Why I Don’t Usually Respond to Professor Leiter: An Example


In my recent post, “It’s Complicated,” I responded to a criticism of me published by Brian Leiter at his blog, Leiter Reports.

In my post, I wrote that “I usually don’t respond to Professor Leiter’s remarks about me,” though I did not say why. One reason is that to respond adequately to them here would divert Daily Nous away from its purpose. DN is supposed to be a place for the sharing of news and thoughts about the philosophy profession. Were I to respond to all of Professor Leiter’s provocations, DN would become a different kind of place than I’d like it to be.

To see this, consider his post this morning, written in response to “It’s Complicated,” the entirety of which reads:

“Here’s something that’s not complicated: Justin Weinberg (South Carolina) has been a consistent opponent of academic freedom and freedom of speech, from the case of Laura Kipnis at Northwestern to the case of John McAdams at Marquette. As the cyber-cheerleader for the New Infantilism, he consistently favors punishing people for speech offensive to the children, the law and principles be damned. The Finnis case is only the latest in that series.”

Responding to this means shifting from talking about the Finnis case and related issues to talking about me, and I’m reluctant to do that. As interesting as I may be to me and my dedicated critics, I don’t think I’m all that interesting to most of the thousands of philosophers who regularly visit Daily Nous.

That said, I hope that readers will forgive me for offering a few words in response, and forgive me for the lapse in judgment that made them necessary.

The main point I make in what follows is that what Professor Leiter says about me in his post is clearly false. If you didn’t already know that, and want to learn why, read on.

One thing Professor Leiter writes is that I have been “a consistent opponent of academic freedom and freedom of speech.” This claim is false.

There are many instances in which I’ve been a vocal defender of academic freedom and freedom of speech. In some of these instances, my defenses have been widely publicized. Two well-known examples of this are my remarks on the publication of Rebecca Tuvel’s article on transracialism (amplified in New York Magazine, among other places) and my remarks on the publication of Bruce Gilley’s article defending colonialism (amplified in the NYRB, among other places).

Most posts at DN concerning academic freedom are ones that are mainly about drawing attention to events in which academic freedom is at stake, rather than explicitly defending some view, though my opinions on the cases sometimes comes through. Here are just some examples:

When I’ve explicitly taken up the question of academic freedom, it has generally been about how to preserve it and think about it in light of other concerns academics may have about their work and workplace (the linked post is quite relevant to the issues raised in the Finnis case), and not using it as a cover for unprofessionalism. If I’ve called for anything, it has generally been more speech and more discussion.

Several posts at DN concern the discussion of controversial ideas, self-censorship by advocates of unpopular views, and the extent to which political correctness or other factors have precipitated a free speech crisis on college campuses. As many know, I have been quite skeptical of narratives that suggest a serious problem with free speech. My general view of these matters, expressed here, I called the “Great Academic Absorption”:

there has been an increase in the kinds of people who have the liberty to become academics, an increase in number and types of areas of inquiry academics are at liberty to investigate, an increase in the kinds of methods academics are at liberty to use in their research, an increase in the topics they are at liberty to teach, and an increase in the diversity of ideas academics are at liberty to defend. 

Some people interpret my attempts to show that the speech situation on campus is not as dire as it has been made out as anti-free speech. But the opposite is the case. As I’ve said on multiple occasions, I favor a robust culture of disagreement. If we take seriously concerns about self-censorship, then we ought to be especially worried if a false impression of a general and increasing hostility towards the expression of controversial ideas is being generated by a small number of well-publicized cases—for that false impression may cause people to censor themselves, which, in turn, may further discourage others from setting out their own unpopular views.

Now let’s turn to Professor Leiter’s other claim, that I “consistently favor… punishing people for speech offensive to the children.” This, too, is false.

Professor Leiter provides three examples to support his claim: the Title IX investigation of Laura Kipnis (Northwestern), the attempted firing of John McAdams (Marquette), and the recent case concerning John Finnis. In none of these cases did I call for these people’s punishment.

You can read a summary of my views of the Kipnis case here. The relevant parts of my view on this matter, in brief, were that (1) it was not obvious that some of Kipnis’s remarks did not constitute retaliation against a Title IX complainant and so it was not unreasonable for her university to look into that, (2) there appeared to be problems with how Kipnis was treated by the university during the investigation, (3) I do not object to the investigation’s finding that Kipnis did not engage in retaliation.

As for the McAdams case, most of my comments were in the service of correcting McAdams’ misleading account of what transpired, defending the graduate student instructor’s handling of the events, pointing out the abuse the instructor was being subject to, and calling for the university to speak out publicly in support for the instructor. I did write (in Update 3 on this post) that Marquette had sufficient grounds for investigating whether McAdams acted professionally and in accordance with the norms the university expects its faculty members to abide by. I did not call for McAdams to be punished.

Lastly, in neither of my two posts about the student petition to remove Finnis did I call for Finnis to be punished. In fact, in the second one, I wrote that the best way to address the students’ concerns “does not involve changing Finnis’ employment status or responsibilities.”

To sum up, Brian Leiter’s disparaging claims about me are false. I’m not an opponent of free speech, nor an opponent of academic freedom. Nor do I favor punishing people for offensive speech.

At this point, fans of irony might be curious as to whether Professor Leiter’s false claims about me are defamatory. Sorry, but I’m not particularly interested in that question.

Rather, I’m more interested in keeping Daily Nous closer to its mission. You have my apologies for the distraction, and my appreciation for your continued support of the site—by reading the posts, sharing them, and, of course, exercising your freedom to discuss and disagree with them.

I will likely continue to occasionally raise questions, prompted by current events or the comments and concerns of others, about academic freedom and freedom of speech. Some of these questions may be challenging for those who, like me, share the Millian hope that freedom and happiness are partners. But that such questions are challenging is not a reason to ignore or dismiss them. We’re philosophers. We know that.

Have a good weekend, everybody.

Justin Weinberg

COMMENTS POLICY

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Caligula's Goat
Caligula's Goat
2 years ago

Brian Leiter’s blog is a rhetorical cudgel that he wields against anyone he perceives as a threat. I’ve never found him eloquent, charitable, or even reasonable (even when – as with the Ronell case – we were on the same side of an issue).

I applaud Justin for creating Daily Nous as an alternative forum to discuss the profession. One that is not deeply infected or affected by the kind of rhetoric that people like Leiter use. Even when I’ve disagreed with your editorial posts, Justin, I’ve always found you patient and charitable when engaging with others (even with those who mimic Leiter’s style). Report

AmusedGradStudent
AmusedGradStudent
2 years ago

“At this point, fans of irony might be curious as to whether Professor Leiter’s false claims about me are defamatory. Sorry, but I’m not particularly interested in that question.”

As I was reading the post, I was really hoping you were going to say something like this, and you did, and it made me laugh out loud in the cafe I’m in, causing a couple of people to look at me strangely. Worth it. 🙂

It is sad to me that this post had to be written, and in general I agree with your stance on not responding to such comments, but I think you are often unfairly caricatured (and not just by one person) and presented as the avatar of certain ways of thinking that you do not hold. I hope this post goes some way to correcting those misperceptions.Report

krell_154
krell_154
2 years ago

Hey Justin, I often disagree with you, quite substantially, but I have to admit that, generally speaking, you do a pretty good job on this blog and in discussions that arise on it, so don’t be discouraged!Report

Nicole K. Braden-Johnson
Nicole K. Braden-Johnson
2 years ago

It’s possible that I’m one of a self-selecting group, since I keep coming back to DN and thus clearly enjoy the site. However, I think even your editorial posts I disagree with show an openness to other people’s thoughts and opinions.

But it’s also like the guy never saw the whole comments section here: if you were against freedom of expression, you wouldn’t have a publicly viewable and accessible comments section, and you wouldn’t get into such lengthy, but respectful discussions with others.

As the kids say: haters gonna hate.Report

Gene
Gene
2 years ago

“Responding to this means shifting…to talking about me, and I’m reluctant to do that. As interesting as I may be to me and my dedicated critics, I don’t think I’m all that interesting to most of the thousands of philosophers who regularly visit Daily Nous.”

Right. So, why not cut the editorializing all together?

That’s the part so many of us disliked (or still dislike) about Leiter’s blog, and what so many of us dislike about this one.

Or if you can’t help putting your signature on the issues discussed here, why not relegate your opinion to the comments sections where the rest of us comment? Why set yours apart if you’re not interested in making this blog about yourself? Report

Paul
Paul
Reply to  Justin Weinberg
2 years ago

Justin, I ask you to please reconsider Gene’s constructive suggestion to “relegate your opinion to the comments section”.

1. Frame the newsworthy item or issue as you see fit, with appropriately balanced and contextualized quotations, references, and hyperlinks. You are very good at this when not conflating descriptive and narrative analysis with evaluation. Fairly framing a contemporary philosophical issue is hard work, best separated from evaluation. This work is a public service to the profession, deserving a prominent place on your CV.

2. Then, right away as you see fit (as you may well do many or most of the time), seed fruitful discussion with the very first signed post – yours. Editorialize at will.

In this way, you may well gain even more accolades for service to the profession while still retaining your editorial prerogatives and, I hope, the motivation to continue facilitating these noteworthy discussions of significant issues, for which I, and many others, thank you. Report

JTD
JTD
Reply to  Paul
2 years ago

From a strategic perspective I think it would be very wise to follow this advice Justin! When readers strongly disagree with the editorializing you make in a post they often take a negative attitude to you and your blog, seeing DN as your mouthpiece for pushing your views on the profession and downplaying the valuable role DN plays in presenting news and providing an open discussion forum. If you instead stick your editorializing in the first comment it would be much harder for those who disagree with you to mischaracterize you in this way, and yet your own views on the topic at hand would still get a prominent airing. Report

Gene
Gene
Reply to  Justin Weinberg
2 years ago

This is a distinction without a difference, Justin. Let’s not pretend like you can’t see the tension here between your stated aim of receding into the background and your actual behavior of putting forward your own views so prominently.

You say “I’m often interested in us all figuring out what to think about a topic, or in prompting people to talk about it, or in raising questions from a certain point of view, and I’ve found that putting my own thoughts out there in the posts themselves, as I occasionally do, is sometimes a good way to do that.”

And you don’t think you’re as likely to foster discussion by having the first comment on every post? Is that because your editorializing won’t pop into our RSS feeds, or what?

Report

SCM
SCM
Reply to  Gene
2 years ago

I happen to know, for a fact, that Justin’s editorial decisions are largely inspired by the final Pinky and the Brain episode where they finally hit upon the fiendishly clever “RSS feed” strategy for world domination. Report

Matt McAdam
Matt McAdam
Reply to  Gene
2 years ago

Yeah, you’d think this was, like, Justin’s blog or something with all that editorializing he does. Report

Paul
Paul
Reply to  Matt McAdam
2 years ago

Amusingly misleading.

DN is not merely yet another personal blog. “Daily Nous provides information and news for and about the philosophy profession.” From the authoritative Wikipedia entry on Daily Nous, shamelessly plagiarizing DN’s About page credo:
https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Daily_Nous

Information and news can very usefully be separated from editorial content. That, perhaps, is why it “has been cited in articles on the philosophy profession and other academic matters by mainstream news outlets … and by periodicals that cover higher education.”

This site, as I understand it, is conceived by Justin as a service to the profession, not a single professional. It is not a personal blog. “I also run the philosophy news and discussion site, Daily Nous.” https://sc.edu/study/colleges_schools/artsandsciences/our-people/faculty-staff/weinberg_justin.php

Maintaining even more editorial restraint, it is urged, will help ensure the continued high reputation of both the site *and* its editor. Report

Gene
Gene
Reply to  Matt McAdam
2 years ago

Right, Matt McAdam, except this outlet was supposed to be importantly different from Leiter’s.

And it’s not. Here we are again, four years or so after Leiter’s implosion, debating about whether any one person, Weinberg in this case, should be representing our profession so visibly. Report

Caligula's Goat
Caligula's Goat
Reply to  Gene
2 years ago

The APA has a BBS Gene, maybe you’d enjoy it there more?

My response to Leiter has been to ignore his blog. The less clicks I give him, the better. If you literally (instead of rhetorically) really think DN and Leiter’s Blog are the same…you should consider taking the same attitude. Report

Matt McAdam
Matt McAdam
Reply to  Gene
2 years ago

The suggestion that Justin’s blog isn’t different from Leiter’s is too ludicrous to be taken seriously. To illustrate the differences in aim, in temperament, in accountability, in level of ego involved, and others, take the following. How many times has Justin posted a note (usually anonymous) from a supposed “supporter” aimed at flattering himself or taking a swipe at somebody? Go ahead, count. Or, how many comment threads are there on Leiter’s blog that contain criticisms of Leiter and his blog? I think nearly everyday Justin approves and hosts comments that complain about him and this blog. Your own comment, Gene, is a case in point. (Yet, he’s so “dishonest” and “disingenuous” and acting “in bad faith.”) Just these two examples alone point to widespread differences between the blogs and individuals who run them.

Seriously, take the advice of Caligua’s Ghost and just go away. Go write Leiter a fan letter. Maybe he’ll publish it!Report

krell_154
krell_154
Reply to  Matt McAdam
2 years ago

”I think nearly everyday Justin approves and hosts comments that complain about him and this blog. ”

I can attest to this personally, since most of my comments often run strictly counter to Justin’s opinions, and very often I actually criticize him. While there have been a few instances in which he didn’t approve my comments, I think he’s more than reasonable and rather fair in allowing criticism of himself to appear in the comments section.Report

Andy
Andy
Reply to  Gene
2 years ago

Well, obviously, if we let partisan hacks like Leiter purport to represent philosophy, we have no one to blame but ourselves. Now it may be that this “Weinberg” fellow who runs this particular blog is no better a representation of Philosophy as a whole, but again, this is our fault. As a philosopher, I find the Justin is representative. The right-wing nut-jobs being prosecuted for sexual harassment and violation of the standards for human experimentation, not so much. Just my opinion. But as a member of the community of philosophers, I find support from my peers. Well, except for one, who supports Trump, for no reason. Report

Will Behun
Will Behun
2 years ago

This seems like such a weird choice of battleground for Prof Leiter. Whatever positions you (Justin) may have taken elsewhere, you specifically argued that the petition was problematic in this case. If anything, your comments in this particular case are a counter example to the suggestion you are anti academic freedom. Report

Arthur Greeves
Arthur Greeves
2 years ago

I’m generally more fond of Leiter’s views than yours, Justin — especially on free speech — but all the good things we might say about Leiter need to be tempered by the realization that he has difficulty not being a bully. It’s long been a habit of his to needle enemies he acquires and then to thrive on their taking the bait. I’d encourage you not to play into that dynamic, at least not publicly.Report

Sergio Tenenbaum
Sergio Tenenbaum
2 years ago

On the bright side, we’re supposed to conclude that you are ok when the case is obvious. Apparently, it’s only the unfairly overlooked category of the uncomplicated non-obvious cases that gives you trouble.
Report

desiderio lopez guante
desiderio lopez guante
2 years ago

Justin, on the matter of the Finnis case, I disagree with you, and I have disagreed with you on other matters as well. But what matters is that you respect other people’s opinions and are genuinely tolerant. That is the difference between you and Leiter. Report

Crispin Sartwell
Crispin Sartwell
2 years ago

As the prof removed for posting a song on my blog, I could at least say that I did not feel defended in any way by the DN, though I was fiercely defended by Leiter, which led to my reinstatement. Indeed, as I recall, you narrated the story pretty much as I would have, then speculated on no reported basis that there just must be something more to it than that, or they wouldn’t have removed me. Report

Neil Levy
Neil Levy
Reply to  Crispin Sartwell
2 years ago

Unless Justin has removed something, your recall is faulty.Report

SCM
SCM
Reply to  Crispin Sartwell
2 years ago

Regarding your claim that Justin “speculated on no reported basis that there just must be something more to it than that, or they wouldn’t have removed me,” it may be–and I’m speculating here–that you are referring to what Justin said towards the end of the 11 April post:

>>> The foregoing is my attempt to piece together in a comprehensible form the events and positions related to Sartwell’s current relationship with Dickinson College. Let me stress that I doubt I have all of the relevant information, but it was the best I could do given the limited resources available. <<<

Justin's doubt is obviously very different from the speculation you impute to him, although both are expressions of epistemic limitations in some sense. The former contains no suggestion whatsoever that there is any non-public information that is disadvantageous to you, whereas the latter clearly does. I can see, however, that the former may still be frustrating for you if you happened to know that all relevant information was indeed public, but one cannot generally expect other people to be in one's own epistemic position.

If the quote from 11 April is what you are referring to, then the objection seems to be, I think, that Justin did not editorialise *enough* in your favour, despite his caution in assuming he knew all relevant particulars and despite the links he put up to your GoFundMe site and the Pust-Winsberg letter on your behalf. Maybe you are right about that, let us say, and that a more aggressive editorial attitude in your case would have been appropriate. But this objection is very difficult to square with the objection raised elsewhere in the comments here that Justin editorialises *too much* in his posts.

Perhaps the answer is simply that Justin should editorialise to the extent that he happens to have formed the correct view on the basis of all relevant information but should not editorialise when he hasn't. I'm sure his adhering to this very simple rule will forestall all future controversy about his DN posts.Report

Bharath Vallabha
2 years ago

Helpful to distinguish two things : 1) The way a person communicates, and 2) the view they are arguing for.

In my opinion, re (1) Justin’s behavior online is more open and encourages more dialogue than Leiter’s online behavior. Leiter on his blog often demeans people, and his defense seems to be “they deserve it; they are assholes!”. That so many people, for so long have looked the other way to this online bullying is amazing. Agree or disagree with him, Justin doesn’t do this; he doesn’t make it personal. He has greatly elevated online discourse from the Leiter era a decade ago. Enormously grateful for this.

That said, re (2), I think Leiter is right about how certain forms of activism are problematic for academic speech and are hindering dialogue. If some people feel they not being heard, I never trust a response that says, “That complaint is overblown,” and I think Justin has taken this approach sometimes. It’s unhelpful when someone dismisses concerns about eurocentrism or race, and equally so when done with conservatives, or anyone else. Academia has plenty of problems to go around, and plenty of people can feel genuinely marginalized. Ultimaetly, that shared experience, irrespective of race or gender, of political or intellectual views, can also be what can unite us all.Report

Bharath Vallabha
Reply to  Justin Weinberg
2 years ago

Thanks, Justin. Your response is an example of your self-criticalness and politeness, which I find very admirable.

I have a similar admiration for Leiter’s reflectiveness and politeness when I see videos of him giving talks or engaged in dialogue. He then seems quite different from the blogger who can’t resist a put down. This raises the possibility that the fascinating and timely differences between you and him on a range of topics (academic freedom, online culture, issues in the profession, etc.) are best pursued not by back and forth blog posts, but by a video conversation where you both have some time to respectfully clarify your differences. You are two of the leaders of academic phil on the internet, and the depth of the issues you guys are disagreeing on seems much greater than what can be tackled in one off blog posts. There is still something to be said for seeing people disagreeing while seeing each other, and having the politeness reflected in their bodily demeanor. And something cathartic for the viewers too. Here’s hoping you and him consider this.Report

Amy Olberding
Amy Olberding
2 years ago

Solidarity. Not just about the original trouble but about some here greeting it with the impulse to now publicly weigh out just how much of the insulting commentary from Prof Leiter sticks to you, as if the immature claim that you are “the cyber-cheerleader for the New Infantilism” should generate some sort of mature, legitimate consideration of your record on academic freedom. That such a conversation can follow from the insult gives the insult radically more power than it has earned.

On the more general point, I regret so much that finding things complicated is increasingly depreciated. I wish more people could say more things about complications they discern. I often discover things I didn’t know or sufficiently appreciate when people speak to complications they see, and can’t see discouraging that as useful for dialogue. In my most fanciful moods, I imagine whole armies of philosophers out there full of ideas and “complications” they will never post in our current climate and that I will regrettably never get to see. So, solidarity to all you quiet philosophers too.

I already regret posting this and I haven’t even tapped “post comment” yet.Report

Benjamin L.S. Nelson
Reply to  Amy Olberding
2 years ago

Well, your input is most appreciated by the likes of me, and likely always will be. 🙂Report

Avalonian
Avalonian
Reply to  Amy Olberding
2 years ago

Just to second Benjamin’s remark, Amy (if I may) I simply love your critical perspective on the profession. I was sorry to see that you’d stopped writing.Report

Bharath Vallabha
Reply to  Amy Olberding
2 years ago

Agree about the value of highlighting complications. The difficulty is when it’s insightful to say “It’s complicated” and when it is a dodge. Easy to think of both kinds of cases. The issue is complicated when, as often happens, discussion of one instance gets tied up to broader disagreements. Further complicating it is who says “it’s complicated.” It’s one thing for an undergrad to to say it, another for someone with a high profile and a large platform to say it.

Much of this is extremely context dependent. So in a way the success of diversifying the profession has itself contributed to the current difficulty in appreciating complexities. Fifty years ago there was more of a uniform sense of quality, which meant a more uniform sense of context. Diversity rightly broke up this hegemony. The result hasn’t been a glorious enlightenment of all people, but more a cacophony – precisely the kind which makes one person’s insightful complication another person’s dodge. The trouble is one can’t simply replace the old hegemony of standards with new universal enlightened standards – no matter how obvious things seem in the midst of a protest.Report

Preston Stovall
Preston Stovall
Reply to  Bharath Vallabha
2 years ago

Hi Bharath. I invariably appreciate seeing that you’ve commented. You’re eloquent and admirably ecumenical. But I don’t follow you here:

So in a way the success of diversifying the profession has itself contributed to the current difficulty in appreciating complexities. Fifty years ago there was more of a uniform sense of quality, which meant a more uniform sense of context. Diversity rightly broke up this hegemony. The result hasn’t been a glorious enlightenment of all people, but more a cacophony – precisely the kind which makes one person’s insightful complication another person’s dodge.

To my mind, the specific complexities of this situation are almost purely political. The tempest in this teapot is an internecine conflict between an old guard and a new guard on the academic left, provoked by Finnis’ stance on homosexuality. Had it been one of the left’s shibboleths under attack I have no doubt the forces mustered here would have been put to different use. But as I say, I just didn’t follow you at this point. Can you say more about what you mean? Report

Bharath Vallabha
Reply to  Bharath Vallabha
2 years ago

Thanks, Preston. What I mean is nowadays an argument moves through the space of discourse in a way that clubs different contexts together, and so people feel compelled to have an opinion on what seems the same argument, but where actually it is many slightly different arguments getting run together.

In the current instance, yes, it started about Finnis. When Justin wrote it’s complicated and Leiter commented, then it became about Leiter Reports vs Daily Nous and all that goes with that, which is a more general debate. So how does one evaluate Justin’s comment that “It’s complicated”: in relation to the particularity of the Finnis situation or the particularity of the issue of Daily Nous as an alternative to Leiter Reports? The two issues are getting conflated, creating the illusion of a single, broad debate.

When the profession was less diverse, the homogeneity helped keep the difference in contexts clear, for the experiences of the people debating were roughly the same. Now without the homogeneity, there is nothing to make clear the different contexts relevant to a question. Which leads to a lot of talking past each other as different topics get run together as if they were the same topic.Report

Preston Stovall
Preston Stovall
Reply to  Bharath Vallabha
2 years ago

Thanks Bharath. But I guess I don’t think the way the Leiter vs. Daily Nous conflict has played out here is a function of diversity or less homogeneity in the profession. This is a political conflict between Leiter, who’s championed a particular kind of academic freedom, and Justin’s own brand of ‘nothing to see here’ advocacy. Together with the call for a ‘new consensus’ that Justin wanted to champion in the face of the fallout of Leiter’s conflict with Carolyn Dicey Jennings, the current kerfluffle is a continuation of an ongoing internecine conflict between the old guard and the new guard on the left in philosophy.

From what I can see the term ‘diversity’, or talk of diminishing homogeneity, just doesn’t cut at what’s going on. If anything, this situation is one that’s exacerbated by the field’s social and political homogeneity. As I said above, there’s no way it would have played out as it has if the impetus were one of the left’s shibboleths.

Incidentally, I see this conflict as an extension of the implosion of NewAPPS that culminated in the attempt to get a graduate student ‘dispelled’ from the profession on account of his CrimeThink. Some of the more vocal elements of the left in academic philosophy today have an unhealthy relationship to political disagrement. Report

Bharath Vallabha
Reply to  Bharath Vallabha
2 years ago

Don’t think we disagree. What you are calling a political disagreement between the old guard and the new guard on the left is what I am thinking of in terms of diversity. The new guard is pushing for more diversity, but then as a way to control the chaos which might result from diversity, are being more intolerant to debate; the intolerance becomes the way the push for diversity and need for structure are reconciled. I believe the new guard is getting this reconciliation quite wrong, but the old guard doesn’t have any better solution. Hence I think we need to forget about political positions – old guard vs new guard, right vs left – and together think about how diversity and structure can be reconciled. That is the common problem we all face.Report

Preston Stovall
Preston Stovall
Reply to  Bharath Vallabha
2 years ago

Thanks Bharath. I agree that there is a vocal element of the new guard on the left that is intolerant of disagreement, and which exercises that intolerance in the interest of pushing for more of what they call ‘diversity’. Indeed, that point of view is pretty widely represented in these conversations. So I don’t think it’s on point to characterize the exchange between Leiter and Weinberg over how to respond to the Finnis situation as the result of increased diversity, except in the incidental sense that one side is using talk of ‘diversity’ to galvanize their ideologues. This is a power struggle for social privileges within a socio-political clique whose notion of ‘diversity’ is pretty superficial.Report

Bharath Vallabha
Reply to  Bharath Vallabha
2 years ago

But there is a clear sense in which Leiter vs Justin is about diversity: it’s about having a diversity of news platforms and online discussion spaces in the profession. In 2010 that wasn’t true, as Leiter Reports was the main space (there was NewAPPS, but perhaps not explicit a contrast as Daily Nous became), and so Leiter was setting the terms of the debate; he got to do it because it’s his site, but since it’s the main site, it reverberated in the profession. This was bad in many ways, but it also created a kind of coherence. Now even with just two sites, it’s not clear to me the way Leiter and Justin frame the debates are the same. Because there are two people and two websites, it’s tempting to think they fall on two sides of a shared debate; but I am not sure that is true. It’s more like they are having debates which are family resemblence related, but not quite the same. Leiter vs Justin becomes a catch all for a whole slew of disagreements, many of which cross cut in all sorts of ways. As Wittgenstein might say, the surface grammar is misleading.Report

Preston Stovall
Preston Stovall
Reply to  Bharath Vallabha
2 years ago

Hi Barath – thanks, that’s helpful. I grant that there’s a sense of ‘diversity’ that is just diversity within the left-leaning elements of the profession, some of whom are keen to use talk of diversity as a cudgel to further their own intolerant political goals. Indeed, the petition that sparked this whole thing might be framed that way. Still, I don’t think Leiter Reports vs. Daily Nous, or Leiter reports vs. Daily Nous vs. NewAPPS, marks an interesting sense of diversity, or that the existence of more of this superficial diversity adequately characterizes the source and nature of the conflict. I agree that ‘the way Leiter and Justin frame the debates’ are not the same, but I’ve been arguing that the difference is internal to the political left in academic philosophy.

And I worry that the failure to label that problem for what it is prevents us from clearly seeing what’s going on. I know I may not be able to convince you to share my point of view, but I hope it’s at least clear why I see things the way I do. And I appreciate having had the chance to see more of what you had in mind.Report

Bharath Vallabha
Reply to  Bharath Vallabha
2 years ago

Makes sense. I agree completely. For all the differences between Leiter And Justin, it is a dispute within the left, as you are saying. If people on the left see that even in the internal debates they might be taking past each other, that might help to see it between the left and the right more broadly. Report

Andy
Andy
Reply to  Amy Olberding
2 years ago

Amy is my home-girl! I am one of the quiet philosophers, who knew her when she was only a pup, in the market, barking at Pythagoras. The profession best listen to her. Report

Sam Duncan
Sam Duncan
2 years ago

I feel like there are two different threats to free speech in contemporary higher ed. (There may well be more but these two are the first that come to mind).
1. Academics being silenced due to political correctness or otherwise holding unfashionable views.
2. Academics being threatened or bullied into silence or agreement by those that have more power than them.
Sometimes the two go together as in the Tuvel case and sometimes they very much come apart as in the Finnis case. For my part, while I’m no fan of 1, it seems that 2 is the much bigger threat to academic freedom.
I don’t always agree with the position of this blog, but I feel like you’ve always been on the right side of 2. Leiter unsurprisingly hasn’t been since one of the things he wants to preserve in academic philosophy is his ability to threaten and bully people into silence.Report

Sam Duncan
Sam Duncan
Reply to  Sam Duncan
2 years ago

I understand why Justin and others don’t want to spend time responding to Leiter on a public forum since if you did that would soon be all you would do, and most of us have more important things to do than get in a mud throwing contest with him. But as someone who is now apparently on his radar I will say that I think it’s worth responding to him every now and then just to show that we as a profession are no longer afraid of him, and to let anyone who has any doubt on the issue know that they don’t need to be afraid of him either. One of the things that’s depressed me the most about academic philosophy is just how riddled with fear it is at every level. Leiter isn’t the only cause of that but he has so much to contribute to it. There are still problems with academic philosophy and there are still a lot of bullies out there. But that we’ve reached the point where a “nobody” like me can call Leiter on his nonsense without fear marks real progress from where we were ten years ago and it’s worth celebrating. Report

Fritz Warfield
Fritz Warfield
Reply to  Sam Duncan
2 years ago

When was the time when “we as a profession” were afraid of Brian Leiter? I’ve been in the profession for quite awhile now. I’ve known some individuals who for odd reasons claimed to fear Brian but I must have missed out on the time when the profession as a whole feared him. Was it before 1993? You say 10 years ago things were different….perhaps I did not get the fear memo then.

I also missed the place in these discussions where you called “Leiter on his nonsense” — was that when you expressed the position that a strong commitment to free speech does not square well with supporting and pursuing legal remedies for defamation? Is that position really “nonsense.” That’s not how it seems when I teach legal issues concerning free speech but perhaps I’m missing something.Report

SCM
SCM
Reply to  Fritz Warfield
2 years ago

Fritz, would you think it more acceptable to say that, in the past, many people in the profession have been strongly averse to getting on Brian’s bad side for fear that (a) he would denigrate them on his blog and that (b) many other people in the profession would take that denigration as a sign of their diminished status in the profession? Perhaps that is not “we as a profession” being afraid of him, but that is surely just a loose way for Sam to put the point that the aversion in question had something to do with protecting one’s standing in the profession, given the former quasi-conventional status of Brian’s blog as the primary source of news about the profession.

And do you think it at all plausible that although you may not have felt this aversion at any time yourself, many other people, with less secure positions and reputations, might have felt it and occasionally expressed it when the question arose? And perhaps expressed it, on those ocasions, to people who they believed would be sympathetic and not unduly dismissive? Because, by analogy, you would presumably think it a little shortsighted for someone to say, “well, I didn’t get the make-philosophy-hostile-to-women memo, and I’ve been around for a long time, so I don’t put much stock into these sexual harassment allegationst that are only now coming out!” That would be a very poor way to respond to reports that women have actually been expressing worries about hostile treatment for quite some time. Perhaps a similar note of epistemic modesty and open-mindedness is warranted here.

That said, I do not think that Brian’s occasional threat of legal action is what people were worried about (whether or not that tendency is fully consistent with a commitment to free and open dialogue in the profession). Rather, the worry people had, on my understanding, is better expressed with the old adage about the wisdom of pig-wrestling. Most of us find public slanging matches deeply unpleasant, even stressful, quite apart from the remote prospect of a lawsuit, especially when the other person is remarkably adept in the use of vitriol. Conducting discourse in that manner is counter-productive, because after a while people just get sick of the whole thing and switch off in disgust.

All this is history though, as Sam says. People might not like the prospect of (a) above, but no one now thinks that would result in (b). If anything, in my recent experience, (a) is more likely to be taken as a sign that you are doing something right, assuming, that is, that people ever actually hear about or bother remembering it.

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Thrasymachus
Thrasymachus
Reply to  Fritz Warfield
2 years ago

Mr. Warfield, imagine for a second what would happen if everyone in the profession were as litigious as Leiter. Leiter, recall, once threatened to sue someone for saying the following:

“I will not accept or treat those whose behaviour regularly fails to meet these standards [of respect and civility] as normal or representative members of my profession.”

What would happen if every published criticism this harsh or harsher were met with a lawsuit? I think the answer is clear: a blanket of silence would descend over the profession, and no one would dare say anything negative about any other philosopher in public for fear of being sued. How many times have you, personally, criticized someone in terms less mild than this? I am willing to bet it is more than once. Would you still have done this if you knew it would have led to a lawsuit? Or would you just avoid publicly discussing controversial topics altogether?

Leiter is a litigation troll who uses threats of legal action to silence legitimate criticism. It would be one thing if he restricted his threats to cases he would clearly win, in an American court, where his reputation had suffered actual damage. But he does not; he counts on his targets giving in to his threats because they lack the time and wherewithal to fight him in court.

This sort of behavior is utterly poisonous to academic freedom. It may be legal, but so is (say) organizing student boycotts of a philosopher whose political views you disagree with. Everyone who recognizes that protecting academic freedom goes beyond doing what is strictly required by law — which is pretty much all of us at this point, I take it — should be ready to condemn Leiter’s actions. Report

Sam Duncan
Sam Duncan
Reply to  Fritz Warfield
2 years ago

So I’m going to stop responding to this after this post, as I’ve better things to do on a holiday weekend (if I go back on this then I invite everyone here to subject me to the mockery I’ll have earned). But I’ve a few minutes to kill before a photography class I signed up for starts so I may as well respond to Warfield’s claims.
1. Suppose a white, middle aged doctor living in Lincoln Park said that he hadn’t gotten the memo about people being scared of the Chicago PD and mocked anyone who claims to have ever been afraid of them. That says a lot about the doctor’s level of privilege and willful myopia and nothing about how threatening the CPD might actually be. Warfield’s a much less extreme case granted, but I think something similar holds here as well about both his privilege in the profession and refusal to see things that are pretty obvious to those who aren’t as lucky as he is.
2. You can only really claim to be committed to a principle if you follow it when it costs you something or restrains your own behavior. Suppose I get in a petty feud with my neighbor and after he leaves a flaming bag of dog poo on the porch I give you a sanctimonious little lecture about both the importance of loving your neighbor as yourself and my deep commitment to the principle. If I then go right off and put sugar in his gas tank you’d call nonsense on the last bit. If you harass and threaten people– mind you threaten and harass the people themselves and not just attack their ideas and claims– whenever they say anything you don’t like then when you claim to be in any way committed to the principle of free speech someone ought to call nonsense.
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Paine
Paine
2 years ago

Professor who, now?Report

Hector_St_Clare
Hector_St_Clare
2 years ago

Glad to hear that Dan Demetriou and John Finnis, among others, are willing to defend unfashionable views and not back down.Report