that can reasonably be taken as boundary policing but that CUT didn’t make. Finally, reinsert, to combine the sense of one claim and the truth value of the other.
… perhaps you don’t know what a strawman fallacy is.
Oh, I know what it is well enough: attributing to an opponent a claim he didn’t make to create a false impression of having refuted him. But I’ve rarely seen it so well executed.Report
The author of the post seema to equivocate between engaging with a literature and engaging with a literature *in one’s paper.* Failure of the latter ovbiously does not imply failure of the former.Report
Similar thoughts have already been voiced but I’ll say it again. After reading Sveinsdottir’s whole talk, which was very interesting, I see claims to the effect that there is relevant literature (on passing, e.g.,) that Tuvel didn’t discuss or cite in her paper. That’s certainly true.
But what I still haven’t seen is some explanation of how claims or observations from the literature she doesn’t cite would undermine claims in Tuvel’s paper. As a genuine question, are there succinct ways of summing up some arguments to that effect? E.g., claims like “if Tuvel had read the passing, identity, and related literature, she’d have known that P, which presents a strong prima facie objection to her claim that Q?”Report
First, I recommend that everyone read the whole talk. It’s short, clear, and quite interesting.
Anyway, I think Daniel has nicely gotten to the heart of the matter here. Reading the talk got me thinking about when I, as a referee, make the judgment to reject a paper in part on the grounds that it fails to engage with the relevant literature. In every such case, the reason why I take failure to engage with relevant literature to be grounds to reject a paper is that the relevant literature contains arguments or counterexamples that would pose objections to the arguments or claims made in the paper. That is to say, failing to engage with relevant literature is a deficiency in a paper on epistemic grounds. It’s a deficiency when that failure to engage makes it likely that the paper is subject to known counterexamples, etc.
So the point, I guess, is that engaging with the relevant literature is not an end in itself. It’s necessary when, and only when, failing to engage with the relevant literature has bad epistemic consequences. But, I think that Ásta actually has an argument that failing to engage with literature on these topics by members of the relevant groups is bad on epistemic grounds. This is the point of what she (and maybe others, I don’t know) calls “soft standpoint theory”: “that people with skin in the game often have perspectives on, and experience with, things that others don’t.” The argument would then be that “people with skin in the game” are likely to be in a position to make arguments or raise counterexamples that others don’t. Consequently, if one fails to engage with that literature, it’s likely that one is missing these arguments and counterexamples, which means that one’s own argument is likely to be epistemically deficient.
This argument has the virtue of being consistent with the aspects of analytic philosophy that Ásta finds (or found?) attractive, especially the idea that “it is the claim or argument that matters, not who makes it.” On the argument I reconstructed above (which I take to be Ásta’s argument), ultimately what matters is the epistemic quality of arguments. If you ignore literature by people whose standpoints bear relevantly on your argument, your argument is likely to suffer a deficiency in epistemic quality (e.g. be subject to a counterexample that already exists in the literature). And a paper’s being deficient in epistemic quality—i.e. it does not succeed in sufficiently justifying its conclusion—is surely grounds for rejection.
But there’s a least one lingering worry here. If I have Ásta’s argument right, it implies that we should codify an epistemological thesis that is subject to debate in the literature—“soft standpoint theory”—into a methodological principle, and indeed one sufficiently strong such that failing to comply with it means that one is failing to comply with the standards of the discipline, and consequently one’s work ought not be published. Does this violate the other attractive feature of analytic philosophy, viz., that “no claim and no argument is too holy to touch”? That sounds worrisome to me. Maybe there’s ultimately nothing to worry about here—I need to think more about it—but I think it should give us pause.Report
I think that’s a fine argument, but even if successful, it only establishes that, ex ante, failure to engage with literature by people with “skin in the game” means you’re likely to miss relevant arguments and counterexamples. It doesn’t establish that, ex post, having failed to so engage, there should be any in principle obstacle to pointing out what those relevant arguments and counterexamples are.
That is, granting the soundness of that argument, we don’t have an explanation for why it seems to be so hard to say *specifically* what Tuvel was missing, and which would have made problems for the stuff she did say.
E.g., I work in epistemology, and I often find myself rejecting papers that fail to engage with relevant literature. But I never just leave my explanation for the rejection at: “there’s relevant literature that the manuscript didn’t engage.” Rather, it would be something like this:
“In the course of arguing for P, the manuscript presupposes that Q. But this amounts to a claim that condition C is luminous, i.e., such that we can know we’re in C whenever we’re in C. Timothy Williamson has famously argued that no conditions at all are luminous, and there’s a huge literature on that argument. Moreover, the manuscript is arguing against Timothy Williamson’s thesis that R, and so presupposing Q in this context is clearly question-begging.”
If the argument you give in your post is right, we should expect that it’s likely that some paragraph like the previous could be written for Tuvel’s paper. But so far (and I’ll admit, I haven’t followed things super closely), I haven’t seen anything like that.Report
Just be clear, Daniel, (and I think you were aware of this), I was just trying to charitably reconstruct Ásta’s argument. I am not sure whether I endorse it myself, partly for the reasons you give here.
I agree that it seems a little dubious to reject a paper *solely* on the grounds that there are likely to be counterexamples that are not considered in the paper. It would be much better to actually find those counterexamples, as you say.Report
Interesting reconstruction, Matt. You take Asta’s standpoint premise to be that it is likely that people with skin in the game will make arguments and counterexamples not found elsewhere. This seems too strong. What if people with skin in the game tend to cluster in areas of philosophy less conducive to argumentation and counterexampling?
I think a premise more plausibly supported by standpoint epistemology is the comparative claim:
Other things equal, the chance that a paper has epistemic defects is higher if that paper engages with significant amount of authors with skin in the game rather than fails to so engage.
I just don’t know how to use that premise to draw interesting probabilistic claims about a paper like Tuvel’s.Report
The idea of standpoint theory must be, at a minimum, that the self-reported experience of marginalized people about their oppression should be accorded some amount of weight (as evidence) beyond what we normally accord to anecdata.
But this depends on a prior understanding of who the marginalized people are. Who is oppressed, anyway? How do we know to assign extra weight to black men’s experience of being hassled by cops, but not to white men’s experience of being oppressed by affirmative action or the PC police?
The answer must be that objective, systematic evidence is needed to break the tie here. White people are doing just fine in their education and careers, regardless of affirmative action. The statistics on white outcomes are very clear and very positive. Black people, on the other hand, are much more likely to be killed by cops, beaten up by cops, etc etc. Again, the statistics are unambiguous.
So now we know that we should trust black men’s experience of police brutality, and not white men’s experience of affirmative action. So at this point, what does the lived experience add? Now it’s nothing more than an illustrative example of what we already know by looking at the statistics. And if the statistics did not support the self-reports of the people we thought were marginalized, how would we know that they were marginalized in the ways we thought they were?
So this leads me to the conclusion that lived experience is superfluous as evidence when we try to answer any important questions about oppression. That doesn’t mean it’s completely superfluous period, because we never would have asked the question about police violence against black men if it wasn’t for black men’s anecdotes. But once we know to ask the question in a systematic way, the anecdotes become superfluous.
The situation for standpoint theory is even a little worse than this, though. Because one thing standpoint theorists never mention, and which one is never allowed to mention in earshot of them, is that all people–marginalized people included–color their own experience through a wide variety of heuristics and cognitive biases. Trans* people are just as susceptible as cis people to confirmation bias, motivated reasoning, stereotyping heuristics and all the rest. To venerate their lived experience as an especially accurate way of answering (as opposed to asking) big questions about broader culture is to ignore this fact.
Ultimately, for standpoint theory to be correct, there would have to be significant form of cognitive bias that privileged people are subject to and marginalized people are not. This would indeed make the lived experience of marginalized people more representative of reality than the lived experience of privileged people. I don’t know of any evidence for such a bias, and since other cognitive biases tend to mostly be innate and not learned, it would surprise me if there was one. Certainly the standpoint theorists I know have not done, or cited, the psychological research it would take to answer this question. So I take a dim view of standpoint theory.Report
AN, I think you miss a subtlety in the position you’re attacking: few standpoint theorists will claim that certain standpoints are less biased *in general*. Rather, they will argue that they have better access to reality in certain domains or with respect to certain questions. It’s hard to deny that this will occasionally be so. However, I join you in expressing some skepticism even here. Indeed, feminist theorists and counselors have already identified a serious bias displayed by victims of sexual assault, their tragic under-valuation of *themselves* and of their worth as persons following an attack. This is indeed a perspective that the rest of us do not have, but it is most certainly not one that we should wish to privilege in any debate about the value and worth of victims. Another, more controversial possibility is that victimhood and oppression itself distorts a view of reality… that, through no fault of her own, a person who has experienced certain types of injustice is (for example) more likely to see them everywhere. Again, this is a perspective that should not be privileged, even if it is based on “experiences” that other don’t share.
These are possible examples of domain-specific biases, though I do understand why people are uncomfortable with mentioning them… there is a history of silencing marginalized voices that plays into our reluctance to attack certain perspectives.Report
There will be vacant seats at the table if more and more people become intimidated or threatened when contributing research on these topics.Report
Yes, and hopefully this will mean that those who are directly acquainted with the matter at issue may take their place, and that the discussion will be all the better for it.Report
Hopefully, though I doubt this kind of treatment is very encouraging to anyone.Report
I agree that the sort of harassment experienced by Tuvel was ugly and unwarranted. (I’m not sure where I stand on the retraction issue in this case.) But I also think that there were milder forms of rebuke in play that are perfectly scholarly. If someone insists on a taking up seat at the table to discuss some issue even though they have not done their homework, then I don’t see a problem with calling them out until they either do their homework or leave (the table, not the profession), since that is bullshit of the Frankfurtian sort, not scholarship. Not doing so puts a lie to our collective claim as scholars to the virtues on the basis of which we demand that others acknowledge our expertise and accord us certain freedoms and protections.Report
I’m glad you agree it was ugly and unwarranted. My claim is that ugly and unwarranted behavior ultimately discourages everyone from doing research in this area to some degree, and obviously not the claim that there can’t ever be rigorous scholarly criticism of research.Report
As best as I can tell, Asta’s contribution doesn’t solve the original dilemma that faced Hypatia, it merely picks one of its horn.
The original dilemma being that a journal cannot simultaneously be committed to being “a pluralist feminist philosophy journal” while also requiring that all articles touching upon topics dealing with trans and critical race theory must also be a paper that “[engages] the trans* and critical race theory literature about passing, identity, and related topics.”
I still think that the dilemma is a powerful one and, while Asta’s contribution doesn’t fundamentally alter that dilemma, it does make a clear decision to veer toward the latter horn. Although I think I personally choose the former, I can respect our disagreement about this issue. It also seems that the main editors of Hypatia have taken the former and not the latter horn, at least for the time being.Report
Perhaps a problem with Asta’s point is that (as far as I know, and maybe she does actually address this point elsewhere) is that the social identities of the author then become paramount. If the author herself is a member of group X, but does not cite the relevant literature written by other members of group X, it shouldn’t matter because the author is still ensuring a seat at the table goes to group X simply by being a member of group X, if group X “having a seat at the table” is the prime consideration. But it does seem wrong to judge a paper on the social identities of the author: isn’t that precisely why we have blind peer review? I think that either an author failed to engage relevant literature or they didn’t, and it should not depend on their own social identity, or the social identities of the people they failed to cite. The supposed deficiencies of Tuvel’s paper (and I am not certain she did miss anything truly relevant to her argument: no one has shown which specific arguments she missed) should be equally the case if Tuvel was, say a transgender person of colour. Otherwise we are in a position where only members of certain groups can say certain things, and we need to require people to declare their social identities when submitting a paper for review . . . surely a profoundly anti-philosophical result.Report
Another potential problem with Asta’s defence of the outcry over Tuvel’s paper is that it presupposes the very argument or attitude that Tuvel was critiquing. Why do we have an obligation to consult people of colour on the issue of trans race identities, but we do not have an obligation to consult non trans women on the issue of trans gender identities? Why are non trans women who have some political and/or metaphysical concerns about trans gender identities emphatically denied a seat at the table, while at the same time it is considered imperative that people of colour who have some political and/or metaphysical concerns about trans race identities are given a seat at the table?
The very fact that I had to specify “non trans” regarding gender, but not race, shows that we already accept trans gender identities but do not accept trans race identities – exactly the point Tuvel was addressing. This doesn’t show that Asta is wrong to argue that people from certain groups should be consulted on topics pertaining to them, but it does seem to indicate there is some inconsistency in how that idea is applied, and that people who wish to make that argument might end up in a position to apply it to people they disagree with. If they don’t, it starts to look a lot like special pleading.Report
Does anyone know whether Hypatia has received any articles responding to Tuval’s article? Although the nature of the controversy might make it unlikely, in principle it should still be possible for Hypatia to devote an issue to responses, and writing such an article would of course be a way of having a seat at the table.Report
Where can I find the Decisive Objection to the kind of view Tuvel defends in the literature that she is alleged not to have sufficiently engaged?Report
Does the objection need to be decisive, or merely significant enough and well-known enough to be a glaring mistake to ignore?
I don’t know the relevant literature in the particular field here, but continuing an example discussed in a comment above (http://dailynous.com/2017/10/23/analytic-philosophy-egalitarianism-standpoint-epistemology-privileging/#comment-124306), an author in epistemology who claims that it is obvious that one can tell whether or not one is in a particular state of mind really ought to at least *mention* the anti-luminosity arguments of Williamson. The anti-luminosity arguments aren’t taken as decisive by a lot of epistemologists, but they’re at least a well-known challenge to an argument of the type in consideration, and a reader who sees that challenge and thinks the author doesn’t would be reasonable in thinking that the author is off base.Report
I read the comment above, but thanks for Kenny Easexplaining it as though I hadn’t or hadn’t understood the point of it, I guess? Albeit a bit cheeky, my original question was a sincere one.
Literature “significant enough and well-known enough to be a glaring mistake to ignore?” would also do.Report
Others have made this point more eloquently, but I will try to be succinct:
1. If Tuvel’s conclusions were demonstrably false, Asta and similar detractors would be able to point to a disproof of them (rather than a nebulous “literature”).
2. Detractors have been unable to point to a disproof of Tuvel’s conclusions (and instead engage in handwaving about “accountability” and tables and so forth).
Conclusion: Tuvel’s conclusions are not demonstrably false.Report
This is not a valid argument. Try again.Report
It’s valid. It’s modus tollens. You must mean it isn’t sound. Which claims are false? The conditional or the negation of the consequent?Report
I’m pretty sure that that no detractors have yet been able to disprove Tuvel’s argument is not equivalent to it being the case that it is not possible to do so. And as far as I can tell, inferring not-p from p->q and not-q* is neither an instance of modus tollens not an valid inference.Report
Oops; ‘nor’, not ‘not’.Report
“no detractors have yet been able to disprove Tuvel’s argument is not equivalent to it being the case that it is not possible to do so.”
I think what you are saying is that “not having done so” and “not being able to do so” are not the same thing. Which is true. However, it is rather suspicious that Asta et al have not done that which would make their argument much stronger: show the exact argument written by a member of a minority group that Tuvel missed. If she missed a relevant argument that was written by a minority group member, we would have epistemic grounds for criticism, and given the minority status of the group, we would also have moral / political grounds for criticism. I think it is perfectly reasonable to infer (and have as a background assumption to a modus tollens) that the reason Asta et al have not specified the exact argument that was overlooked is that they don’t know of one.Report
Damn. More typos/errors. Mutatis mutandis, I guess.Report
“However, it is rather suspicious that Asta et al have not done that which would make their argument much stronger: show the exact argument written by a member of a minority group that Tuvel missed. If she missed a relevant argument that was written by a minority group member, we would have epistemic grounds for criticism, and given the minority status of the group, we would also have moral / political grounds for criticism. I think it is perfectly reasonable to infer (and have as a background assumption to a modus tollens) that the reason Asta et al have not specified the exact argument that was overlooked is that they don’t know of one.”
That’s fine; that is basically what I took the claim to be. But that’s an inductive inference, and so, not modus tollens. And if the only way it goes through is if we took your background assumption for granted, which looks to be just the jist of the conclusion (that no ‘disproof’ is available), then it is not a particularly strong one.
Also, in any case, as I understand it, whether or not someone from the relevant groups has published an argument that directly and decisively anticipates and disproves Tuvel’s position is neither here nor there with respect to the standpoint objection that Asta and others have been pushing.Report
The hypothesis that a disproof has not been provided because there isn’t one is probably best described as an inference to the best explanation. I’d say it’s the most plausible IBE, especially as people have a lot to gain in providing a disproof. If the IBE is correct, and I think it is, then the modus tollens is sound. If it is wrong, then the modus tollens is valid but not sound.
And if Asta’s and other’s objection wasn’t that a relevant argument was ignored, but that “literature” only nebulously defined was not cited, then I am afraid I have to say that their objection is itself highly objectionable.Report
Notice that the reconstruction you give doesn’t at all resemble the original argument. I would also like to point out that, so reconstructed, it largely misses the point of the objection it targets, but I don’t particularly feel like spoon-feeding it to you given how comfortable you are dismissing it out of hand despite your own admitted ignorance on the subject.Report
That is a very unconvincing reply. Nothing more than a flounce.Report
Which part do you find unconvincing? Is it that your reconstruction doesn’t at all reflect the structure of the original argument, because you’ve changed the target insofar as your reframing of the conclusion, “a disproof has not been provided because there isn’t one is probably best described,” as a probabilistic claim is weaker than the conclusion “Tuvel’s conclusions are not demonstrably false?” Or that it alters the structure of the argument so that it the conclusion is no longer supported by a deductive inference, but an inductive or abductive one instead (and that if it is abductive, much of the work will be done by an unstated background assumption not present in the original, pushing the question back)? Or, maybe, its that I don’t think its worth my time to explain a fairly complicated position (i.e., standpoint theory) to someone over the internet when they’re clearly disposed to rejecting it even though they clearly haven’t bothered to take more than a cursory look at its central claims–especially since you are clearly smart enough to figure it out for yourself?Report
Imagine that: a defender of philosophy-as-autoethnography doesn’t know how to tell if an argument is valid.Report
Actually, I do. And your argument, as stated, still isn’t valid.Report
It is valid. However, you think it is unsound, because you disagree with the content of the consequent and it’s negation, specifically the part about whether Asta et al are “able” to disprove Tuvel’s thesis.Report
No, as stated, it is not valid since the negation is not the denial of the consequent. Sure, it can be reconstructed to be valid, but not as it stands.Report
It seems you are quibbling over “have not been able” as opposed to “are not able”. Given that Traldi expressed his argument as a modus tollens, the more charitable reading would be that he intended “have not been able” as the “are not able” negation. Really, you are haggling over grammar in a very uncharitable way rather than engaging the substance of the argument.Report
Well, of course that’s what he meant. And, of course, such an argument is clearly in bad faith insofar as it purports to be able to _deductively show_ from simple premises that literally hundreds of trained philosophers are full of shit with respect to their area of specialisation. But why should I take it seriously when it contains a no more serious thought than ‘if they had it they would bring it out, but they haven’t, so they must be bluffing/bullshitting’? (Just as easily, one can think that, ‘well, they’re certainly smart enough to know that any such bluff would be called, so that can’t have been the point of the complaint…’ Like, for you to find the initial thought to be vastly more plausible than any such response, your prior credence with respect to the competence of would have to be disrespectfully low.) And insofar as the appropriate response to bullshit is not to engage with it but to reveal it for what it is, I don’t see the need to bend over backwards here.Report
So which premise do you think is false?Report
Seriously? See my comments @ 12:46 and 12:31. Try to keep up, will you? Also, do your homework.Report
Very few philosophy papers have conclusions that are “demonstrably false” or “demonstrably true”. That’s not the point. The point is that if you rely on a premise in your argument, and there’s a thriving cottage industry of debating that premise, and you give no indication of even being aware of it, you’re writing a bad paper. Sometimes the right answer is to mention that cottage industry and say that you think it’s all trash, or that engaging it properly would be a waste of time. (There are contexts in which it’s good enough to talk about justified true belief and say the post-Gettier literature is a distraction for present purposes.) More often, there’s at least one or two points from that literature that can help you clarify a distinction you’re trying to make, or differentiate your view from one that has a well-known problem. But just completely ignoring it is usually wrong, even if you think it’s a bad literature, even if your conclusions are still just fine.Report
This is plausible though by no means convincing. Of course, it also bears no resemblance to Tuvel’s paper, which is very interesting.Report
What premise in Tuvel’s paper did you have in mind?Report
I would grant that people shouldn’t write about transgender and transrace (if there’s such a thing) in a vacuum, without acquainting themselves with the lived experience of all “stakeholders”–which means trans people, cis people, black people, and people who think they’re transracial (which may be just one person). This means not only reading stakeholder literature on race and gender, but also reading memoirs, etc. by non-philosophers and in fact non-academics. You can’t really get a grip on whether Rachel Dolezal (race-wise) is at all similar to Caitlyn Jenner (gender-wise), without doing this sort of homework. So I think this means I’m agreeing with Asta, in principle. What I am less convinced by is the claim that RT failed to do this homework. She may not have read everything Asta would have wanted her to, but she’s not an “analytic philosopher” just coming up with thought experiments without finding out how actual people experience race and gender.Report
Yes, this strikes me as exactly right. It’s disappointing that so many smart and philosophically capable people have set themselves up in the comments here (and elsewhere) just to declare that so much straw is obviously ridiculous.Report
What the author calls “soft standpoint theory” seems entirely plausible to me, even though I may not always have done as well in light of it as I should have in my own work. But it seems to me that evaluating Hypatia’s decision-making in light of that theory would require knowing more than we do (as far as I’m aware) about what reviewers were chosen. If some or all of the reviewers were trans-philosophers, for instance, then it would be harder to make the case that the journal did not hold itself accountable to that community.Report
The human body is naturally a standpoint in it’s functioning–without privilege–in evolution…
…Foundationally It provides instinct, sensation, emotion and mentation–as means for our meanings to any and all of us….
Analyse without a balanced field of intensions–functionings can lead to non-egalitarianisms…Report
My precis of Asta’s argument is something like:
1) Tuvel’s article is not good (i.e.) publishable feminist philosophy because it fails to engage with relevant literature. So far, that’s a first-order academic judgement of the kind that we routinely make when refereeing papers. “This paper’s argument fails because it presumes X, which has been demonstrated to be false by A. Absent some defence of X against A’s objections, the paper is not suitable for publication” – routine stuff.
2) But Asta considers and rejects the idea that this is *just* a first-order judgement, which another referee might reasonably make differently. She’s arguing (I think) that in theorising about a given group, it is compulsory to discuss work written by members of that group (by “those communities”), and that this isn’t a space where reasonable referees might differ.
3) She seems to be advocating both a moral and an epistemic case for so engaging: the moral case, because there is an obligation to be accountable to a given community; the epistemic case, because in fact it is highly likely that members of that community have salient things to say.
4) She doesn’t regard the ordinary peer-review process as an adequate mechanism to enforce this: she’s explicit that Hypatia followed its processes entirely correctly and that this demonstrates that the *processes* need rethinking. (This was also a theme of the Associate Editors’ original letter, which Asta stands by.)
Some thoughts about this.
Firstly, the moral obligation seems subordinate to the epistemic one. As Justin acerbicly points out above, no-one is arguing that *irrelevant* literature should be cited. And it is easy to think of communities where very plausibly academic work by members of that community is not particularly valuable in theorising about them: conspiracy theorists or death cultists, say. The moral component seems to be more: “if there is relevant work by members of this community (and there probably is) then failing to engage with it is morally culpable, not just epistemically culpable”.
For that to be viable for Tuvel’s paper (and other papers of primary research) then it would require that there are *specific lines of criticism* in the appropriate bit of the literature that directly bear on the paper’s argument. In a textbook, or a review paper, it is necessary to make broad assessments of comparative importance, and lots of academic and even political points can bear on how to make those assessments. But a typical research paper is a narrow, specific argument to a delineated conclusion. It should engage with all and only those bits of the literature that actually bear on the validity of its argument. From that point of view I’m a little surprised that the criticism that I have read has mostly been “she doesn’t engage with voices from these communities”, rather than “she doesn’t engage with these particular arguments from members of these communities: Alice (2012), Bob (2013), Eve (2016)”.
In any case, let’s suppose (and it seems entirely plausible) that *in fact*, for the communities relevant to this discussion, it is very reliably the case that work *by* community members is epistemically relevant to work *on* those communities. What are we supposed to do with this? It seems to work pretty well as an *individual* norm: an author doing a literature search, or a referee doing a sanity check on whether a paper covers the bases, can use it as a heuristic – and, if one accepts the moral bit of the argument, they have some moral obligation to use it as a heuristic. (And if enough people in the field agree with that, in due course we can expect important work by given communities on X to be sufficiently widely known that no paper on X will be published without engaging with it.) But it seems really problematic to try using it as *more* than an individual heuristic: to have it as a filter that journal editors can use, for instance. Why? Three reasons, in roughly increasing order of importance:
1) It seems to shortcut the academic assessment of whether, in this particular case, there actually is anything relevant on that particular topic. It can’t be analytic that there is – but if a case-by-case assessment is made, we’re back to referees’ individual judgements.
2) In some cases it would be a rather disturbing intrusion of privacy. Not everyone is equally open about their various identities, and some identities are more open than others. If I write an article critical of how sexual abuse is handled on campus, should the question of whether I have sexual abuse experience myself bear on the article’s academic merits?
3) Partly because of (2), in practice such a rule becomes less “engage with work from individual authors who, individually, have salient experience”, and more “engage with work that self-identifies as coming from a particular community”. But “communities” are partly identified by their political and philosophical positions: “The X community” is rarely identical with “all people with characteristic X”. (It would be both demeaning and inaccurate to suppose that all people with mental illness, say, agree even in broad contours with a particular philosophical take on mental illness.) So a rule about engaging with work “from a particular community” effectively starts to make significant philosophical presuppositions.
Finally, I’d strongly encourage people to read the whole article. Justin inevitably had to excerpt but some subtlety is lost in the excerption. (My mental-first-draft of this comment was preemptively replied to by some parts of the original that didn’t make it into the excerpt.)Report
Asta’s position, that analytical philosophy must enact representative democracy, does neither any good.Report