Daily Nous Turns Five


Daily Nous began with a brief welcome message five years ago, today, around this time. Some of you may be thinking: “five years already? No way!” Others may be thinking, “only five years? I thought it has been around forever.” Still others might be thinking, “you are not going to guess what I’m thinking.”

In 2014, March 7th fell on a Friday. That evening, I shared news of the site in a personal Facebook update that began with: “Philosofriends, are you for some reason or another in need of a new place on the internet to share news that might be of interest to other philosophers?”

I will admit that I knew the answer to that question. As I put it in a post at Daily Nous the next day:

“My sense from observing the current scene and conversing with my friends in philosophy is that people want to be informed about what is going on in the profession, but are a bit weary of some of the current providers of that information. Daily Nous aims to provide information about the profession and to do so in a less-weariness-inducing way. We’ll see if it works.”

Five years later, we can ask: “Is anyone feeling less weary?”

Anyone?

[crickets]

In retrospect, perhaps our weariness isn’t the best metric for measuring how well Daily Nous is doing. We may not be less weary overall, but that may be only partly owed to my failures. I’ll take responsibility for some problems—clearly Donald Trump’s electoral victory was owed to backlash against my pro-diversity postings here—but there have been some positives, too.

I’m going to talk about those positives a little right now, and then turn to what it is like to run this site, then mention some plans for the near future, and then express some thanks.

1. The Welcoming of the Many and the Waning of the Jerks

I’m proud of the role Daily Nous played in breaking up a toxic concentration of power in our profession the year it began. I’m happy about how since then it has provided a platform for the sharing of news, information, and ideas for a profession increasingly welcoming of philosophers with a broader range of philosophical concerns and methodologies, from different academic, cultural, and personal backgrounds, who hold varied ideas of what philosophy is and what we should do with it. I’m glad to have helped, along with many others, shepherd in what I once called “the new consensus”—a set of attitudes “that rejects acquiescence to abuses of power in philosophy, one that seeks to overturn rather than turn away from the profession’s problems, one that seeks to support rather than silence the vulnerable.” I feel lucky to have been in a position to use my role at DN to provide assistance to various members of the profession facing various personal and professional problems.

The differences between today and 5 years ago are significant. The then-dominant pose of philosophical jerkiness, broadcast to susceptible graduate students from a dominant profession-wide blog, is now on the wane, owing to competition from kinder and more cooperative approaches to philosophical engagement, and an increased willingness to call people out when they are being needlessly obnoxious or insulting. Sure, the profession still has its jerks, but the good news is that they matter a lot less. This goes for philosophy’s loudest jerks. (Graduate students and untenured professors may understandably not want to become the bizarre fixation of a senior member of the profession who insults them, tries to get them fired, attempts to dox their supporters on social media, mocks their advisors, and gets so obsessed in a quest to destroy them that he doesn’t realize the negative information they’re passing on is part of a hoax, and never apologizes for spreading falsehoods about them. Fortunately, the chances of any of this actually affecting your career or employment prospects nowadays are next to nothing; amazingly, this used to not be the case!)

Sometimes the jerks show up at Daily Nous, despite my comments policy, my moderation of comments, and my periodic advice to commenters. That’s my responsibility, and I’m far from perfect at taking care of it. Sometimes I make a bad call. But the truth is, I can’t make the comments sections good by myself. I need good commenters. As I’ve said before, I hope that “those who have been reluctant to contribute to discussions here because of their dissatisfaction with the tenor of the comments decide to join in. To them I say, ‘be the commenter you want to read on the blog.’”

Though we’ve made progress, we still have a way to go before philosophy is sufficiently welcoming to all it should be. It will help if philosophers can adopt towards each other—especially towards those philosophers very different from them—a charitable mindset we can call “presumptive trust.” That is, you begin your engagement with someone by trusting that they are competent, know what they’re talking about, and that they are at least as smart and skilled at their thing as you are at yours, and you convey this trust in your interaction with them and as you process their ideas. Try it. It’s not just a way of being better to other people. You’ll find you learn a lot, too. (By the way, this is a pretty good way to approach everyone, not just fellow philosophers.)

2. What Running Daily Nous Is Like

I’m sometimes asked what it is like to run Daily Nous. After five years, I can honestly tell you: it is in some ways pretty great and in some ways pretty bad.

blog blogger blogs

To start with the positives, it is clearly a privilege to be able to serve the philosophical community in this way. I am grateful that so many people find the site worthwhile. And it is amazing that I can write up ideas on a matter of professional interest that will be read by thousands of people around the world the same day, and sometimes lead to engagement with even more people when picked up by the higher education press and mainstream media. I’ve had the opportunity communicate with, meet, and learn from people I otherwise would not have, and as a result I’ve grown as a person and as a philosopher. I feel like through Daily Nous I can make a positive difference in our profession and in the world, and I consider myself very lucky to be able to do this.

The main downsides concern time: the amount of time running the site takes, and the urgency of journalism.

The site takes hours of each day, and a lot of it is for “invisible” work: reading through possible material for the site (only a tiny fraction of which gets posted about), answering emails, and dealing with the business and tech parts of the site. I’m not the fastest writer, so even when a post is largely a summary of someone else’s writing elsewhere, it takes me a while to get the words on the page. I try to have an image accompany each post, and sometimes it takes a while to find the right one (though I do enjoy having this excuse to explore and discover art). But time on the blog means less time for other work.

I mentioned the urgency of journalism. I wasn’t prepared for this. Philosophy is not in a rush. Ideas percolate in an individual over years, and in a tradition over centuries. But in journalism, timeliness is important. This means that my days are often subject to constant interruption: potentially newsworthy items might be brought to my attention at any time, and I will sometimes feel the need to post about some things immediately. This feeling was much stronger earlier on, when DN was establishing its credibility. But even now I may feel the pressure to be the first to post about something. On top of that are the comments. Comments from first-time commenters, or comments with certain trigger words in them, or comments from certain people, need approval before showing up. At times I feel like Harrison Bergeron, with my phone and its notifications for comments to be approved turned into a device to keep me from thought.

The bottom line is that running DN has meant writing less substantive philosophy, which I am not happy about. I’m not an especially prolific philosopher, but I have a book project on disagreement I would really like to get done, and I struggle with how to keep DN’s drain on my time under control. It would be nice to have more time to relax, too.

I’ll mention one last thing about running DN: it has been weird to be the object of attention of strangers who seem very concerned with what I’m doing, and who believe they know a lot about me on the basis of what I write here. There are some people out there who really hate me. The intensity of their feelings, as much as their content, surprise me.  I have very thick skin and the well-developed ego of a privileged and economically secure white man, so I don’t feel particularly threatened by this. But it has taken some getting used to.

serenity now

3. Plans

I have two very cool projects in the works for you folks. The first is about bringing philosophy to the rest of the world, and the second is about making online space for more substantively philosophical discussions. If I can get it together, you’ll be hearing about the first of those next week.

4. Thank you

Philosophers, I love you. Thank you for visiting Daily Nous, reading and sharing the posts, and taking part in the discussions.

Thank you to my wonderful comic artists: Rachel Katler, Tanya Kostochka, Ryan Lake, and Pete Mandik. Thank you to Michael Glawson, who puts together the online philosophy resources weekly update. Thank you to John Hunt, my technical consultant.

Thank you, also, to the institutions that have supported Daily Nous through advertising on it: Oxford University Press, the Eidyn Research Center at Edinburgh University, Princeton University Press, MIT Press, The John Templeton Foundation, The Marc Sanders Foundation, Simon Fraser University, Fordham University, George Washington University, Rutgers University, the American Philosophical Association, Rowman Littlefield, University of Connecticut, University of Luxembourg, The Southern Journal of Philosophy, the University of Arkansas, the University of Glasgow, the University of Nevada, Leibniz University Hanover, the University of Dublin, Tulane University, the University of Missouri, Western University, Springer, Birkbeck University of London, The Unemployed Philosophers Guild, Res Philosophica, Florida State University, the University of Colorado, Bowling Green State University, George Mason University, Wayne State University, Tender Buttons Press, Farrar Straus & Giroux, Routledge, the Center for Ethics and Education, The Professor Is In, Broadview Press, the University of St. Thomas, and the Prindle Post. A number of individuals have purchased advertising or made donations to the site, and their support is greatly appreciated.

5. Suggestions

Daily Nous will continue, and with any luck will continue to improve. If you have suggestions for the site, feel free to share them.

6. Cheers!

Ok. Time for a celebratory drink and some tunes (possible DN theme song). Have a goodnight, everyone!

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Dave Estlund
2 years ago

Justin, I’m really grateful for what you’re doing here, which almost goes without saying…but it won’t. I’m glad to hear you have thick skin, because you obvious take a big risk in doing this, not only because you are likely to be misunderstood, but because (like me, of thinner skin) you are likely to make real mistakes, in front of everyone. (See how the time indexing of that is indeterminate?)

It’s pretty clear how much we needed alternatives. But let me just say that even beyond the emphasis on respect and due civility, you’ve made it fun, visually intriguing, and even funny, often intentionally. I don’t just think of it as a resource, or a sober correction but something I look forward to seeing and reading.Report

Paul
Paul
2 years ago

Justin, your stewardship of Daily Nous has been exemplary. Thank you.Report

Anco
2 years ago

Congratulations on this anniversary Justin, and thank you! You already posted a few scrapbook pictures, but maybe you’ll be interested to see DN’s develop through the Wayback Machine as well: http://web.archive.org/web/20140517052447/http://dailynous.com/ #NostalgiaAlertReport

David Sobel
David Sobel
2 years ago

Very happy Daily Nous exists. Thanks for the work you do to make it happen.Report

Christa Peterson
2 years ago

I think you know that I am desperate for the discipline to take Leiter’s ongoing harassment of graduate students more seriously. I am very upset that you’ve mentioned his harassment of me and Nathan for the first time on your platform to minimize it.

Leiter obviously in many ways has less power than he once did. He seems to be accommodating for that by targeting students, now, instead of junior faculty. His “bizarre fixation” on me has had a profound impact on my life. I imagine this is true for Nathan as well.

I have no idea what makes you confidently say that “the chances of any of this actually affecting your career or employment prospects nowadays are next to nothing.” As far as how the job market for graduate students who have been recurrent Leiter targets goes, my impression is that we will be the test case. I agree that his ability to call up a hiring committee and give a thumbs down or something is basically gone, but I think Leiter is pretty effective at making people seem messy and like not something you’d want to associate with even to people that don’t trust his judgment, so I have concerns.

Direct job market effects of course are not the only way harassment impacts people’s careers. I think about leaving the discipline constantly. My progress this year has been very slow.

As Leiter recently keeps reminding me, his campaign for Nathan to be fired from the APA blog notably ended with Nathan publicly apologizing, though as far as I can tell he had nothing to apologize for. Is there some reason you think that was voluntary? My impression is that statements like that are almost always compelled, which would be a significant employment (or other?) consequence that already happened.

This is so bad. It is serious. All I want from the discipline right now is for people to stop dismissing and diminishing it. Please listen to me.Report

Paul Prescott
Paul Prescott
Reply to  Justin Weinberg
2 years ago

Justin, please take this respectfully, as it is intended. Like many, I deeply appreciate all that you have done, and are doing, to improve the climate in the profession.

With that said, I respectfully submit that referring to Leiter’s conduct as “jerkiness” is an example of the tendency to dismiss and diminish the kind of serious professional misconduct which Christa is rightfully calling us to acknowledge and confront.Report

Caligula's Goat
Caligula's Goat
Reply to  Paul Prescott
2 years ago

I see Justin refer to Leiter (and his ilk) as jerks, obnoxious, trolls, and obsessed. I’m not sure what more you’d like here, especially if Justin is to stay consistent with his own moderation policy. Many of us think that Leiter, while not the absolute worst person in the profession, was a loud and powerful voice whose volume, and power, are waning. Those are good things. We should celebrate that even if Leiter is occasionally on what I consider to be the right side of things (as he was in the Avital Ronell and Rebecca Tuvel cases – agree to disagree with me on either of these if you’d like).

What I would hate for DN to become is an opposing rhetorical mirror of Leiter’s blog. There’s simply no need for it. This doesn’t mean that Justin doesn’t get things wrong (he himself said as much – I genuinely admire his intellectual and epistemic humility). However, what else is he (or are we) supposed to say about jerky people being jerks? Leiter’s behavior (and we should be precise about this) is unlikely to rise to the level of harassment, (legal) retaliation, or anything of the sort. The man is a jerk, and jerks can hurt people, and that hurt is real and should be acknowledged, but I already saw all of that in the OP and find this sudden pile-on to be oddly timed and directed.Report

Paul Prescott
Paul Prescott
Reply to  Caligula's Goat
2 years ago

In brief reply, I would like to see the members of our profession openly confront professionally destructive conduct. Recognizing that some is a “jerk” is not the same as taking concrete steps to confront the damage that person is doing to vulnerable members of the profession.Report

Caligula's Goat
Caligula's Goat
Reply to  Paul Prescott
2 years ago

Can you be more specific Paul? There aren’t that many philosophy blogs out there aside from DN and Leiter’s blog that discuss the profession. Justin has been wise to be narrow in his criticisms of Leiter directly (if only because the man is so litigious) and has been quick to defend those who have been attacked by Leiter in the past. So my question is, what are you hoping for? Some kind of public censure? I strongly dislike Leiter, even when I agree with him, and think that the profession, as a whole, would be better off without him than with him. Maybe I lack the imagination you have, maybe I am just more sanguine about using more force than condemnation in order to correct bad (but not illegal) behavior. What more would you have us do? I’m already boycotting the man’s site. I’m already advising students against looking at the Gourmet report, I’m already warning them about jerks in the profession.Report

Paul Prescott
Paul Prescott
Reply to  Paul Prescott
2 years ago

Thanks for your thoughtful comments, Caligula. I think it ‘s probably true that I’m more comfortable using coercive measures to uphold professional norms than many in the profession. But, that said, I’ll restrict myself to an affirmation of Christa’s points below. There has not actually been public condemnation of Leiter’s conduct. This has yet to happen. And it is precisely what I am hoping for.

Hope that helps to clarify. Thank you again for your engagement.Report

Caligula's Goat
Caligula's Goat
Reply to  Paul Prescott
2 years ago

Hi Paul,

Thanks again for engaging. I guess what I’m asking for, specifically, is: what do you mean by “public condemnation” of Leiter? Here are some things I think that could mean:

First, you might want the APA to condemn Leiter. This I not only think wouldn’t be effective but probably wrong for reasons that I think stem from not only the value of diversity (even critical obnoxious diversity) but also on what I take to be the proper limits of the APA. That being said, the APA put out a Code of Conduct in 2016 that includes the following:

“Treating others fairly, equitably, and with dignity”

“Maintaining integrity and trust in all professional commitments and interactions”

“Recognizing that power and seniority do not offer reasons for being inattentive to the values just mentioned.”

Perhaps most squarely, they say that: “philosophers should avoid engaging in bullying and harassment directed towards students, co-workers, and others in the profession. Such conduct is harmful, disrespectful, and unprofessional, and frequently undermines our ability to perform our jobs or studies at our full capacity, and thereby is contrary to the point of scholarly practice.”

Despite this, the APA calls these values (mere) “aspirations.” The Code itself also has not teeth or enforcement mechanism. Perhaps you mean that the APA should put to a vote whether to:

1. Create enforcement mechanisms for the Code
2. Hold elections for membership on whatever committee (or committees) would be empowered to enforce the Code
3. Create sanctions for violations

I’m not against this approach though would reserve it only for very egregious conduct (personally) and think most of what Leiter does wouldn’t fall under this (though some of what he does might plausibly be understood as bullying according to the Code).

My only concern here is that the APA would fracture should it enforce the Code in any but the most egregious and obvious cases. We’re already a *weak* professional organization (so much of our work happens in smaller workshops, conferences, and meetings) and adding fuel to the fire of those who want to do away with the APA entirely would be a bad move, at least in my eyes (I’m open to change on this).Report

Paul Prescott
Paul Prescott
Reply to  Paul Prescott
2 years ago

Hi Caligula. I agree that action by the APA is probably both infeasible and a bad idea. But, that doesn’t prohibit us, as professionals with a vested interest in the future of the profession, from speaking out against the abuses of our fellow members.

This is uncomfortable, of course. But, for my part, I don’t see other viable options. I’m talking like a walk here, as best as I can. I’m not comfortable with the present balance of power, or the impact it is currently having on graduate students and others we (or I, at least) would like to see in the profession.Report

Jack
Jack
Reply to  Justin Weinberg
2 years ago

In the comment you are directly replying to, Christa identifies several ways that this appears to already be affecting her career, and characterizes what she has experienced in a way that resists the minimizing label “jerkiness”. That you simply reiterate that he is a jerk but that based on your observations and some conversations you doubt that it will affect her career (or Nathan’s) seems an awful lot like the kind of dismissing and diminishing she is asking for people to stop doing.Report

Christa Peterson
Reply to  Justin Weinberg
2 years ago

Please listen to me. Please take me seriously. I don’t know what you consider a relevant conversation. I think my perspective is relevant. This will affect my career, at minimum because of course my productivity as a graduate student will affect my career. I don’t know why you’re committed to denialism about this. I find it very painful.

Was one of your relevant conversations with someone at the APA to confirm that they did not require Nathan to apologize? Again, that would be a concrete employment consequence that seems likely to have already happened, so I cannot understand why you would feel comfortable continuing to assert this if you haven’t confirmed otherwise.

Are there actually success stories of graduate students in situations like ours? It would be nice to hear them. Being a graduate student, again, is of course different from being junior faculty.

Leiter’s reputational attacks on Nathan have been especially serious. Leiter made multiple posts claiming that Nathan harassed Kathleen Stock and quoting her claims to that effect. I think that totally false, but that is basically impossible for someone to disprove, because no reliable sources bothered to cover the incident and there’s really no way for an individual to confirm that someone never harassed someone on Twitter, because there’s no way to tell that Tweets never existed. Stirring up uncertainty about someone, even if people don’t trust you, seems like of course something that could affect them in a job market like ours. When I google Nathan, the fourth and fifth results are posts where Leiter claims that he was suspended as an editor of the APA blog because of the fake “scandal,” which I believe to also be false. I think many people who discount Leiter’s evaluative opinions are still likely to trust him on matters of fact, and so I am very worried this will make people believe Leiter’s claims of misconduct. This is serious. (Nathan needs legal support, I think, but we are graduate students and we do not have money.)

After months of Leiter’s campaigning against us, I feel vulnerable and isolated in the profession. People responding like this makes it worse. I don’t know how to get people to care.Report

Caligula's Goat
Caligula's Goat
Reply to  Christa Peterson
2 years ago

Hi Christa,

I hear you and take you and your pain seriously. As someone who went through nearly debilitating depression during graduate for somewhat similar issues (ten years ago), I empathize with some of what you’re going through. I also hope that someone else can take you up on your request for success stories. However, I’m not at all clear on what, beyond this, you think should be done?

We’re all public citizens here and that leaves us open to public scrutiny for what we do, especially in association with the professional organization that is meant to represent all of us. Of course there are power differentials between Leiter and Nathan, of course Leiter approached this issue in the very specifically jerky, obnoxious, emotionally manipulative, strawperson way that he always does, and I feel for you and for Nathan for being on the receiving end of that. It’s not cool for him to be such a petty petty jerk. Worse still to be a powerful petty petty jerk.

But he was within his rights to criticize and he was within his rights to campaign against the activities of whoever he wants. He was a jerk about it, to be sure, and in a better philosophical world (one I think most DN commentators are trying to help make), people like Leiter would still be free to have, and voice, their views – albeit in more civil ways.

I don’t think Leiter should lose his job for what he’s done. I don’t think he is likely to lose his blog for what he’s done (I almost never visit it personally because I don’t want to support him but the man has clearly found an audience in the philosophical community). We’re already condemning his behavior, we’re already trying to change our professional norms like his less acceptable, but beyond that…what more can we do?Report

Christa Peterson
Reply to  Caligula's Goat
2 years ago

This is burdensome for me, so I would appreciate it if you read what I’ve said more seriously before replying. I think I’ve been clear that what I am objecting to, here, is Justin’s characterization of Leiter’s harassment as having next to no chance of affecting our careers. That is false. What I am asking is that Justin not make false claims that minimize the seriousness of Leiter’s misconduct.

Leiter is in fact not within his rights to lie about Nathan having been suspended. As I also said, another thing I think was needed was legal support for Nathan.

I also think it would have been good for there to have been coverage of the fact that Leiter’s accusations against Nathan were false, because, as I said, that is something it is basically impossible for individuals to later independently reconstruct.

There has not, actually, been public condemnation of Leiter’s treatment of us. Condemnation is not a mental state.Report

Joe
Joe
Reply to  Justin Weinberg
2 years ago

I’d just like to chime in in support of Justin’s right to express his beliefs about the profession here. It is important to keep two things separate (1) our perfectly legitimate feelings of sympathy for grad students given their vulnerability, and (2) the fact that grad students, as a rule, do not know what the job market is actually like. They don’t. I certainly didn’t. By the way, I am one of those success stories. As someone who has a TT job in spite of being identified and threatened by Leiter many years ago (not on his blog, but on a different one), all I can say is that at the time I had no idea how empty those threats were. And when I think back to my flyouts, and to the political climate that prevailed at those departments, it’s laughable to think that anyone in those departments would have actually taken Leiter seriously if he’d emailed them or whatever; his politics and image makes it likely, at literally all of those departments, that I would have been taken *more* seriously, not less. If my (and Justin’s) perception of the discipline is even roughly correct, then it would be seriously problematic for other members of the profession to silence him by confusing (1) and (2), by thinking that you can support grad students by fostering the illusion that BL has real control over their careers. Especially in this case, when one of the most wonderfully supportive and influential mentors in the game (Mark Schroeder) is solidly behind the grad student in question.Report

Jack
Jack
Reply to  Joe
2 years ago

I find the thought that “Justin’s right to express his beliefs about the profession here” needs support deeply puzzling. No one is challenging his *right* to be dismissive, minimizing, or anything else. But it is bad.

I also don’t understand why your anecdote about the job market is apropos, given that Christa specifically disclaimed any concern for the effect Leiter’s attacks might have had by directly trying to convince people of anything. It is encouraging to know that things went well for you (though I’m a little unclear on the sense in which your experience was like hers and Nathan’s, given that you say he didn’t talk about you on his own blog—did he attack you on his law blog?), but it isn’t really responsive to the specific concerns she raised.Report

Joe
Joe
Reply to  Jack
2 years ago

“I find the thought that “Justin’s right to express his beliefs about the profession here” needs support deeply puzzling. No one is challenging his *right* to be dismissive, minimizing, or anything else. But it is bad.”

Yeah, wow, really cool rhetorical trick there. Call his expression “minimizing” as though that isn’t precisely the question at issue. I’ll repeat: if Justin is right here–something no-one has effectively argued against at all–then not only is it not minimizing for him to speak in this way, it is vital that he do so, *for the sake of graduate students*. They need to have testimony from well-placed people on these matters, and to automatically claim that he is minimizing or dismissing someone because he doesn’t automatically agree with you is textbook silencing.Report

Jack
Jack
Reply to  Joe
2 years ago

I think I got us off in the wrong direction by being snarky, so my apologies. Now it seems like we’re just passing the burden back and forth, but I’d like to be clear about why I think it’s on you (I wasn’t just playing a rhetorical trick!):

Christa made a substantive criticism of Justin in the original comment, and he basically just reiterated his position rather than responding to her on the substance. She pointed out that he had done so, and you defended his right to express his opinion. But no one was claiming he had no right, she was claiming that he was wrong on the substance. So either you’re just changing the subject, or you are implicitly asserting that he is not wrong on the substance. If the former, I am puzzled. If the latter, you have again ignored the substance of her criticism.

I agree that whether he is minimizing is precisely the question at issue, and did not mean to obscure this! I did not claim it “automatically” on the basis that I disagreed, I claimed it on the basis of what she said in her comment. I took it that she had given reasons to think it was, and so far no one had addressed them. Evidently you don’t think she has argued this “effectively”, but she did argue it, so I’d like to know why you think it wasn’t effective.

(Whatever textbook it is that says using thick evaluative terms without providing an argument for their applicability is de facto silencing, I will not be assigning it in my class…)Report

Christa Peterson
Reply to  Joe
2 years ago

Hi Joe, seems like it’s a hard no on the whole “please listen to me” thing. I feel extremely grateful and fortunate to have Mark’s support. The most seriously affected student I was referring to as “Nathan” is Nathan Oseroff and not me.Report

Jonathan Jenkins Ichikawa
Jonathan Jenkins Ichikawa
Reply to  Christa Peterson
2 years ago

I’d like to reiterate and emphasize Christa’s point. Justin, I know your motives are good here, but I think it’s easy to overlook the potential harmful effects of saying that the problem has been solved (and therefore, by implication, potentially that someone in a vulnerable position who is worrying about it is responding irrationally). While I share your sense that things are better than they were, I am not nearly so confident as you are that serious mischief to people’s careers isn’t still being done. We remain a discipline where one’s reputation among colleagues plays a major role in our career success, and I don’t think you have the evidence to justify an unambiguous pronouncement about the effects of Leiter’s behaviour.Report

Zeitgeist
Zeitgeist
Reply to  Christa Peterson
2 years ago

You do yourself a disservice by lumping yourself in with Oseroff. There was nothing at all wrong with you posting a couple of jokes that were misinterpreted by Leiter. Oseroff’s attacks on Stock, on the other hand, were wrong and unfair. (That doesn’t justify Stock’s over the top legal response, of course.)Report

Martin Lenz
2 years ago

Many thanks for all your great work! Besides many other things, this place seems to invite a strikingly diverse bunch of the philosophical community.Report

Jon Light
Jon Light
2 years ago

Happy anniversary/birthday Justin! I’d second what everyone’s already said about the great work, but that’d be redundant. So I wanted to say that one thing I really like about this blog is how good it *looks*, which really makes it fun to interact with. The layouts are great, the color schemes are great (no weird green, for example…), and the use of art (and artists) to complement the philosophical stuff is awesome. I think it’s easy to not notice all that stuff, or how freaking long it must take to put it all together, so just wanted to highlight and appreciate it. Would also ask you how to make a zig-zag orange zest, but that’d be pretty far off topic. Congrats again, and thank you!Report

Ambivalent
Ambivalent
2 years ago

Hi Justin,

I think you do a great service to the profession by maintaining this blog, and I greatly respect the civility with which you handle yourself here, though I at least somewhat disagree with some of your more prominent positions wrt the profession. Congratulations on 5 years!

However, there is a great ambivalence in my experience with this blog. In fact, though I hate to say it, the early days of this blog traumatized me. I have a serious and chronic disability directly related to my ability to work, one that made the 5 years I was on the job market even more miserable and stressful than one would already expect. When after 4 years, I got a one-year position (and so immediately back to the job market), it was in a part of the country where I knew nobody. Moreover, on top of my standing disability, I had just been in a severe accident, and was in serious pain most of the time, teaching a course I had never taught before, and indeed had no experience with whatsoever). This was in Fall 2014.

I had not spent much time online reading philosophy-related matters before, as I had normally been around philosophy grad students, faculty, family, friends. When I had none of these things, and was otherwise confined to my room most of the time I wasn’t teaching, I poked around to see what philosophers were up to online. I know this will sound mean-spirited or aggressive, or way overblown, but believe it or not, I don’t mean it to be aggressive, and I am (after almost 5 years) saying it for the first time. The fact is that when I got on Daily Nous and saw some of the comments being made on here, it was almost literally incredible to me that they were being made by professional philosophers or graduate students. Some of these comments were so juvenile, sanctimonious, self-ignorant, and mean-spirited, they defied parody. That they passed moderation seemed to make a mockery of moderation. This kind of behavior is painful enough when it comes from the right, but every one of these commentators I am thinking of were ostentatiously expressing a concern for the oppressed and vulnerable. Given that I have harbored such concerns for a long time, and these appeared to me so grotesquely fake or corrupted, well, it was just stomach-turning.

I also say it was traumatizing. That is surely in large part due to the extreme duress I was under at the time. Even though my normal life is a daily struggle, I would not normally be traumatized by something like this. But under these circumstances, I just could not believe that I had suffered and struggled so much to fight my way into a career that, at least so it appeared, was increasingly populated by people who looked as far away from ‘lovers of wisdom’ as one could imagine, and were aggressively attempting to silence others while making a great deal of noise about the badness of silencing people. Much of this behavior I also saw on facebook, and collectively it was extremely dispiriting.

My impression is that the comments on the whole have improved a great deal on this blog, though there is still a fair bit of this sort of thing (and other forms of ‘jerkiness’–from which I do not entirely exempt myself). Nevertheless, my impression of the profession overall is nothing close to how you describe it in the beginning, Justin. It seems to me that many vulnerable people–including myself–are effectively silenced by mobs of online shamers and harassers (that is not to deny that other people who had previously been silenced are now much more free, which is great). Even if this view is mistaken, it is widely held, as is evidenced routinely in the comment section here (also, it is hard to see how it could be widely held and likely to be false, at least if we take standpoint epistemology seriously at all). It seems to be that jerks have not, in the aggregate, waned at all, though the net influence of certain types might have (as I say, I was not online much before 5 years ago).

For example, it seems to me that Nathan Oseroff, Crista Peterson and many aggressively silencing those who question gender ID laws have acted jerkily (and libelously) in such a way repeatedly. Why doesn’t this breed of jerkiness (not to say defamation) count? For there is a *very* great deal of it, and it often is much worse than mere jerkiness (McKinnon’s abuse of you stands out especially, though she ranges widely). For what it’s worth, I expect that the content of Nathan’s and Crista’s twitter feed, and not what Leiter has said about them, will constitute whatever ‘political’ problems they have on the market. So it is clearly disingenuous to say that them being on the market will be a test case for Leiter’s power, other than his ability to direct attention to what strikes me as ‘manipulative bullshit’, to use Crista’s words.

(Yes Crista, what Nathan said was defamatory, in my judgment. Why should Dr. Stock not respond the way she did? Saying that she is directing hate toward students and faculty is just a lie. Saying that she is advocating treating trans people the way gay people were treated decades ago is a vicious lie, as far as I can tell. Why should you expect these lies not to be called out, and why should your potential employers not take them into account?)

Thanks again for allowing such a diverse range of views on your blog, Justin. You are doing a great service to the profession.Report

Also Ambivalent
Also Ambivalent
Reply to  Ambivalent
2 years ago

This entire comment thread is proof positive of just how toxic our discipline has become.Report

Thrasymachus
Thrasymachus
Reply to  Ambivalent
2 years ago

“Why should Dr. Stock not respond the way she did?”

Because threatening to sue someone over what is, at its core, a political dispute is antithetical to academic freedom. Let us remember what a defamation lawsuit involves: you are asking the state to use its monopoly on violence to silence the respondent, by force if necessary. This is an extreme escalation, no less extreme than leading a witch hunt to get someone fired. Legal threats should be reserved for exceptional cases, where someone is falsely accusing you of pedophilia, or something like that. They are totally unacceptable in the context of a routine political disagreement.

Previously, I had a fair amount of sympathy for Stock, who has endured an enormous amount of harassment for publicly expressing her own political views. But her exchange with Oseroff made it clear that she was also a Robespierre at heart, eager to use force to silence her political opponents the first chance she gets.

“Saying that she is directing hate toward students and faculty is just a lie.”

No, it is core political speech. The claim that expressing attitude A towards the Fs counts as directing hate towards the Fs is a legitimate political opinion, even if it happens to be false. You can find many examples of this type of claim in ordinary political discourse, for instance, “saying that jews have divided loyalties or manipulate gentiles with their wealth expresses hatred for jewish people”, or “calling gender critical feminists shrill, hysterical harpies directs hate towards the women and feminists in your department”. I am virtually certain that Oseroff’s comments would be protected by the first amendment in the United States; if they are actionable in Britain, this is only because Britain has illiberal libel laws. So, at best, Stock is exploiting the UK’s illiberal libel laws to silence her critics. This is flatly incompatible with a commitment to academic freedom — if everyone in philosophy were this litigation-happy, a blanket of silence would descend over the profession, and no one would ever dare to publicly criticize anyone else.

“For what it’s worth, I expect that the content of Nathan’s and Crista’s twitter feed, and not what Leiter has said about them, will constitute whatever ‘political’ problems they have on the market.”

This is about as plausible as claiming that any trouble Rebecca Tuvel might have if she looks for a job in the future will be a result of her poor scholarship and lack of collegiality, rather than the hate campaign directed against her. Leiter’s smears of Oseroff are among the first search results that come up when you google his name; any search committee member who still holds Leiter’s opinion in any esteem is liable to immediately pass on Oseroff if he or she sees them. There is no real difference between Leiter, Stock, and Kaufman and the mob that attacked Tuvel.Report

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

Thrasymachus,

For my own sake here, I’m trying to parse out your concern. Given what you’ve said about political speech, I take it that you’re fine with Stock saying what she says, with Leiter saying what he says, and with Nathan and Christa saying what they’ve all said. Is your concern only involving the lawsuit?

The last bit about Twitter seems neither here nor there since, as you seem to say, it’s all political speech. Though as Milton says to you downthread, I think there’s an interesting conversation to be had about whether one’s online political speech can or should be used against them in the hiring process (c.f. also Steven Salaita).Report

Thrasymachus
Thrasymachus
Reply to  Caligula's Goat
2 years ago

The following sorts of behavior are attacks on academic freedom:

1. Threatening or encouraging legal action against someone for their political speech.
2. Participating in a campaign to get someone fired for their political speech.
3. Doxing someone for their political speech.

Our discipline should enforce strong norms prohibiting these sorts of behaviors. With respect to Oseroff, Stock engaged in #1, Kaufman in #2, and Leiter in all three. Leiter is a serial offender; at this point, he is one of the biggest menaces to academic freedom in philosophy If he won’t (or can’t) stop threatening to sue people, he should be asked to leave the profession.Report

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

Thrasymachus,

Isn’t the entire rub here in disagreement about what counts, or ought to count, as political speech and that sometimes lawsuits exist to help settle these questions when parties disagree? The call to retract the Tuvel article, for example, seems to violate #1 and #2 though many of the signatories at the time argued (and many still believe) that they were attempting to stop actual violence that the article perpetuated. Thus they might disagree about whether all instances of #s 1 and 2 are impermissible. The same can be said of Leiter’s confrontations with Oseroff and, to a much less extent, Peterson. All three engaged in #1 and #2 via blogs, twitter, or reddit. Some seem to think Oseroff also doxxed Stock though I haven’t seen the evidence for it.

So, while I agree with you that the discipline, as a whole, would probably be better off without Leiter than with him (I’ve thought this for some time), I would still rather not empower the APA to begin taking sides in what you seem to agree are political debates. This is despite the fact that I think the APA should, in a fair and neutral way, censure (or threaten with censure) those who violate its code of conduct. What would a censure actually imply? That’s for us to determine as members of the organization.

Steven Salaita’s case is slightly more complicated, in my eyes, because he had already been offered, and already accepted, a position before his social media accounts became the subject of scandal. Though I think I’m apt to agree with you, Thrasymachus, that it would be wrong to deny a candidate a job on the basis PURELY of their social media activity, it seems odd to me that our social media can be a merit to our CVs but not a demerit in at least some cases. I do think we might be closer than words make seem in terms of our ultimate positions.Report

Christa Peterson
Reply to  Caligula's Goat
2 years ago

I have no idea why you think I participated in a campaign to get someone fired or threatened or encouraged legal action based on political speech. I have said I think Nathan needed legal support with respect to Leiter falsely claiming he was suspended from his job, which is obviously not political speech under any description.

I have seen a lot of claims about Nathan, but I have never seen anyone say he doxxed Stock. Where did you see that? It’s pretty inappropriate to throw it out here completely unsubstantiated.Report

Thrasymachus
Thrasymachus
Reply to  Caligula's Goat
2 years ago

“Isn’t the entire rub here in disagreement about what counts, or ought to count, as political speech and that sometimes lawsuits exist to help settle these questions when parties disagree? ”

Two things. First, the courts have already established what types of speech aren’t entitled to first amendment protection. These are: true threats, inciting imminent lawless action, harassment, blackmail, defamation, and soliciting a crime, along with a couple others. Nothing Tuvel said comes close to fitting in any of these categories, so anyone who suggested that Tuvel should be fired or threatened her with legal action was indeed waging an assault against academic freedom. The same is true of Oseroff, whose remarks fall far short of qualifying as defamatory under American legal standards (specifically, his tweet would qualify as a statement of opinion under the reasoning laid out in Milkovich v. Lourain Journal Co.; also see Sandal Resorts v. Google for a close parallel). There’s a chance his remarks might be ruled defamatory in a British court, but this is no excuse, as everyone already knows that British libel law is a freedom-killing joke.

Second, it is an extremely bad idea to rely on the courts to resolve our political spats. Defending against a libel suit can be financially ruinous, even if you win, so leaving these matters up to the courts would just give well-heeled and savvy litigation trolls like Leiter free reign to bully anyone who criticizes them into silence. Leiter knows that most people don’t have the time or resources to fight him if he threatens to sue them, and will simply cave instead. He counts on it. This is what makes his behavior especially odious; it’s like he’s going around challenging people to defend their beliefs in trial by combat, with the proviso that he gets a Olympic boxer to serve as his champion, while his opponent is defended by an asthmatic toddler.

Additionally:
–I don’t think the APA should get officially involved in this in any capacity, although officers or employees of the APA, speaking for themselves rather than for the organization, should feel free to weigh in however they want.
–If a job applicant cites their social media presence in their application as a contribution to the profession, I think it would then be reasonable for a search committee to judge for themselves whether the claim is true, taking every precaution to avoid viewpoint discrimination either for or against the candidate. Otherwise it’s safest for them just to ignore the applicant’s social media accounts altogether.Report

Zeitgeist
Zeitgeist
Reply to  Caligula's Goat
2 years ago

Thrasymachus, I am very sympathetic to what you’re saying, but what about cases in which one is previously acquainted with a philosopher’s online behavior and that behavior indicates that the philosopher in question has such a bad temper that they would make a terrible colleague. There are a small number of mostly senior people in the field who give me this impression, including some with whom I mostly agree about politics.

If a department were considering making a senior offer to Leiter himself, would you consider it a violation of his academic freedom for someone to bring up his online behavior at the hiring meeting?Report

Thrasymachus
Thrasymachus
Reply to  Caligula's Goat
2 years ago

Leiter is a good example. He has one of the most anti-social online presences in the discipline, but I’ve never heard anyone accuse him of being a bad colleague or a bad adviser, or anything like that. Leiter’s extreme litigiousness might give me some pause, but that’s a matter of public record independent of his social media posts.Report

Matias Slavov
Matias Slavov
2 years ago

Thank you for your blog. I read it regularly. I appreciate your efforts to make the culture of conversation kinder and courteous, as well as sharing many interesting links.Report

YAAGS
YAAGS
2 years ago

There seem to he plenty of other incredibly toxic people in academic philosophy who actively try to ruin people’s careers by signing letters and petitions to have their work retracted, or have them banned from speaking, or outright fired. Frankly, I am far more frightened of these people than Leiter, as any rational person should be. Moreover, I highly doubt that many of them would have any compunction about trying to get a grad student expelled from a program for expressing the wrong views. You wholeheartedly and full-throatedly condemn Leiter when he criticizes someone on his blog, but when hundreds of people sign petitions to try to get someone blocked from speaking opportunities or have a paper retracted we get a nuanced list of Millian pros and cons that might eventually point slightly in the direction of ‘con’. Can’t say I blame you. I wouldn’t want to piss off the mob, either. But don’t friggin’ congratulate yourself on making the discipline less toxic. Politically speaking, this discipline is pure cancer.Report

Ned Hall
Ned Hall
2 years ago

Justin, when you talk about “philosophical jerkiness”, do you mean to include, for example, the kind of behavior exhibited by those who subjected Rebecca Tuvel to such vilification? I think it’s examples like that that lead the Ambivalents and YAAGS to express doubts about your optimism concerning the state of the profession. It would be helpful if you clarified.Report

Ned Hall
Ned Hall
Reply to  Justin Weinberg
2 years ago

First, a gentle suggestion: It’s probably best if we all refrain, as much as possible, from reaching for the option of questioning one another’s motives. (Drawing attention to uncivil or unproductive *behavior*, of course, is another matter.) For the record, I for one have zero interest in attempting to embarrass you or test your consistency. (Why on earth would that be a good use of time??) The question was motivated by genuine curiosity: It’s just not obvious to many of us that “jerkiness” has ebbed, so much as changed form and changed hands.
At any rate, your second paragraph is quite helpful; thanks for those thoughts. I hope you are right in your suggestion that the reaction to Tuvel was not only a very serious mistake, but one that is, now, so thoroughly appreciated as such that we can reasonably expect it not to be repeated. As for your remarks in your third paragraph, what concerns me, at least, is that underlying motives that might well deserve our sympathy (or at least respect) can (and in the case of the Tuvel affair, did) lead people to behave in really quite horrible ways, and that it is best for the *profession* if we work to reinforce firm norms against this sort of behavior. I, for one, would like to be part of a profession in which even very delicate questions can be subjected to clear-headed philosophical scrutiny, with the expectation that the focus of attention will always be on the *arguments*, and not on the motives, or standing, or moral character of the people making those arguments.Report

Ned Hall
Ned Hall
Reply to  Justin Weinberg
2 years ago

No worries. Honestly, Justin, your *own* motives seem pretty damn admirable.Report

YAAGS
YAAGS
Reply to  Ned Hall
2 years ago

The entire obsession with jerkiness is a red herring. It isn’t really jerkiness that is the systematic issue. To be sure, one should be polite. But the fact that a discipline can be impolite doesn’t particularly matter all that much. Conversely, if dozens or hundreds of people are trying to destroy you professionally, it doesn’t matter in the slightest if they do so in a polite manner.

“Oh, we’re terribly sorry, but you have the wrong views. We’re afraid we cannot allow you to speak publicly or interact with students. We have contacted you university and have advised them to terminate your employment. We hope you understand and have a lovely day.

Warmest regards,
Vicious Mob”Report

Bharath Vallabha
2 years ago

Justin, thanks for the blog. Around the time DN started, I was very raw in my emotions towards academia. Commenting here was instrumental to me feeling less isolated and moving on. I will be forever thankful for that. Especially as at the time Leiter Reports became identified in my head with all that was wrong with the profession.

Ironically, one of the things DN enabled for me these past five years is seeing I was mistaken in some ways about Leiter Reports. Not about the bullying, or the unhealthy mix it used to be of a personal blog and professional news run by the editor of the most influential rankings. But I was wrong to impose onto Leiter Reports all that I was angry about. It blinded me to the good points Leiter makes, even where I disagree. Perhaps that is also how some people, as you say, “really hate” you. Strong emotions call out for an outer focal point, especially when it feels like otherwise the emotions will only get/stay repressed. Creating a focal point of hate and anger acts as a mechanism for the dimly felt emotions and thoughts to get a foothold. That is how my anger at Leiter Reports functioned. It helped me come to self-consciousness of many things that mattered to me. The anger was creative and healing, even as it was also toxic and blinding.

I love your idea of presumptive trust. In that spirit, it seems to me you haven’t always manifested it. Sometimes things that seem funny to you or a joke, or where it seems ok to be righteously indignant can be hurtful, magnified by the position you now have. Your exchanges with Dan Kaufman is an example, though others might think of others. How he has been treated here is not right. But I also don’t agree with how he has characterized you or DN. This seems to me indicative of our current time: two of the most interesting thinkers in philosophy viewing each other with suspicion and seeing the other as what is wrong with the profession, which then gets in the way of hashing out that disagreement in debate. This is a lost opportunity. We need people, especially those with broad platforms like you and him, to engage each other. It’s amazing to me that you and Dan, or Leiter and Haslanger, etc. don’t actually talk and debate about what you most disagree about, as if the other side is beyond the scope of reason and are simply jerks. But that’s where the good stuff is, in that fun and passionate space where people’s egos, emotions, pride, ideas, worldviews and ideals all run together. Where it feels like the other is “all wrong about everything”, but then where slowly new bonds of respect and a shared rationality, even with deep disagreement, can start to form.

I continue to hope that philosophy professors who deeply disagree with each other will set aside decorum, and publicly debate each other as if they were just undergraduates trying to solve the world’s problems in their dorms.Report

Preston Stovall
Preston Stovall
Reply to  Bharath Vallabha
2 years ago

Hear, hear. The profession would be much better off if the more strident voices were making an effort to talk to each other.Report

Martin Lenz
Reply to  Bharath Vallabha
2 years ago

Bharath Vallabha, one of the greatestthings of this blog are your comments. IReading them , I always learn something new. And I particularly admire the slightly self-undermining style in which they move me through a thought into an unexpected perspective. This occasion is no exception. Thanks!Report

Bharath Vallabha
Reply to  Martin Lenz
2 years ago

Martin, Thank you. Exchanges like these are one way DN has been a soothing space for me. When I left academia, I wondered: did I leave because I wasn’t good enough? Blaming the system didn’t settle it for me. It helped to have spaces where I could talk to professional philosophers the way I never did when I was one, and so feel, “I could have done that. My quietness as an academic wasn’t due to lack of ability.” It wasn’t just DN. NewAPPS, Feminist Philosophers, the Electric Agora and others enabled a similar thing.

Still, DN was unique I think. Reason is it seemed to self-consciously take over some of the functions, and prestige, of Leiter Reports. Even when I was commenting elsewhere, I wondered, “But could I hold my own over at Leiter Reports?” It was hard to know, because to comment there required Leiter’s moderation, which involved agreeing with him broadly, which I didn’t. It was hard to blame him, since it is his blog and he can do what he wants. An example of the pernicious way norms of personal blog and professional meeting place all ran together. But many of the people who were at Leiter Reports were also at DN, so I didn’t need to comment over there, and Leiter Reports became less central to my life. I suspect I am not alone in feeling this way. I don’t see this as Justin stealing Leiter’s thunder, but a right move away from the accumulation of resources to which Leiter wasn’t entitled.

But now this highlights for DN some of the same questions there were about Leiter Reports. I feel welcome at DN, but I can imagine and know people who don’t, or wouldn’t. It’s not an issue of Justin’s goodness, nor a false equivalence of Justin and Leiter. The deeper issue: can anything as sprawling as academic philosophy be held together by the good intentions (and invisible work) of a single individual, or even a few people? And can someone just decide on their own to do that, or do they have to be elected in some way? But is elections even the right model for what is wanted?

Here I disagree with Justin’s post. I don’t know if jerkiness has reduced in the last five years. But I don’t even think that is the main issue. The main issues are the philosophical questions about what it is for academic phil to recognize its plurality while maintaining a unity. On one model, rankings hold the plurality and unity together. On another model, niceness can be that glue. I don’t think rankings or niceness can play that role. Which raises the question of what can? That is the open challenge to DN and academic philosophy more broadly.Report

ag
ag
Reply to  Bharath Vallabha
2 years ago

I would just like to say, I do NOT think that the big names of online philosophy (as you might call them) should be engaging each other more, at least not on this site. What I like about the Daily Nous is that Justin makes a conscious effort to not make this blog about himself, and instead to make it a service for the profession. (Sometimes he fails at this for sure, but it is still clearly an ideal he aspires to.) Meanwhile, Leiter’s blog is all about him, and never pretends to be otherwise. That is not intrinsically wrong; it only is so when also that blog is a major source of information for a whole profession.

My point being: I have always appreciated Justin’s general refusal and reluctance to take on Leiter directly. When he does, this site becomes about Justin and Leiter and what they think, not about the profession. If Justin and Leiter would like to debate each other that’s fine; but don’t do it on the DN. Do it somewhere else. While as a general rule I am almost always on the side of the camp that urges for more direct and constructive engagement when disagreement arises, I think that to call for Justin and Leiter and Dan Kaufman to talk about each other MORE and to make more things about them in a forum meant to be a place for professional news not filtered through outsized personalities is deeply misguided.

If these people, as you say, are some of the “most interesting thinkers in philosophy” independent of their talents and energies for blogging (quite a statement!), then they should have no problem publishing considered responses to each other’s thought and work in journals, or in other fora designed for such purposes. Let’s not call for them to make DN into a playground for their debates and squabbles.

And Justin, thank you for avoiding mentioning Leiter’s name as much as possible! This effort is, to my mind, a great indication of the good faith on your part that goes in to the operating of this blog. I’m sure you’ve been tempted many times to toss his name into your posts, and have judiciously resisted. Please keep this site about the profession as best as possible, not about you or Leiter.Report

Bharath Vallabha
Reply to  ag
2 years ago

I didn’t mean Justin should be talking about Leiter here. Agree 100% about that. That would definitely change the kind of discussion space this is, and which Justin himself aims for.

I mean it’s unfortunate that with Leiter and Justin and their sites playing significant roles in the profession, they don’t talk to each other in other contexts, like say, an APA discussion on news sites in the profession, or a bloggingheads.tv type dialogue where they hash out where they agree and disagree. Yes, philosophy happens in journal articles and books, but there is also philosophy as dialogue between people. We value this in colloquia, conferences, etc. But the greater the emotional valence of the disagreement, there seems to be less person to person dialogue – which then perpetuates with supporters of Leiter or Justin, etc. talking to each other in a dismissive way, and so the polarization grows. To me this is a reflection of the low value put on wisdom in academic phil – wisdom as the ability to combine intellectual debate with control of one’s emotions, even in contexts which are triggering, embarrassing, hurtful, injurious to one’s pride, etc. If Justin and Leiter, or similarly high profile figures, are able to talk face to face and model that, that would make a big difference.

Also, I meant Leiter, Justin, Dan, etc. are some of the most interesting thinkers precisely because of the institutional work they do to foster modes of communication and new ideas in the internet age. I don’t see why that has to be secondary to their journal articles. I see them or others like them as ahead of the curve in where things are going. No offense, but I haven’t read Leiter’s phil of law or Justin’s work in ethics. I am sure it’s good, but I don’t know where it ranks in terms of originality or depth. But their institutional work is clearly original and innovative, and that matters a lot.Report

Milton
Milton
2 years ago

On the whole, I would say that DN is a helpful but imperfect forum. (I would say the same of Leiter.) So I’m glad that it exists, and, therefore, glad to celebrate its birthday.

But that’s not why I’m writing. I’m writing because I think it’s important that one of Ambivalent’s points not be lost in the fray. I’ve served on several search committees, and I regularly talk to people who serve on search committees elsewhere. Here are two things I’ve seen and heard:

First, it is not uncommon for search committees to dismiss the negative opinions of big-shots, especially when those big-shots are known for overstatement, agenda-pushing, etc. The anecdotal evidence suggests that this happens quite a bit; as such, one should not be too worried, job-prospects-wise, about the mere fact that one has had a run-in with, say, Brian Leiter.

Second, it is also not uncommon for search committees to hold it against a candidate if they have a track record of posting unprofessional, incautious, poorly reasoned call-outs on social media. (To be clear, it is not the content of their positions that is held against them. It is the unscholarliness of the way they are expressed.)

I was recently talking to a junior colleague who was genuinely surprised that someone’s social-media posts might count against them. I suspect that others may find that surprising, too. (Some will also find it contemptible, unjust, outrageous, etc., but that’s a separate issue; here I mean only to be reporting some anecdotal evidence.) I think graduate students should be aware of this, which is why I wanted to make sure Ambivalent’s point wasn’t lost in the subsequent discussion.Report

Thrasymachus
Thrasymachus
Reply to  Milton
2 years ago

“Second, it is also not uncommon for search committees to hold it against a candidate if they have a track record of posting unprofessional, incautious, poorly reasoned call-outs on social media. (To be clear, it is not the content of their positions that is held against them. It is the unscholarliness of the way they are expressed.)”

Note that this practice, however common, is totally indefensible. First, it is highly doubtful that search committee members can be trusted to reliably distinguish between the “content” of a political position and whether it counts as “unprofessional”, “incautious”, or “poorly-reasoned” (I am not sure there is even a principled distinction to be drawn there in the first place). Typically, views you see as extreme will automatically seem more “incautious” than views that fit snugly within your personal Overton window, and arguments you reject will automatically seem more “poorly-reasoned” than those you accept. Second, political postings on social media are extramural political speech — they should fall entirely outside of the purview of all decisions on hiring and promotion.* So what you are really saying here is that search committees routinely violate core principles of academic freedom. This is, I suppose, not much of a surprise at this point.

*See https://www.aaup.org/sites/default/files/Wilson.pdfReport

Milton
Milton
Reply to  Thrasymachus
2 years ago

Thanks for your reply, Thrasymachus. These are serious concerns, and I’m glad that you have raised them. I would welcome a fuller discussion of what search committees should & shouldn’t take into account, what they can & can’t reliably discern, etc. Perhaps Professor Weinberg would be willing to host such a discussion.

If we’re going to make any headway on your first point, it seems to me that we need a finer-grained analysis of the relevant phenomena. So, for instance, one’s ability to discern how well-reasoned a position is may vary depending on the medium in which it is expressed and, in particular, on the conventions by which that medium is governed. If so, it would be helpful to clarify what these conventions are and what they imply for assessing the reasonableness of a position. That’s something we could usefully take up in a broader discussion.

Unprofessionalism may be a different sort of case. It may be, for instance, that if a philosopher has a track record of impugning other philosophers’ character, calling them names, ‘mobbing’ them, etc., then we can draw conclusions about their professionalism *irrespective of the medium in which they are expressing themselves.* Maybe not. My point here is simply that we may need to distinguish this sort of judgment–and our reliability in making it–from judgments about whether a particular position is right, whether it is held for good reasons, and so on. Again: we need a finer-grained analysis of the relevant phenomena.

I don’t take myself to be telling you anything that hasn’t already occurred to you; I’m just trying to explain why I think it would be helpful to have a broader discussion of these issues. As I said, these are serious concerns, so I appreciate your raising them here.Report

Thrasymachus
Thrasymachus
Reply to  Milton
2 years ago

“Unprofessionalism may be a different sort of case. It may be, for instance, that if a philosopher has a track record of impugning other philosophers’ character, calling them names, ‘mobbing’ them, etc., then we can draw conclusions about their professionalism *irrespective of the medium in which they are expressing themselves.* ”

I don’t think so. Michael Berube, in the introduction to a volume of the Journal of Academic Freedom focused on the Salaita affair, puts the point nicely:

“It is clear that all invocations of “civility,” with regard to Salaita’s tweets, are illegitimate with regard to AAUP policy. For our purposes, and for all good purposes, the consideration of a faculty member’s manner of expression– in extramural or intramural utterance– is rarely appropriate to an assessment of his or her academic fitness. If you want to complain that, say, Professor Mxyzpltk’s impish remarks in the comment section of the Crooked Timber blog have some resonance for how he (or she) will conduct himself (or herself) as a colleague and as a teacher, the AAUP will insist that you find stronger evidence. ”

https://www.aaup.org/JAF6/editors-introduction

You suggest that it may be reasonable for search committees to take “a track record of… name-calling” into account in the hiring process. It is not hard to see why this is a terrible idea. There is no consensus in society or in academia about what counts as childish name-calling and what counts as legitimate political commentary, and no matter how impartial or fair-minded you take yourself to be, it is highly likely that your judgments of what qualifies as name-calling and what doesn’t are biased by your own position on the political spectrum. For example:

1. Trans rights activists consider “TERF” a straightforward descriptive term for gender critical feminists; gender critical feminists consider it a slur.
2. “Globalist” has an innocuous dictionary definition, but it is also often viewed as an anti-semitic dog whistle. Many other terms (like “thug”) fall into this category as well.
3. There is substantial disagreement over whether it is factually correct or wildly inappropriate to refer to Trump and his supporters as fascists (at least one philosopher I know of uses the terms “republican” and “fascist” more or less interchangeably).
4. Conservatives often see negative generalizations about minorities and women as legitimate political speech, while many liberals see these sorts of generalizations as horrifically insulting and bigoted.
5. Descriptions of abortion opponents as “anti-choice” and abortion rights activists as “pro-abortion” may seem insulting or accurate, depending on your own views on abortion rights.
6. Feminists often object when someone refers to women as “females” or “girls”, although many people do this often without even realizing it.
7. A number of terms related to mental illness — “lunacy”, “crazy”, etc. — are commonly used throughout our discipline, but these are also seen as derogatory in some quarters.

As a result, allowing hiring committees to disfavor applicants on the basis of a history of “name-calling” is virtually guaranteed to lead to viewpoint-based discrimination. At public universities, this violates the first amendment; at all institutions everywhere, it is contrary to the principles of academic freedom. The AAUP has it right here: extramural political speech, on social media or elsewhere, should play zero role in hiring or promotion decisions. To avoid bias, search committee members probably shouldn’t even be looking at a job candidate’s social media posts.Report

JTD
JTD
Reply to  Thrasymachus
2 years ago

Thrasymachus, I’m glad you are making a case for this side of the argument, and these are good cases to point to. However, the argument from “Here are several cases in which judgments about civility are likely to involve view-point discrimination” to “therefore, considering a candidate’s uncivil public speech has no place in candidate assessment” does not look strong to me. Here are some points:

1. The kinds of cases you point to occur with all the criteria we might use for assessing candidates. For example, maybe we will look at a candidates publication record. But how successful one is at publishing ones work sometimes reflects the view-point biases of editors and referees. A weak argument for the “right” political view may get published in a top journal and a strong argument for the “wrong” political view may not. Second, the hiring committee must make judgments about how to rank various publication outlets against each other and this will often be influenced by their view-point biases (e.g., is Hypatia a third tier journal or is it up there with PPA as one of the top specialist journals). Finally, the hiring committee may read the candidates published work and judge its quality directly. But again, such judgments will be influenced by view-point bias. Similar points can be made about all the other main criteria that are typically used. Yet, it would be absurd to say that therefore we must stop assessing publication records etc.

2. If you present the “bad” cases that count against using some criterion then you also need to present the “good” cases in which failing to use the criterion looks problematic. Suppose hiring committees accepted your argument and refused to consider the uncivil public speech of candidates. This would mean that the fact that a candidate advocates online for white supremacism, or the forced sexual slavery of certain women could not be counted against them. But these are obviously significant factors suggesting that the candidate is unsuitable to hold an academic position or front a class full of students from various backgrounds. Or suppose that the candidate participates in extreme bullying online, picking on vulnerable people, driving several of them to suicide, and then boasting about it afterwards. Very strong evidence that this is not the kind of person you want to have around.

3. What I take away from (1) and (2) that we need to use various criteria despite the fact that they are only moderately reliable and despite the fact that our application of them can be infected by various biases. The key is to recognize the problem of bias and use the criteria judiciously avoiding applying it to cases in which bias is likely. Thus, I agree that ruling out a candidate for incivility in the cases you discuss would be a mistake. The hiring committee should acknowledge that these are controversial cases where personal biases make fair judgments unlikely and thus refrain from taking these cases into account. However, in other cases they certainly should be taking evidence of incivility into account. Similar points apply to how they assess research and teaching excellence.

4. Finally, I want to highlight that there is something deeply wrong about the idea that only research and teaching are relevant to the decision to hire someone. A philosophical department is a kind of community of scholars and bad apples–people who are freeloaders, bullies, or intolerant sectarians–can really bring that community down. On several occasions I have seen the destructive influence that one of these bad apples has had in a philosophy department and lamented the mistake made by the hiring committee that allowed this person in in the first place. I have also heard first-hand about a department hiring someone that they knew to be a bad apple because they thought that his outstanding research record would boost their prestige. The hire probably did bring boost their prestige, but he also bullied graduate students, refused to pull his weight on admin tasks, and attempted to isolate a couple of colleagues who he deemed to have the wrong views. That department became a very toxic place. Taking account of a candidate’s character is very important when deciding who to hire.Report

Thrasymachus
Thrasymachus
Reply to  JTD
2 years ago

1. I agree that evaluations of research quality also have the potential, in some cases, to be tainted by political bias, but I am not so worried about this, for a couple of reasons. First, the risk of bias increases exponentially as a function of proximity to partisan politics. Philosophers are relatively good at remaining objective about the merit of research in metaphysics, or epistemology, or even in political theory — it’s only when an argument triggers our tribal political loyalties that impartiality goes completely out the window. Second, bias in assessments of research quality will be mitigated substantially by uncontroversial features of an applicant’s publication record. There is no real question that candidate with three articles in venues like Ethics or Nous has a better record than a candidate with (say) one article in Hypatia, or a single chapter in an invited volume.

Ultimately, search committees have to base hiring decisions on something, even if there is always some residual risk of viewpoint discrimination. The AAUP’s position on this is clear: it’s fine to take the candidate’s research into account, but extramural political speech, which is less closely related to the candidate’s fitness as a scholar, colleague, or teacher, should be ignored completely. The risk of prejudice just outweighs whatever little additional information you can glean about the candidate by looking at her Facebook timeline.

2. You cite support for white supremacy and forced sexual slavery as examples of political views so far beyond the pale that it would be reasonable for search committees to count them against a job candidate. Presumably you think the same is true of support for apartheid, terrorism, ethnic cleansing, colonialism, and specific forms of racism like anti-semitism and hatred of arabs. Is it possible to apply these standards in a viewpoint-neutral way? A moment’s reflection will show that it is not. Take the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. Israel is often accused of being an apartheid state, built upon hatred of Arabs, which has engaged in ethnic cleansing in the colonially-occupied Palestinian territories. The standards you cite can thus be used to deny employment to anyone who publicly voices support for Israel. By the same token, sympathizers with Palestine are often accused of being anti-semites or in league with the terrorists, and of promoting the murder or genocide of jews (these were precisely the accusations leveled against Salaita). So the same criteria can also be used to deny employment to anyone who is too outspoken in their criticism of Israel.

Similar problems will arise if you start disqualifying candidates on the basis of “white supremacism” — there is no agreement about who counts as a white supremacist and who doesn’t, and many leftists see all Trump supporters, or even all Republican, are white supremacists at heart. Controversial accusations of supporting forced sexual slavery are, I concede, somewhat less common, but there are many feminists out there who would be happy to tell you that conservative Christians like Pence wish to transform our country into Gilead from The Handmaid’s Tale, and a few more radical feminists who view all prostitution (or all heterosexual marriage, or all sexual relationships between men and women…) as a form of sexual slavery.

So your proposal, while initially reasonable-sounding, ends up opening the door to unlimited viewpoint discrimination.

4. I do not think that research and teaching are the only relevant factors in hiring, and I agree that it is important to take a prospective colleague’s character and collegiality into account when deciding whether to offer them a job. But this must be the character revealed in the candidate’s letters, teaching portfolio, and interviews — evaluations of character cannot be based on a candidate’s political views or the manner in which she expresses them on social media.Report

Craig Burley
Craig Burley
Reply to  Milton
2 years ago

As a former philosophy grad student and now lawyer I would point out that OH MY GOD TAKE UP YOUR DEPARTMENT’S HIRING PRACTICES WITH THE UNIVERSITY’S LAWYERS. TOMORROW.Report

Milton
Milton
Reply to  Craig Burley
2 years ago

Thanks for the free advice, counselor! As it happens, my university’s office of general counsel has focused its energies on a different issue, namely, the widespread (but totally illegal) practice of hiring persons, at least in part, because they will diversify our faculty. Here as elsewhere, legal offices are right to worry about this, I think, since (1) there’s no question that search committees often take race and/or gender into account when making hiring decisions–some even going so far as to say, quite openly, that such-and-such position “needs to go to a woman and/or URM”–and (2) universities know that such taking-into-account exposes them to lawsuits that they may find hard to contest, especially once committee-members’ emails have been subpoenaed.

My impression, too, is that our general counsel sees social media as a sort of grey area. Some posts are more like a would-be contribution to the field, for instance, whereas others are more like a speech given at a political rally, and others still are more like shouting “boo!” at a sporting event. By the same token, some posts are more like the Q & A following a talk (and, thus, more appropriately included in one’s estimation of the author’s professionalism), whereas others are more like a letter to the editor or a phone call to a radio show. The upshot of all this may be that we should avoid taking social media posts into consideration when determining whether to hire someone. Or maybe it’s that we should be especially careful in distinguishing among the various sorts of posts. Or maybe it’s something else. It’s a complicated set of issues, which is why I think it would be helpful to have a finer-grained discussion of the relevant phenomena.Report

Sam Duncan
Sam Duncan
Reply to  Milton
2 years ago

Milton,
I just want to say thanks for the comment. Things like this do a service to graduate students and I think it would be very good if the Daily Nous, and other philosophy blogs, were to have a wider discussion of what really goes into hiring and what should. Probably the biggest reason I loathe Leiter’s blog and his rankings is that it gives graduate students a truly warped idea of both how to succeed in academic philosophy and what counts as success. I had no luck on the market myself until a I realized that a great many schools, perhaps most, simply don’t care about Leiter rankings. Graduate students simply have no idea how the market as a whole works and since their advisers usually come from R1s high up in the rankings they usually don’t either. (I got so much woefully bad advice from so many well-meaning people about how to apply to teaching focused schools). And as you note many people don’t care about the opinion of bigwigs in philosophy. (Personally I think being the target of Leiter’s blog is like being the target of a Trump tweet: If it means anything it’s a decent indication one has done something right).
Also, I’m not sure how I feel about it but I see why people would look at someone’s online behavior. Interviews are an extremely artificial environment and don’t really give one all that much information about how well someone fits the job. I would argue that you can get a better indication of what someone is like as a colleague or how they would interact with students from how they behave online than you can from polished and artificial answers to questions or even an equally artificial teaching demo. Mind you I’m not saying it’s a good source but it’s better than a lot of others search committees have. The real problem it seems to me is that maybe the process we have is not great at giving committees the information they need, but sadly I’m not clever enough to think of a good alternative. Anyway, a more wide-ranging discussion of what goes into hiring decisions and what should really could be a service to the profession.Report

Nicolas Delon
Nicolas Delon
Reply to  Sam Duncan
2 years ago

Interviews are extremely artificial, but if anything is better evidence of collegiality this cannot possibly be social media. It may be prudent to polish your internet presence, and probably more job candidates should, but if we start arguing that maybe we should holistically assess all the evidence including how one behaves on Twitter, then we’re screwed as a profession. As artificial as they may be, interviews are orders of magnitude better evidence than social media.Report

Milton
Milton
Reply to  Sam Duncan
2 years ago

Thanks very much for your encouraging response, Professor Duncan; I appreciate it.

Your comment led me to wonder about the following: is there a greater likelihood of drawing a falsely negative conclusion from someone’s social media posts than a falsely positive one? My hunch, at least, is that if someone is reliably thoughtful, perceptive, and respectful in their posts, then that’s pretty good evidence that they are thoughtful, perceptive, and respectful in real life. (Think here of David Wallace.) By contrast, the fact that someone posts ‘hot takes’ or is disrespectful on social media may not be good evidence that they are actually shallow thinkers or that they would conduct themselves unprofessionally in a work-setting. (I’ve known plenty of people who breathe fire online, but who are gentle and even tender-hearted in real life.) I’m not sure that’s true, but if it were, then it would follow that search committees should be more confident in the positive conclusions they might draw from someone’s social media posts, than in negative ones.

One more thought. You and I both think it would be helpful to have a discussion about what goes into hiring decisions (and what should go into them). That leads me to think, again, of how glad I am for the existence of blogs like DN and Leiter, since they provide a forum in which a vast cross-section of the field can actually tackle issues like these. It’s a thankless task–look at how we’re celebrating DN’s birthday!–but I’m grateful that Professors Weinberg and Leiter have been willing to do it, not least because they thereby provide an infrastructure that allows us to address such issues.

Thanks once again. As someone whose skin is not nearly as thick as Professor Weinberg’s, encouragement like this means a lot to me.Report

Sam Duncan
Sam Duncan
Reply to  Milton
2 years ago

Milton,
You know I was thinking the same thing about internet behavior. I think that internet forums do just encourage nasty behavior. I’ve personally found it’s much easier to be a jerk and harder to be decent on the internet than in person. I’ve found myself behaving in ways that I don’t think are characteristic. I’m trying to do a better job of checking that.
Also, on the subject of philosophy blogs I have to mention that Marcus Arvan’s Philosopher’s Cocoon is a wonderful forum. I found the Cocoon one of the most helpful forums out there in figuring out how the job market works. And it helped me get past some of the more unhealthy ideas about what counts as success that I think the profession fosters. The comment section over there also tends to be a bit nicer and more constructive than most internet venues.Report

Nicolas Delon
Nicolas Delon
Reply to  Milton
2 years ago

That’s a plausible asymmetry. One thing is certain though: people seem to be inferring a lot from Leiter’s online presence, including what role he should be allowed to play in the profession, and I find that worrying. If the above asymmetry is plausible, then when people are (unsurprisingly) weighing the negative much more heavily than the positive, they are likely to misjudge people. Others have already pointed out that Leiter as a colleague, adviser, person is nothing but kind and respectful, and I concur, and yet this evidence seems to count for nothing to people. The fact that I’m going to take flak for this shows precisely how explosive the situation has become (Justin’s statement notwithstanding). Indeed, people are naturally going to infer things about me just from this—and I might infer things from others based on their commenting here! I suggest that we refrain from
doing so when the inferences are so loosely supported. Obviously this is especially true for job market purposes. Now let’s all celebrate all the nice things blogs can do for us.Report

Milton
Milton
Reply to  Nicolas Delon
2 years ago

It seems that this thread is winding down, so I just wanted to say a final word of thanks to Professors Duncan and Delon (as well as to Thrasymachus). You all have helped me think a bit more carefully about the inferences one can draw from a person’s social-media posts, and for that I’m grateful.Report

Bharath Vallabha
2 years ago

Related to the topics being discussed here, one might find the following post and the comments thread there interesting. Though the post begins by talking about Daily Nous, the broader points are meant to apply to everyone I think.

https://theelectricagora.com/2019/03/09/a-very-philosophical-conceit/Report

Thrasymachus
Thrasymachus
Reply to  Bharath Vallabha
2 years ago

Daniel Kaufman participated — gleefully — in Leiter’s mobbing attack against Oseroff. Kaufman no longer has the standing to complain about what happened to Tuvel.Report

Bharath Vallabha
Reply to  Thrasymachus
2 years ago

I don’t know what happened with Leiter and Oseroff, and Christa Peterson. I read with sympathy Peterson’s comments here, but not knowing the background, I don’t have an opinion. Also don’t know what Dan did re that episode. I also don’t remember much re Tuvel, though I remember it was a big deal.

I know this: I admire Daily Nous and what Justin has done. I also admire Dan Kaufman, and what he has done with the Electric Agora. I have even come to have some appreciation for Leiter Reports. Saying this might seem horrible to people who have been attacked by Leiter or by Justin or anyone else. Not my intention. The point rather is Daily Nous’ flourishing has created in the online philosophy community a MSNBC vs Fox News situation, since both Daily Nous and Leiter Reports provide “news” of the profession, which is also mixed with editorializing.

The question this raises for all sides I think is: how much of all the controversies is one supposed to keep track of? And in what way? Again, I don’t mean to belittle what Peterson or others on any side are going through. Rather, perhaps this fracturing of news is contributing to why people are not feeling heard.Report