Political Hostility and Willingness to Discriminate in Philosophy


A new study of nearly 800 academic philosophers provides support for several claims about their political views, perceptions of politics-based hostility, and willingness to engage in politics-based discrimination.

The study, “Ideological Diversity, Hostility, and Discrimination in Philosophy“, by Uwe Peters (KU Leuven), Nathan Honeycutt (Rutgers), Andreas De Block (KU Leuven), and Lee Jussim (Rutgers), is forthcoming in Philosophical Psychology.

Alvin Loving, untitled

Their findings include the following:

  1. “Philosophers are predominantly left leaning”
    74.8% of philosophers are left-leaning, 14.2% were right-leaning, 11% were moderates. Analytic philosophers in general identified as slightly less left-leaning than continental philosophers. Additionally, “participants also perceived their colleagues as primarily left-leaning” and “viewed them as more left-leaning than themselves”
  2. “The more right-leaning the participant, the more hostility they reported personally experiencing from colleagues, and, overall, the more left-leaning the participant, the less hostility they reported personally experiencing.”
    “Participants also perceived right-leaning individuals in the field… to experience more hostility than left-leaning subjects.”
  3. “Participants reported that they would be more reluctant to defend their own argument if it led to a right-leaning conclusion… than if it led to a left-leaning one”
    “There was no association between ideology and how often participants would be reluctant to defend their argument if it led to a left-leaning conclusion… These findings point toward an apparent stigma held by most participants, regardless of their political ideology, against defending right-leaning conclusions. Considered together with our other results, this reluctance to defend right-leaning conclusions may be the by-product of perceived or actual ideological discrimination within the field. It suggests the presence of ideological ‘self-censorship'”.
  4.  “Significant correlations were found between ideology and the WTD [willingness to discriminate]”
    “The more left-leaning the participant, the more frequently a right-leaning perspective/individual would be viewed negatively in assessing grant applications, evaluating papers, inviting colleagues to symposia, and making hiring decisions involving two otherwise equally qualified candidates. On the other side, the more right-leaning the participant, the more frequently a left-leaning perspective/individual would be viewed negatively in assessing grant applications  evaluating paper, inviting colleagues to symposia , and making hiring decisions… But overall, WTD against right-leaning perspective/individuals was significantly greater than WTD against left-leaning perspective/individuals.” Also, “continental philosophers were willing to discriminate against right-leaning perspectives/colleagues more frequently than analytic philosophers.” Additionally, “participants reported believing that colleagues would engage in discrimination against right-leaning individuals more often than against left-leaning individuals.”
  5. A slight majority of philosophers surveyed believe that discrimination against individuals in the field based on their political beliefs is “not at all justified.”
    However, “there was a significant association between ideology and justification of discrimination against right-leaning individuals in the field… The more left-leaning the participant, the more justified they believed discrimination against right-leaning individuals to be. But… there was no significant association between ideology and justification of discrimination against left-leaning individuals.”

In their discussion of their findings, the authors write:

One factor contributing to the imbalance in representation of ideological viewpoints might be an aversion and discrimination against right-leaning and moderate individuals. Our study doesn’t directly show that they do contribute to it. It does, however, provide evidence that ideological hostility and a readiness to discriminate on the basis of ideology are not only real in philosophy but also directed at various ideologies, including a moderate stance (moderate participants reported experiencing more hostility than left-leaning participants, but less than right-leaning participants). Our findings thus suggest that across the political spectrum, from very left-leaning to very right-leaning individuals, philosophers sometimes experience politically motivated hostility in the field which, in some cases, prevents them from expressing their viewpoints, from being taken seriously, and from contributing to debates. This is striking, because given the pervasiveness of explicit commitments to open-mindedness, and inclusiveness among philosophers, philosophy departments, and organizations, one would expect the opposite.

Equally surprisingly, our qualitative data, combined with the quantitative findings, reveal a significant discrepancy between many philosophers’ beliefs that ideological bias and discrimination are either rare or non-existent in the field and many more other philosophers’ reports of having actually experienced or witnessed them first hand, or being willing to engage in it themselves. Starting with the political right, the more right-leaning the participant was, the more hostility they reported personally experiencing from colleagues, and the stronger their impression that they and their political ideology would be negatively viewed in judgment- and decision-making in the field. The validity of this subjective impression was partly confirmed by the fact that the more left-leaning the participant was, the more frequent their WTD against right-leaning individuals and contents in judgment- and decision-making. Similarly, while left-leaning participants didn’t report more experiences of hostility the more left-leaning they were, the more left-leaning the participant was, the stronger their impression that they themselves and their ideology would be negatively assessed in the mentioned contexts. This subjective impression too was partly confirmed by the fact that the more right-leaning the participant was, the more frequent their WTD against left-leaning individuals or contents in application/paper reviewing, conference invitations, and hiring…

Independently of their strength, it is worth noting that hostility and discrimination against a particular ideology in philosophy or any other academic discipline needn’t be problematic. An aversion against creationists in biology or against flat-earthers in geology seems unobjectionable. The same might hold for individuals with certain ideologies in philosophy. If so, then one would expect members of the field to take discrimination against some subjects on the basis of their ideology to be justified. And indeed we did find that the more left-leaning the participant was, the more justified they believed discrimination against right-leaning contents/individuals in the field to be, while the reverse didn’t hold. Yet, importantly, we also found that about half of the participants took discrimination against either left- or right-leaning contents/individuals in the field to be not justified at all, which starkly contrasts with the fact that many participants on both the left and the right in fact openly acknowledged they would discriminate against contents/individuals of the opposite ideology. 

You can read the whole study here.

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Nicolas Delon
Nicolas Delon
2 years ago

Can’t wait for the Quillette spin on this. 1, 2, 3…Report

A Philosopher
A Philosopher
Reply to  Nicolas Delon
2 years ago

It is stunning how the first response to this is a mocking invocation of political tribalism.Report

Nicolas Delon
Nicolas Delon
Reply to  A Philosopher
2 years ago

Not my fault if Quillette is constantly engaged in political tribalismReport

Nicolas Delon
Nicolas Delon
Reply to  A Philosopher
2 years ago

Also, yes, it’s so predictable that Quillette is going to caricature the upshots of the study that it deserves some snark.Report

Oliver Traldi
Oliver Traldi
Reply to  Nicolas Delon
2 years ago

Hi Nicolas. I think what the above commenter took to be stunning is that you are enacting and thus demonstrating precisely the problem covered by the study.Report

Nicolas
Nicolas
Reply to  Oliver Traldi
2 years ago

Hi Oliver. I understood that. I didn’t write anything about right-leaning philosophers. I said something about Quillette. I also said nothing about my political views. So, I’m not sure how I’m enacting and thus demonstrating the problem allegedly covered by the study. Up to you to read what you want.Report

Higgins
Higgins
Reply to  Nicolas
2 years ago

Yeah, yeah.Report

Justin Kalef
Justin Kalef
Reply to  Nicolas
2 years ago

Nicholas, I’ve read a number of Quillette pieces and have seen a much broader range of political views expressed there than on most of the outlets where many of our colleagues seem to go to get takes on current issues.

One fairly consistent thing I’ve seen there, interestingly, is a repudiation of tribalism.

Moreover, those who Quillette always (in my experience) seem to come from a fairly far-left position and to be motivated by unhappiness that it publishes pieces exploring or supporting views that were very recently part of the mainstream left or center-left, but are not part of the new identitarian left.

Since you don’t provide any basis for your out-of-the-blue criticism of Quillette (which wasn’t discussed in anything Justin posted), It seems reasonable for Oliver to assume that you are part of this same thread. But I for one would be interested in understanding your case against Quillette, if you’re willing to make and support it. I’d like to understand these phenomena better.Report

Nicolas Delon
Nicolas Delon
Reply to  Justin Kalef
2 years ago

Justin, we must not have read the same Quillette, but we also come from different perspectives, so our perception of it must be colored in a different way. I could link to a hundred articles that support my claim, but that would be tedious (happy to do so if you’d like, but really, that would not be fun). Every single time there is an opportunity for Quillette to repeat, again and again, that liberals, marxists, etc. are undermining free speech, academic freedom, science, civilization, what have you, they will seize it. Are you willing to bet that they will not publicize this study while putting, ever so subtly, their own spin on its implications? I’d be happy to be proven wrong. Sincerely happy.

As for its repudiation of tribalism, sure, if you don’t count their visceral hatred of large swaths of the left and of humanities, then yes. But come on.

All of this is not to say that Quillette doesn’t publish good pieces (they do) or display some ideological diversity (they do). Spencer Case and Jacy Reese come to mind when I think of articles I’ve enjoyed there. Thank god it’s not all vitriolic left-bashing garbage.

So, all in all, my snark was just that—snark. But you gotta love the tone policing my comment triggered.Report

Justin Kalef
Justin Kalef
Reply to  Justin Kalef
2 years ago

Nicholas Delon,

You ask: “Are you willing to bet that they will not publicize this study while putting, ever so subtly, their own spin on its implications? I’d be happy to be proven wrong. Sincerely happy.”

No, I share your confidence that that will happen. And now please imagine if things had gone the other way. Please imagine if it had turned out that a significant majority of academics had turned out to be right wing, with a large number of right wingers (but very few left wingers) admitting that they think less of their left-wing colleagues for their views and that they would discriminate against them if they had a chance to, and would feel fine about doing so. Imagine also that left-wingers (correctly) expressed a sense that they had to hide their views, etc.

Would you bet that, in that case, a number of publications would run editorials about how bad that is for academia, and for civilization more broadly? I would, and it would be entirely appropriate for such things to be written.

I’m not sure why snark, rather than a serious consideration of the uncomfortable facts this study confirms, is the best response.Report

Nicolas Delon
Nicolas Delon
Reply to  Justin Kalef
2 years ago

Justin, yes and yes and yes. Though if said publications were as despicable as Quillette can be I’d say the same thing I said here.

I think it’s perfectly consistent to hold the following views together:

1) There are too few conservatives in philosophy
2) Discrimination on the strict basis of political ideology is normally wrong
3) Conservatives tend to be wrong about many issues
4) Conservatives misdiagnose the problem
5) There are methodological problems in this study which are bound to be ignored
6) Quillette publishes a lot of bad faith, poorly informed and argued, biased crap

I hold all these views.

And I really think the tone policing is kinda rich.Report

Justin Kalef
Justin Kalef
Reply to  Justin Kalef
2 years ago

Nicholas,

You call Quillette ‘despicable’, call it out for publishing ‘a lot of bad faith, poorly informed and argued, biased crap’, and you say that the study has ‘methodological problems’.

While I have nothing against your saying such things, I don’t see what reasons you have for saying them.

One of the difficulties at stake here is, as Jonathan Haidt put it in summing up the research in _The Righteous Mind_, we tend to think, “Do I have to believe that?” when we hear uncomfortable things (and then we raise the epistemic bar extremely high and find ways to block out everything), but think “Do I GET to believe that?” when we hear things that support our moral biases, and then lower our epistemic bar to ground level.

We don’t need to be trapped in that double standard, of course: we can, and as philosophers must, train ourselves to resist the temptation.

This is not tone policing, but a serious, substantive question: do you have any reason to say these dismissive, critical things about Quillette and the study of the original post that don’t commit you to a higher epistemic standard than you take when, say, you read things like Huffington Post, Slate, the New York Times, etc.? All sorts of studies and editorials have been published there in support of progressive causes, and not all of them have been very objective or carefully reasoned or researched.

I don’t know you, and perhaps you apply a similar standard of epistemic rigor to both sides of these issues; in which case, great. But you only mention a criticism of one side here, and you do it in what you admit is a snarky way, and you haven’t yet provided any support for your substantive claims and criticisms. Again, that’s not meant as tone policing: I’m just keen to hear what viable criticisms, if any, there are against this study. The fact that you and others might hate the study for its conclusion, and detest a publication that sometimes features arguments for conclusions you don’t agree with, is much less interesting.Report

Nicolas Delon
Nicolas Delon
Reply to  Justin Kalef
2 years ago

“I don’t know you, and perhaps you apply a similar standard of epistemic rigor to both sides of these issues; in which case, great.”

Yes (I hope).

“But you only mention a criticism of one side here.”

Well, they’re the side we’re speaking of. Again, if HuffPost were to put their own silly spin on a study confirming bias against liberals, I’d be equally snarky.

“you haven’t yet provided any support for your substantive claims and criticisms.”

Just read above. What can I tell you? I’m not going to pick apart Quillette articles in detail, especially since you’ve made clear yourself that it was irrelevant to even bring them up to begin with. But as soon as the relevant article comes out I’ll be sure to go ahead and tell you if I was right (and again, I hope I’m not).

“I’m just keen to hear what viable criticisms, if any, there are against this study”

My initial intention never was to point to flaws in the study. Remember, Quillette? Then I pointed out what *others* have stressed, namely that there are methodological worries.

I don’t hate the study, even if I tend to despise Quillette. But that’s my own business. We don’t have to share tastes, thankfully.Report

Nicolas Delon
Nicolas Delon
Reply to  Justin Kalef
2 years ago

Final word because I’m tired. I don’t have to endlessly justify a snarky comment to you. I don’t know you and you’ve been defensive and hostile ever since this conversation started. I don’t think I owe you a further explanation of my opinion of Quillette, having already said enough. People can make their own mind about this. Happy to exchange by email if you’d like, surely a better medium for sustained argument. But I’m done with you in this thread for now. Have a great day.Report

Justin Kalef
Justin Kalef
Reply to  Justin Kalef
2 years ago

” …you’ve been defensive and hostile ever since this conversation started. I don’t think I owe you a further explanation of my opinion of Quillette, ”

If by “defensive and hostile” you mean that I have challenged you to provide support for some things you’ve said, and haven’t been persuaded by what little you have been willing to produce, then yes. But by that meaning of the term, there is no difference between ‘being hostile’ and disagreeing-while-politely-requesting-support.

And of course, you don’t ‘owe’ me, or anyone else, a further explanation of anything you believe. Instead, you were given an opportunity to show that you have good reason for saying what you said. If you have nothing to say for yourself, or if you have something to say for yourself that you’d rather not say for some reason, that’s of course your perfect right.Report

Nicolas Delon
Nicolas Delon
Reply to  Justin Kalef
2 years ago

Because of course every joke about Quillette has to be backed up by detailed evidence. And there goes humour.Report

Justin Kalef
Justin Kalef
Reply to  Justin Kalef
2 years ago

So, when you called Quillette ‘despicable’ and said “Quillette publishes a lot of bad faith, poorly informed and argued, biased crap,” that was just a joke the rest of us didn’t get, and I’m an idiot for having asked you to provide support for it after inexplicably missing the marks of irony? Okay…Report

Nicolas Delon
Nicolas Delon
Reply to  Justin Kalef
2 years ago

You won’t let it go, will you? Again, I’ve got the receipts if you’re interested. Since when does every single claim in blog comments have to be supported by detailed evidence when the claim itself was prompted by someone not liking a joke? Email me if you’d like to continue this conservation but please acting like the arbiter of authorized opinions. Also, my name is neither ‘man’ nor ‘Nicholas’.Report

Nicolas Delon
Nicolas Delon
Reply to  Justin Kalef
2 years ago

Please *stop* asking. Argh.Report

Nicolas Delon
Nicolas Delon
Reply to  Justin Kalef
2 years ago

Please *stop acting*. Argh damn you iPhone! 🙂Report

Kenny Easwaran
Reply to  A Philosopher
2 years ago

Why is this in any way stunning, rather than exactly what one would expect for a study of tribalism in political opinions?Report

krell_154
krell_154
Reply to  Nicolas Delon
2 years ago

What’s there to spin? The findings seem pretty unequivocalReport

Nicolas Delon
Nicolas Delon
Reply to  krell_154
2 years ago

Give it 48 hours and I’ll be back.Report

David Wallace
David Wallace
Reply to  Nicolas Delon
2 years ago

I’m not sure it. needs much spin.Report

David Wallace
David Wallace
Reply to  David Wallace
2 years ago

Sorry, krell got there first.Report

Nicolas Delon
Nicolas Delon
Reply to  David Wallace
2 years ago

Oh come on. They’re not going to dwell on methodological issues (and we’ve already seen there are major ones), the fact that folks on the left also experience hostility (it’s not just left against right, the study is more nuanced than that), what this really reveals (rather than what they want to believe it reveals), etc. I could go on l, but obviously I’m not going to convince you and all those who frenetically upvote the above comments.Report

Justin Kalef
Justin Kalef
Reply to  Nicolas Delon
2 years ago

So, your objection is that the study only reveals that there’s a significant tendency for philosophers on the left to be much more biased against people on the right, while people might wrongly take the study to mean that there is never any bias in the other direction? That’s the objection?Report

Nicolas Delon
Nicolas Delon
Reply to  Justin Kalef
2 years ago

Exactly, that’s exactly what I wrote. Perfect reading.Report

Justin Kalef
Justin Kalef
Reply to  Nicolas Delon
2 years ago

Thanks for clarifying.

Then, by your standard, any study that shows a greater tendency for items in Category A to have Property P than items in Category B do is objectionable, because some dullards might read the study and extrapolate from it that no items in Category B have Property P.

And there goes science.Report

Nicolas Delon
Nicolas Delon
Reply to  Justin Kalef
2 years ago

Exactly, that’s exactly what I wrote. Lucid.Report

Justin Kalef
Justin Kalef
Reply to  Justin Kalef
2 years ago

Listen, man, if you throw around vague criticisms but won’t explain even roughly what the problem is supposed to be, and won’t even help others figure out what you’re trying to say, and then you engage in unclear sarcasm half the time because you think the joke must be on everyone else, you can’t blame the rest of us if we conclude that there’s no substance behind your snark.Report

Nicolas Delon
Nicolas Delon
Reply to  Justin Kalef
2 years ago

Quillette often caricatures the facts to suit their narrative. Simple as that. An article on the French Revolution did just that a few months ago. Debra Soh’s and Toby Young’s articles all do that. Since my criticism is of them, not of the study, I don’t see your problem. Nowhere did I suggest we shouldn’t publish studies like that.Report

Justin Kalef
Justin Kalef
Reply to  Justin Kalef
2 years ago

It’s not ‘simple as that’, Nicolas. Those are, once again, empty accusations. You haven’t given a basis for these assessments: you’ve just re-expressed your opinions

Thanks for the offer to discuss this further by email, but I’ll pass. however, I’m genuinely interested in hearing any solid case against Quillette — again, not just endless claims about this or that article being bad, but actual evidence that the articles are in fact bad. If you come up with anything, you can post it here whenever you like and I’ll take a look.Report

Nicolas Delon
Nicolas Delon
Reply to  Justin Kalef
2 years ago

This is getting ridiculous. You’ve misinterpreted my claims as being about the study rather than Quillette, now you’re backtracking and ignoring my above response. I don’t owe you an explanation of my opinion of Quillette anymore than you owe anyone an explanation of the many unsupported opinions you express here. Just have a look at the latest piece by Debra Soh on “intersectionalism” (sic). There is not a bit of reference or evidence cited to support her caricature of intersectionality. And I say this as someone who shares some suspicion about the excesses of intersectional talk.Report

Nicolas Delon
Nicolas Delon
Reply to  Justin Kalef
2 years ago

Here’s a recent, relevant example by someone I presume you must like: https://quillette.com/2019/07/26/the-role-of-politics-in-academic-philosophy/

Where are the references? Where’s the data? What arguments does Oliver have to support the claims made in his last paragraph? That’s a fine article, but I wonder why you would hold me to a higher standard for a *blog comment* than one would hold a Quillette writer. Please, tell me why I owe you more than Quillette writers owe their readers.Report

Nicolas Delon
Nicolas Delon
Reply to  Justin Kalef
2 years ago

Oh, and I’d like evidence for your claim above that in “Huffington Post, Slate, the New York Times, etc. … All sorts of studies and editorials have been published … in support of progressive causes, and not all of them have been very objective or carefully reasoned or researched.” Care to elaborate. That’s the least you could do now. ThanksReport

Nicolas Delon
Nicolas Delon
Reply to  Justin Kalef
2 years ago

Do you happen to disagree with this appraisal? If you do, I’d like to know why without appealing to what I take might be your low opinion of Slate. ThanksReport

Nicolas Delon
Nicolas Delon
Reply to  Justin Kalef
2 years ago

Do you happen to disagree with this appraisal? If you do, I’d like to know why without appealing to what I take might be your low opinion of Slate. Thanks

https://slate.com/technology/2019/01/quillette-claire-lehmann-intellectual-dark-web.htmlReport

Nicolas Delon
Nicolas Delon
Reply to  Justin Kalef
2 years ago
Justin Kalef
Justin Kalef
Reply to  Justin Kalef
2 years ago

Hi, Nicolas. Perhaps my telling you a little of where I’m coming from would make this conversation more fruitful.

I’m not an expert on Quillette. I’ve read some articles there that I thought were insightful and valuable, just as I’ve read some articles on, say, Slate that I felt that way about. I make a point of exposing myself to a wide range of views and arguments on issues of interest to me.

I’ve also toyed with the idea of sending a thing or two to Quillette myself. Then, I learned that a number of people have a major problem with Quillette for reasons that haven’t been made clear. I even saw a tweet from a seemingly quite unhinged person, warning academics that they would be ‘watched’ if they published in Quillette, or something like that.

So, I’ve been trying to figure out what people think is so terrible about it. It would be easy to write off these critics, who never seem to support their objections,, by assuming that they are just bigots who hate anything that challenges their dogmas. But that doesn’t seem fair. For all I know, there might really be some deeply objectionable things about Quillette. If there are, then I don’t want to submit anything there for publication. But if there aren’t, and those who trash it are doing so for no good reason, then it would feel like an act of cowardice if I let these haters muscle me out of submitting something. In fact, if that’s what’s going on, then I feel there are moral reasons _to_ publish there and support Quillette.

That’s why your insults of Quillette were interesting to me. Here you are, a member of the philosophical community, running that website down. Seemed like a good opportunity to find out what, if anything, there was to be said against Quillette.

If you’re anything like me, you don’t trash a person, paper, idea or institution unless you have a clear reason to. When I saw how extreme your language was as you railed against Quillette, I figured you’d probably not have gone so far unless you had at your fingertips a devastating case against it. Serious people don’t call periodicals ‘despicable’ lightly. So, I wanted to hear your strongest case.

Instead of making that case, you repeatedly told me that you didn’t owe me an explanation; then, you said you weren’t going to contribute to this conversation any longer (and yet here you are); then, you said “Quillette publishes a lot of bad faith, poorly informed and argued, biased crap,” without showing why anyone should think that.

Now, after my repeated invitations to justify your claim, you point to two articles and say you don’t think they’re well supported. Why not? What exactly do you think needs support that isn’t supported? What claims appear in those articles that you think is so poorly supported, biased or uninformed that you feel justified in dismissing the entire online magazine as ‘despicable’? I have no idea.

Perhaps your plan is to throw these insults around and announce your dissatisfaction with this or that article, and leave me and the rest of us with the work of going through the article and spending hours justifying every claim made there as best we can, in the hope of stumbling upon whatever you feel needs support. If we were to do that, you’d probably keep doing what you’ve done already: take the studies we find in support and say they’re unacceptable without showing any clear flaw in them.

If that’s the game, then no thank you. I have other things to do with my time than race around trying to provide references for all the things that you might feel need them, while you sit on your throne and thoughtlessly point this way and that.

If you actually have a case to make against Quillette, then you should make that case on your own. Of course, you don’t have to; but if you don’t, then at this point I feel satisfied that I’ve given you a chance and you’ve come up with absolutely nothing. ‘Despicable’ and the other terms you’ve used to describe the entire publication, are strong words. Nothing you’ve presented remotely makes that case.

Then, you sent me a complaint made by someone else. I was glad to receive that, because it actually contained an objection I think I understand, though it was still a little strange. The author said that he didn’t think much of Quillette because some people there complain about being fired, no-platformed, etc. for having the wrong views, ,and he finds that hypocritical. I didn’t see the hypocrisy, though, and I think those stories are relevant. I’m interested in hearing complaints from both sides of the political spectrum.

I feel that this conversation has run its course, and I have other things to attend to; so let me wish you well and beg off from anything further. Thanks again for the link to the article.Report

Nicolas Delon
Nicolas Delon
Reply to  Nicolas Delon
2 years ago

Justin, you should definitely write for Quillette. You’re obviously a good writer.Report

Preston Stovall
Preston Stovall
Reply to  Nicolas Delon
2 years ago

Nicolas, I just want to second Justin’s line here. I’ve seen a handful of people levy some pretty vitriolic remarks agains Quillette, but I’ve never seen any explanation for what was wrong with the publication. I’m beginning to think the motivation bottoms out in tribal animosity. And this matters to me. I’ve never identified as conservative, but I come from a background that understands what motivates conservatives and I think our public discourse suffers from insufficient understanding of the diversity of views on offer. And ongoing research publicized at the Heterodox Academy supports this impression. In an essay published in July of this year Sean Stevens summarizes some of that data as follows:

• Democrats and Republicans significantly overestimate how many people on the ‘other side’ hold extreme views. Typically, their estimates are roughly double the actual numbers for a given issue.

• Greater partisanship is associated with holding more exaggerated views of one’s political opponents.

• The Perception Gap is strongest on both “Wings” (America’s more politically partisan groups).

• Consumption of most forms of media, including talk radio, newspapers, social media, and local news, is associated with a wider Perception Gap.

• Education seems to increase, rather than mitigate, the Perception Gap (just as increased education has found to track with increased ideological prejudice). College education results in an especially distorted view of Republicans among liberals in particular.

• The wider people’s Perception Gap, the more likely they are to attribute negative personal qualities (like ‘hateful’ or ‘brainwashed’) to their political opponents.

And full disclosure: I’ve published two articles at Quillette – one on political polarization in the U.S. in 2017 and another on the benefits of philosophical instruction in 2018. I published the first essay at there because Jonathan Haidt recommended it after he read a draft of the essay. The second was published at Quillette because it was responding to a piece that Neven Sesardic published there. Since then I’ve seen remarks like yours that, while never substantiated, leave the impression that some people will look down on my candidacy for a job simply because I’ve published at Quillette. I can’t help but feel that this kind of behavior is a species of the genus, or a close relative on the family tree, that the study in question is drawing attention to.Report

Preston Stovall
Preston Stovall
Reply to  Nicolas Delon
2 years ago
Nicolas Delon
Nicolas Delon
Reply to  Nicolas Delon
2 years ago

You write you’ve “never seen any explanation for what was wrong with the publication” and “seen remarks like [mine] that, while never substantiated, leave the impression that some people will look down on my candidacy for a job simply because I’ve published at Quillette.”

I dispute the premise. I’ve already linked to what I think is a plausible critique, there have been many others across many venues, on Twitter, and here I think, and I’ve laid out the basis of my opinion—their persistent stereotyped left-bashing, poorly referenced work by Debra Soh, a terrible article on the French Revolution, double standards that Justin seems to apply to pieces like Oliver’s and my *blog comments*. I could go on. I have two young kids who need looking after so I can’t spend much time writing detailed responses, just snippets from my iPhone when I have five minutes of free time. If you can’t see what’s wrong with many articles on Quillette, with Lehman, Toby Young, etc., than that’s fine with me. I’m not asking you to substantiate all your opinions. In fact, based on your views expressed here, I might be worried that you would look down upon my application were you in a position to evaluate it and had I published in, say, Vox. Would I be wrong to make that assumption? I hope so, and I wouldn’t make it. (Maybe I’m unaware of my biases and would hold it against you, I have no idea, but then I doubt substantiating my opinion in detail in a blog comment would be sufficient to alter my biases.)

Again, as I’ve written literally above, I’ve seen numerous good pieces in Quillette. Spencer Case has written terrific pieces, and he’s also a very good philosopher. I don’t know why I would hold it against him that he’s written from Quillette. Should I also explain why I think they’re good? I judge pieces on their merits, as I would judge yours as well. But that doesn’t mean there isn’t an editorial trend at Quillette that I think is toxic—singling out the humanities, “the Left”, obsessing with IQ, Jordan Peterson, and trans gender activists, giving the illusion of free thought by generating *internal* critique (IDW members chatting amongst themselves to dispute the nitty gritty of their movement) instead of making room for genuinely dissenting voices. Likewise, many people have a low opinion of Vox, Slate, HuffPost, etc. but rarely care to substantiate their opinions, and that’s fine. I presume they also think sometimes these venues publish good pieces. C’est la vie.

My kids are calling. Again, happy to exchange over emails when I have time.Report

Preston Stovall
Preston Stovall
Reply to  Nicolas Delon
2 years ago

Hi Nicolas – thanks for sticking with it. I don’t find the Slate peice convincing, I’m afraid. Engber admits that Quillette’s characterization of Slate is apt insofar as it (Slate) has slanted to the left in recent years, he justifies this slant on account of the ‘graver duties’ he thinks are at stake, and he characterizes Quillette as a response to ‘victim culture’ that is hypocritical insofar as it promulgates a victim culture of its own. So the charge of a political slant sticks, and the impression I receive of Quillitte is simply not the one Engber presents. I don’t think it’s hypocritical to draw attention to a (putative) phenomenon where aggrieved individuals are using their status as (putative) victims to professionally censure political opponents.

And that’s the problem, it seems to me: too often we seem to be more interested in speaking to our respective tribes instead of looking for ways to bridge different perspectives – perspectives that, if the studies I linked above are correct, are actually closer than many people, particularly at the political extremes, are aware of.

Now of course one isn’t obliged to justify every blog comment. But you seemed interested in carrying on the conversation, and like Justin I was hoping you would say something to support your charges. At this point, though, I don’t think we’ve seen enough to justify the claim that Quillette is ‘despicable’. Again, you’re not obliged to justify that claim! But an offhand remark concerning an essay on the French Revolution that is supposed to have ‘caricatured the facts’ to ‘suit their narrative’, or a complaint about insufficient citations, doesn’t show that the venue is despicable (particularly when you yourself call one of those essays a ‘fine article’). Instead, it looks like you have some sincere disagreements about the points of view generally expressed at Quillette. That’s fine, but it doesn’t suffice to show that Quillette is despicable. At least, not for anyone who doesn’t antecedently share your political slant – but then perhaps that’s all you were going for. I was just hoping there might be something that could be said across the apparent political divide.

Anyway, I’m glad to hear you’d try not to let the fact that someone has published in a venue you find ‘despicable’ influence your assessment of their candidacy. And for what it’s worth, I don’t think Vox, Slate, etc. are despicable – they are simply venues for presenting issues from one point of view, and I appreciate having the chance to see where people from those points of view are coming from.

As for an email exchange, I prefer to have these conversations in public. It’s the kind of thing I would appreciate were I a bystander, as it helps us all get a better sense of where people are coming from.

Enjoy your time with your kids! I’m envious.Report

Nicolas Delon
Nicolas Delon
Reply to  Nicolas Delon
2 years ago

Thanks, Preston. I happen to have some free time to look for references, type in Word, and proofread, so let me make the best out of it by responding rather than tending to papers or classes. I’m not extremely interested in continuing this conversation because I feel like you and Justin keep raising the standards with every reply, and your fixation on the word ‘despicable’ is a little odd. I don’t think anything I can say will satisfy you or Justin. Still, I appreciate your thoughtful engagement and willingness to bridge the gap, so I’ll give it a try.

Let me just say more about the history article because it’s so representative of what I dislike about Quillette. This article (https://quillette.com/2019/03/10/the-french-genocide-that-has-been-air-brushed-from-history/), which was pompously amplified by Lehman, Young and others on social media as the unearthing of a leftist conspiracy, was aptly widely criticized by historians, social scientists, and about every reader of Quillette who attended high school in France, including in their own comments section. The article conveniently ignores that the so-called ‘genocide’, or massacre, is common knowledge to anyone minimally educated about the French Revolution. Just read the comments, really, it’s astonishing that the piece could pass muster and be seen as ground-breaking. If anything, the controversy reflected the author’s ignorance (or bad faith?) more than anything, and so did the naively provocative fashion in which Lehman et al publicized the thing. It’s a disgrace that Quillette publishes pieces like that, and it’s sadly not infrequent. That’s I think a perfect example of ‘spin’ that they’re willing to put on things to suit their narrative.

Let me just briefly add to another example I brought up, Debra Soh on intersectionalism (sic) (https://quillette.com/2019/07/30/intersectionalism-is-nonsense-but-the-backlash-against-it-is-very-real/). I’m no fan of promoting intersectionality everywhere, but this was cringeworthy reading. First of all, ‘intersectionalism’ is not a term of art; it’s a dog whistle, an intentionally disparaging term, counter-activism masquerading as journalism. The anti-white racism schtick and the appeal to her own identity (standpoint epistemology, hello) don’t really help take the piece seriously. Soh’s ill-informed hit piece is at best mediocre *even if you share some of her hostility to intersectionality*. The issue is they publish pieces like that all the time and it’s feeding into a narrative about academia that is just inaccurate. Heterodox Academy is, thankfully, much more nuanced, evidence-based and open to self-criticism (something I haven’t ever seen Quillette practice).

Oh, and this piece by Lehman was quite rich (https://quillette.com/2019/03/16/after-christchurch-remember-the-victims-but-resist-the-urge-to-blame/)! The lack of self-awareness (or maybe it’s just shameless bias) is baffling. Lehman never pauses before putting the blame on her pet peeves, whether Islam, the humanities, liberals or the left. Yet with the Christchurch terrorist attacks, with all the evidence accumulating about rising white supremacist terrorism threats around the world, it would suddenly be inappropriate to see a connection racist rhetoric, far-right populism, an aspiring neofascist and his targeting of Muslims. Granted, she dismisses blaming anyone, including Muslims themselves (thank god!). But pretending that Quillette doesn’t exploit difficult times to redirect blame is just too much.

These wouldn’t bother me that much if Soh and Lehman were not centerpieces of Quillette, and if Quillette didn’t self-promote as a fortress of free thought, rationality and science. But that’s how it is. Sadly all the good pieces published there can’t make up for this.

Thanks for your patience. With this, let me get back to my kids!Report

Preston Stovall
Preston Stovall
Reply to  Nicolas Delon
2 years ago

Thanks Nicolas, this is helpful! I do suspect that we simply don’t share some foundational commitments concerning when, for instance, terms like ‘despicable’ are appropriate. Or what they connote when they’re used to characterize venues for publishing material meant for the public domain and receiving uptake by a substantial portion of one side’s political ‘enemies’. It’s a pretty strong appelation, but then some people seem to be given to that sort of thing. I’m not convinced that anyone who doesn’t share your political commitments should accept that Quillette is despicable, but I appreciate your taking the time to try to explain where you’re coming from, and I have a better sense of that now. So thank you. Let me offer the following in the interest of returning the favor.

Concerning the French Revolution piece, the comments section seems more balanced between those who find the piece illuminating and those like ‘Nicolas’, who twice refers to the peice as a ‘conspiracy theory’ without any evidence for that charge. But then it’s all just blog commenting, so what can one expect. I suppose I think it’s more important to try to speak to people in the middle, and to encourage those at the extremes to consider some common ground, than to amplify the extremes – in part for the sorts of reasons that the Heterodox Academy summary I linked to above indicates. Contrary to what the extremists would have us think, most people already are in the middle.

And I do understand why the articles by Debra Soh and Claire Lehmann would seem grating to some people; there have been a couple of articles at Quillette that I wouldn’t have published myself, and I do think they could be doing a better job at speaking more to the middle themselves. Still, ‘despicable’ strikes me as unfair, and the whole thing evokes the kind of tribalism that I think we should be trying to fight. But there’s a place for extremists as well, so long as they don’t make the mistaken assumption that extremism is more common than it is. Sadly, it seems like that’s what’s been happening – hence the need for more moderate voices, and a willingness to try to speak across the divide. I’m quite sure we can’t all agree on everything, but it seems to me we could be doing a much better job, individually and collectively, trying to understand one another.

Thanks again for the chance to see what you’ve been thinking, and enjoy your time with your kids.Report

Nicolas Delon
Nicolas Delon
Reply to  Nicolas Delon
2 years ago

The idea that the massacre of Vendéens would have been somehow silenced or brushed off from history books is indeed a conspiracy theory, in a quite literal sense of the phrase, and the evidence is precisely what I already said: that most educated people know about what’s alleged to have been brushed off and they know it from history books.Report

Preston Stovall
Preston Stovall
Reply to  Nicolas Delon
2 years ago

Thanks Nicolas – this is a point where I think there’s actually the possibility of understanding. Boparai claims that the problem is that the massacre of Vendéens was not recognized as the genocide he claims it is. And he justifies his claims with reference to the literature. A pretty extensive reference, in fact. Furthermore, the comments section includes plenty of remarks from people who claim to be educated and don’t think this is a conspiracy theory. Now I suppose one could simply treat these people as uneducated, or presume they’re speaking in bad faith. But I think we’d be better served if someone took the time to write a response – perhaps even publishing it at Quillette! That would help balance out the political slant that I think you and I both agree is present there.

Maybe that doesn’t look like a task that’s worth the candle, but think about the time that’s already been spent on the issue.
And to what end? Much better to strive to articulate a point of view that might actually convince people who aren’t already at one of the extremes, it seems to me.Report

Nicolas Delon
Nicolas Delon
Reply to  Nicolas Delon
2 years ago

Ha! For the record I think (but I might be wrong) the references must have been updated for I remember a very thin and outdated list of references and it was part of the outcry over the article. But then the more references there are the less credible the claim the thing was brushed off from history books! As for massacre/genocide, honestly that’s a fair debate to have (I’m skeptical you could define Vendeens ethnically this in a way that would make sense but whatever), but this doesn’t affect the spin put on the whole thing. The event is well known and documented. How you characterize it is a different question but few people today condone it anyway, so it’s not like the author is breaking any ground evaluative this either. Now, this is all getting us very far from this thread, so let’s agree to disagree. I wholeheartedly agree, however, to meet in the middle and I thank you for pushing. Who knows, maybe someday I’ll write in Quillette to explain how they got it all wrong! Ha!Report

Daniel
Daniel
Reply to  Nicolas Delon
2 years ago

For what it’s worth, I agree with Nicolas about the flaws of many of the pieces published by Quillette–I often have the feeling that, once I’ve read the first few paragraphs, it’s quite obvious where the author’s sympathies are and where the piece is going, and I’m not going to learn all that much by finishing it. But I also agree with Preston and Justin, in that I don’t think Quillette is uniquely (or even particularly) bad on this score. I’d certainly say the same thing about Slate (which I also read regularly), or IHE and CHE, which I also both enjoy (I imagine everybody will agree with the example of IHE, given that I expect most people will think that about one or the other of the two pieces they published recently that have been widely discussed by philosophers’ online).

While it’s nice to read genuinely unpredictable stuff, I think it’s also valuable to read work that you know will fit into and attempt to reinforce a certain overarching narrative, so long as you regularly do that with a variety of different narratives.Report

Preston Stovall
Preston Stovall
Reply to  Nicolas Delon
2 years ago

Well this is a pleasant little bit of convergence! I definitely agree with Daniel, and Nicolas, that there’s some stuff at Quillette that’s pointedly written from a particular political persuasion. And that can be off-putting at times. But I do think it’s appropriate to be exposed to that stuff, so long as you know what you’re getting into and you’re willing to shop around a bit to see what the ‘other side’ has to say. As for the peice on the French Revolution, I encourage you to write a response Nicolas. Or, if not with that essay, consider taking the path of public response the next time this sort of thing happens. Think of all the time and effort that’s been spent in this little exchange in the blog comments at Daily Nous. A well-crafted shortform essay could have been mocked up with that effort. If it bears any relevance to anything I’m doing, I’d certainly be happy to look over it and offer comments – I’m currently trying to get some of my friends together to workshop this sort of thing, with the hope we can publish regular pieces in places like Civil American.

The more we can model that kind of discourse for the public, the more likely it will be that the extremists on both sides don’t continue to dominate the discourse. If the data summarized by Sean Stevens in the post I linked a couple days ago holds up, there really is a problem of extremists presuming to speak for a larger middle position that shares more common ground than the extremists would have us think. What we need are people in the middle willing to make more noise, or people on either side willing to talk across the boundaries.

At any rate, thanks for taking the time to hammer some of this out!Report

Brian Weatherson
Brian Weatherson
2 years ago

It’s a bit weird to run an international survey using primarily comparative terms, and not (as far as I can tell) controlling for the different baselines in different regions. I mean, relative to Scotland, I’m basically a moderate, relative to Michigan I’m on the left, and relative to Ann Arbor I guess I’m on the right.

(That is, on the big issue in Ann Arbor, housing, I’m on the side of less government interference and regulation, and more use of market mechanisms. As they say in the paper, preferring markets to government is one of the standard indicators of the right. But all this is unclear. On marijuana law, another big issue around here, is supporting legalisation with very heavy-handed taxes and regulation (i.e., my view) the left, right or centre view?)

I think they meant folks like me to answer relative to something like Michigan/US baseline, but it’s really unclear, and this reduces the utility of the survey.

Some of the conclusions they draw, about the possible downsides of lack of ideological diversity, turn on this kind of ambiguity. Among other bad things, there are serious epistemic losses if right-wingers like Malcolm Turnbull and Angela Merkel are excluded from the conversation; the losses are somewhat smaller if Tony Abbott and Nigel Farage are ignored. When people say right-wingers are discriminated against, do they mean the Merkels or the Farages? (Is Merkel even a right-winger relative to where a lot of folks live?) The survey here seems like too crude a test to tell what’s happening.Report

Arthur Greeves
Arthur Greeves
Reply to  Brian Weatherson
2 years ago

You’re right that the study seems to have been rather crude in its usage of terms. But this makes it more worrying, from where I sit, not less. A significant number of philosophers seem to indicate a willingness to discriminate without even having specific knowledge of the relevant thought-crime. Even if we allow that discrimination against people holding some views is permissible (which is probably the case), what we find here is discrimination with a much broader brush.Report

Brian Weatherson
Brian Weatherson
Reply to  Arthur Greeves
2 years ago

Why do you think we find that? We have *no idea* how people were interpreting the phrases like ‘right-wing’. Maybe they just meant they would discriminate against actual Nazis.

Literally no one in the survey said that they were willing to sign on for discrimination against all people who end up falling into a category that someone else is going to define. They defined the category for themselves, then answered the question. And the charitable interpretation is that those most willing to have pro-discriminatory views had the narrowest category of those they would be willing to discriminate against.Report

Arthur Greeves
Arthur Greeves
Reply to  Brian Weatherson
2 years ago

But that charitable interpretation runs into a problem, when faced with the self-censorship described in #3 above. Why would right-leaning people (who presumably don’t think their own views are awful or extreme) self-censor if their colleagues were clearly only willing to discriminate people with genuinely extremist right-wing views?Report

Arthur Greeves
Arthur Greeves
Reply to  Arthur Greeves
2 years ago

Typo: discriminate *against* people with genuinely extremist right-wing views.Report

grad student
grad student
Reply to  Arthur Greeves
2 years ago

Self-censorship need not correspond exactly to actual, existing censorship. A stigma against a pretty narrow slice of views could result in self-censorship affecting individuals holding a much broader range of views. (This effect doesn’t mean that the original, narrower stigma is bad, either, though it may point to the need for corrective measures to promote inclusiveness.)Report

Rick
Rick
Reply to  Brian Weatherson
2 years ago

This isn’t conclusive evidence, but my sense is that those who are most willing to discriminate based on political views are the least likely to be careful about their taxonomies. So they might only be willing to discriminate against people they genuinely think are neo-Nazis, but they think pretty much everyone who disagrees with them is a neo-Nazi (or whatever). It doesn’t seem reassuring to me if high-WTD folks *genuinely believe* their political opponents are vile enemies of all decency, and *that’s* the only reason they’re willing to discriminate. I don’t think anyone is that worried about a hypothetical person who recognizes a political disagreement as totally legitimate but *hates* those on the other side; it seems to me that pretty much all people who hate those on the other side of a disagreement don’t see disagreement as morally or intellectually legitimate.Report

Kolja Keller
Kolja Keller
Reply to  Brian Weatherson
2 years ago

Just about Merkel:

In 2017 she voted against same-sex marriage: https://www.independent.co.uk/news/world/europe/angela-merkel-same-sex-marriage-vote-germany-legalisation-lgbt-rights-christian-democrat-man-woman-a7815846.html

I’m pretty sure that giving talks or publishing papers in favor of that view would be on the list of things that get discriminated against and which many people would argue are justified to discriminate against. I’m highlighting that example just because what seems to be drawing the most attention in discussing de-pletforming/discrimination/free speech lately are issues on intersectionality, race, LGBTQ+, and so forth.Report

Brian Weatherson
Brian Weatherson
Reply to  Kolja Keller
2 years ago

Barack Obama was opposed to same-sex marriage until fairly recently. I don’t think being like Obama gets you written out of the conversation.

I’d like to see better evidence for what you’re “pretty sure” of.Report

Kolja Keller
Kolja Keller
Reply to  Brian Weatherson
2 years ago

That’s a fair point. I might have gotten the wrong idea on this. My “pretty sure” judgment came out of a few things I was thinking of at the moment. One was that I remember Richard Swinburne getting fairly heavily criticized in I think 2016 over a presentation of a paper that he presented at the SCP. I don’t know the details of the case, and he might well have done something much more objectionable than oppose same-sex marriage, but that was the concrete example of a “conservative” point being called out.

The second thing I remembered were some polling data and articles about the surprising speed with which public opinion on the topic has switched. I think that this particular issue stands out as an outlier for the speed of change in social opinion. And I admit that I don’t have much more than a general hunch from what I know about US politics, but I would use “pretty sure” to describe my credence that if one of the primary candidates for the Democratic Party came out against same-sex marriage that would definitely end their bid for the nomination.

And then, the final bit on this is what I mentioned. When I’ve seen articles or comments about the ethics of de-platforming or censuring views, I would conceptually group them to be the same kind of thing. For example, questions over gender identity and trans* rights and so far are, in my conceptual landscape, similar issues.

I apologize if my initial comment came off as flippant or dismissive. I had read your comment. You had put it as a question whether Merkel would count as a right winger relative to where people live, so that’s why I recalled that fact about Merkel and thought it would help towards answering it. Given your point about Obama, I may well have overstated the evidential force of that fact relative to the question whether Merkel would be in the “right wing discriminated against”. I hope that this comment explains why I said that a bit better.Report

Matt Weiner
Reply to  Kolja Keller
2 years ago

One was that I remember Richard Swinburne getting fairly heavily criticized in I think 2016 over a presentation of a paper that he presented at the SCP. I don’t know the details of the case, and he might well have done something much more objectionable than oppose same-sex marriage

That was covered on this site. Swinburne went far, far beyond mere opposition to same-sex marriage, as this quote from the APA Committee on the Status of LGBTQ Philosophers reveals.

The APA Committee on the Status of LGBTQ Philosophers in the Profession laments that a keynote speaker at the Midwest meetings of the Society for Christian Philosophers, Professor Richard Swinburne, argued that homosexuals are disabled and have an incurable condition. While the argument betrayed ignorance of both empirical research and humanistic scholarship on homosexuality as well as disability, the fact that this argument was put forward as a keynote address by a prominent philosopher at meetings of a respected philosophical society that regularly holds meetings at the annual meetings of the APA, contributes to the stigmatization and alienation of LGBTQ philosophers and philosophers with disabilities.

Note also that the criticism stems partly from the fact that Swinburne’s homophobic talk was a keynote of the conference. In any case, I am fairly sure Merkel does not hold this position.Report

Kolja Keller
Kolja Keller
Reply to  Matt Weiner
2 years ago

Thanks for pointing out those details. That is indeed a significant difference.

I think the closest you get to a deeper account of what Merkel’s position is comes from a response she gave at a voter forum in 2013. She was quite heavily criticized at the time for her comments. I can’t find any English media that reported on it, but the comments are here: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=_ERfnTE1Hgw , and a German article chronicling the response is here: https://www.spiegel.de/politik/deutschland/adoptionsrecht-fuer-homosexuelle-merkel-loest-welle-der-empoerung-aus-a-921484.html.

What she said that provoked the stern response was a stance critical of marriage and adoption rights, which she expressed by saying “Ich sage Ihnen ganz ehrlich, dass ich mich schwertue mit der kompletten Gleichstellung (…) Ich bin unsicher, was das Kindeswohl anbelangt.” – “I will tell you honestly that I am having a hard time with complete equality (…) I am unsure, with regard to child welfare.”

In other words, she expressed doubt that being raised by two parents of the same gender/sex would be best for child welfare. And at least by the the standard of the more left-ish leaning media and politicians in Germany, expressing that view is properly subject to heavy political critique. But then again, when we’re talking about actual politicians, people usually don’t feel the need to find much of a reason to pounce on political opponents, so this isn’t really great evidence about whether academic philosophers would express “hostility and discrimination” against someone expressing that view in a paper, talk, keynote, and so forth.

In any case, in the video she says that she has had long and hard conversations with the gay and lesbian organizations within her own party, and in general she has often affirmed a more general stance of extending rights and protection to gay and lesbian individuals, so I think you’re right that Swinburne’s comments are a good deal further down the line. Thanks for pointing out the details, and I’m sorry for my mis-remembering insofar as it blurred the lines between things that should be pointed out as more clearly distinct.

So then I was curious what the attitudes are towards philosophers who don’t say things like Swinburne did but more like Merkel. I looked over the philpapers section on gay marriage: (https://philpapers.org/browse/gay-marriage), looking for papers that oppose same-sex marriage from a “right/conservative” perspective without opposing marriage in general (as some feminist critiques do). I was hoping to find an example of an academic philosopher opposing same-sex marriage and not being subject to any kind of “hostility or discrimination” on account of that, just to further shore up the distinction to the Swinburne case where, as you pointed out, hostility and discrimination was enacted and defended as justified.

The only thing I found was a book review of a debate book co-written by John Corvino and Maggie Gallagher from 2012 – the reviewer does not oppose same-sex marriage, but Gallagher does in the book. Gallagher is not an academic philosopher, and searching “Maggie Gallagher bigot” on google gets plenty of results from left-ish leaning publications. The book review also points out how her presentation in the book differs from other more radical things she had said elsewhere. So she might well say things that go far beyond the “Merkel category” elsewhere. Other than that, I did not see any articles arguing against same-sex marriage at all. Maybe I’m looking in the wrong spot on philpapers, or perhaps in this case the diagnosis that “Your Friendly, Neighborhood Marxist” gave below is correct, that there just isn’t any decent argument on liberal grounds to be made against this, and that’s why none or promoted or defended by philosophers. Of course, the self-censorship hypothesis could also explain this to some extent.

So, unfortunately, while I was trying to find ‘better evidence’ one way or the other, that’s all I got, and I’ll need to get back to other stuff. If anyone else knows of examples of philosophers that defend that view and as a result either did or did not experience “hostility and discrimination” in the profession maybe we can get better evidence to help us believe more true and less false things about it.Report

Michel
Michel
Reply to  Brian Weatherson
2 years ago

This seems so, so important. Especially because it’s an *international* survey. Frankly, it seems like a pretty serious and fundamental methodological problem.Report

Arthur Greeves
Arthur Greeves
2 years ago

“It is worth noting that hostility and discrimination against a particular ideology in philosophy or any other academic discipline needn’t be problematic.”

This is true, but “being right-leaning” is hardly specific enough to justify hostility or discrimination. Would you refuse to hire a biologist because you knew that she was a conservative Christian, and you thought that — maybe — this meant that she had sympathies with creationism? That’s the level at which the discrimination in philosophy seems to take place.

The saving grace is that the discipline is self-critical, so that we’re having these conversations.Report

Kris Rhodes
Kris Rhodes
Reply to  Arthur Greeves
2 years ago

If the two candidates are equally well qualified in absolutely every other way (as per the survey) then yes I’d go for the left-leaning biologist over the right-leaning biologist exactly because it is more likely the right-leaner has fundamental views deeply opposed to assumptions necessary to advance the science.Report

Arthur Greeves
Arthur Greeves
Reply to  Kris Rhodes
2 years ago

This is textbook profiling. You’re not claiming that you have any knowledge that the right-leaning individual has ANY objectionable view with respect to the science. You’re just saying (perhaps accurately) that people who are right-leaning would be more likely to hold such an objectionable view.

It’s no different from refusing to hire a male teacher because male teachers are more often abusive, or refusing to hire an African American man because African American men are disproportionately implicated in crime.Report

Kris Rhodes
Kris Rhodes
Reply to  Arthur Greeves
2 years ago

What is supposed to be the problem with profiling? I have never heard anyone say profiling is bad in itself–just that certain kinds of profiling are bad.Report

Arthur Greeves
Arthur Greeves
Reply to  Kris Rhodes
2 years ago

What would be the relevant difference between the three cases I mentioned, such that (at least in the race case) you would find profiling objectionable? It seems to me that permissible cases of profiling would all be high stakes cases, and hiring a person for a philosophy position is not high stakes, at all.Report

Patrick Lin
Reply to  Arthur Greeves
2 years ago

The relevant difference isn’t that it’s high stakes: the relevant difference is whether the basis for discrimination is directly relevant to the performance of job duties in the first place.

In your scenarios abut hiring teachers, being male or a person of color isn’t usually relevant to that job’s performance, even if statistically those categories are correlated with higher rates of whatever. In fact, this–not treating people by their own merits but by the features of the category in which they happen to be members, esp. those categories in which they have no control over–is exactly the kind of profiling that’s an offense to human dignity and a commitment to equality.

But if I were hiring for the job of speechwriter for a Catholic cardinal, it would be relevant whether the candidate were Catholic or not. If I were hiring for the part of Marie Curie in a biopic, it would be reasonable to exclude actors who are male and Asian, for instance.

Likewise, if the job of biologist means that one needs to take evolution and other established scientific theories seriously–not dogmatically, but prima facie true absent good evidence otherwise, per the scientific method–then rejecting candidates with affiliations contrary to this job’s requirements (e.g., a member of the Flat Earth Society) would be a reasonable basis for that treatment because it’s relevant (and not because of high/low stakes).

Note: the above is about ethics, not the realities of employment law, in case the two diverge.Report

Arthur Greeves
Arthur Greeves
Reply to  Patrick Lin
2 years ago

But this is a straw man. My argument conceded (at least for the sake of argument) that refusing to hire a creationist biologist was completely fine. If the candidate has published that she’s a Biblical literalist, then fine, don’t hire her. That’s not the issue.

The issue is that you know that she is a conservative Christian. Many, many conservative Christians believe in evolution and a whole slew of related concepts not entailed or easily reconciled with the Bible. But they’re less likely to believe such things than secular atheists/agnostics/liberal-believers. That’s why it’s a discussion about profiling.

But perhaps you realized that when you started writing, and then lost the thread? Your answer may have something to it that I don’t yet understand.Report

Kris Rhodes
Kris Rhodes
Reply to  Patrick Lin
2 years ago

Arthur, the idea is that if the _only_ difference you know is that one is a conservative christian, then with nothing else to go on, you at least know there’s a higher chance the conservative christian lacks an attribute relevant to the job.

If we know they’re a conservative christian, but not a creationist, (or anything else not presently coming to my mind as relevant to doing biology), then it’s a coinflip.

//But perhaps you realized that when you started writing, and then lost the thread?//

That comment should be pointedly ignored, like so.Report

Arthur Greeves
Arthur Greeves
Reply to  Patrick Lin
2 years ago

Kris, I have personal experience of losing the thread of a response while writing it. It’s not an insult to suggest that Patrick lost the thread of the conversation — not to me.

Patrick’s conclusion was “if the job of biologist means that one needs to take evolution and other established scientific theories seriously … rejecting candidates with affiliations contrary to this job’s requirements (e.g., a member of the Flat Earth Society) would be a reasonable basis for that treatment because it’s relevant (and not because of high/low stakes).”

I 100% agree with that. So if I agree with his conclusion, but he takes his conclusion to show that my conclusion is false, either he or I are making a pretty huge logical mistake. My money’s on him, since I never denied that Flat Earth Society people shouldn’t be hired to (say) geology departments.Report

Patrick Lin
Reply to  Patrick Lin
2 years ago

Ok, I’m back. Arthur, I’m not sure either of us had made a huge logical mistake (yet). My discussion wasn’t directed at any conclusion by you, since I didn’t see any conclusion or argument (other than an assertion about discrimination and high stakes).

Let me see if I can clarify: I’d agree that mere membership in the category of people who are conservative Christians should not, by itself, disqualify an applicant from the job of what’s typically understood as a serious biologist. For instance, I know several biologists who are Christians, and that religious commitment doesn’t preclude them from doing good science, as long as the person does not assume too much, e.g., that evolution is a false theory (even if the scientific method always warrants skepticism) in favor of intelligent design or some other dubious hypothesis.

This is different from being a member of the Flat Earth Society. That kind of membership directly implies a certain (uneducated) stance on the issue of the planet’s shape and thus speaks to the job candidate’s preparedness and capacity to do good science.

Does being religious also suggest such an inference? Well, no, considering that there are already lots of folks doing good science (and engineering, etc.) who are religious. So, a religious candidate shouldn’t be summarily dismissed based on this criterion; it’s not directly relevant to the job. (Again, I’m speaking to ethics, not employment law.)

HOWEVER, sticking to the scenario presented by Kris, “if the two candidates [one religious and the other not] are equally well qualified in absolutely every other way”, then I’d agree with Kris because: if a hiring decision needs to be made, and assuming we’re not resorting to a random coin-flip to decide, then it’s rational to go with odds that non-religious candidates would bring fewer preconceptions or intellectual baggage with them, esp. which are diametrically opposed to doing good science.

Again, not every religious person is anti-science, and some anti-science folks aren’t religious; but it seems clear that (too) many religious folks reject evolution outright and are unshakeable in this conviction. While making a hiring decision based on religion alone is not just illegal but perhaps unethical /if religion is irrelevant to the scenario/, if the scenario is about two candidates who are truly equal in all respects but religion, then what else could you possibly go on to make a decision, if not on that one difference?

Religion is an imperfect indicator of scientific fitness–it’s not reliable and therefore not directly relevant–but it’s also not nothing. There may be some /possible/ relevance which we ordinarily wouldn’t consider (because it’s an imperfect signal), but in extraordinary cases where a tie-breaker is needed, it no longer seem unreasonable to use religion as a criterion here (again, ethically speaking).

For the record, I would say that it’s an impossible scenario, or so unrealistic that we probably never encountered it in the wild, that two candidates are “equal in all respects” but one. So, this judgment doesn’t really translate into a real-world practice.

If I misunderstood the question or issue, I apologize in advance. I’m doing work now on what discrimination means for AI systems, so this particular line of discussion has been on my mind…Report

Kolja Keller
Kolja Keller
Reply to  Kris Rhodes
2 years ago

I’ve always wondered: Is that illegal in the US because it is making any hiring decision on the basis of religion?

Title IIV of the Civil Rights Act says:

(a) Employer practices
It shall be an unlawful employment practice for an employer –
(1) to fail or refuse to hire or to discharge any individual, or otherwise to discriminate against any individual with respect to his compensation, terms, conditions, or privileges of employment, because of such individual’s race, color, religion, sex, or national origin; or
(2) to limit, segregate, or classify his employees or applicants for employment in any way which would deprive or tend to deprive any individual of employment opportunities or otherwise adversely affect his status as an employee, because of such individual’s race, color, religion, sex, or national origin.

I’m no lawyer, especially no employment lawyer, but making religion a tie breaker sounds to me on a naive reading as “adversely affecting” the candidate “because of such individual’s religion.”Report

Kris Rhodes
Kris Rhodes
Reply to  Kolja Keller
2 years ago

This is a good point, I think it’s plausibly illegal by that wording, so if the candidates really are equally qualified in absolutely every other way, by that law I should probably flip a coin instead of deciding for the non-conservative-christian.Report

J. Bogart
J. Bogart
Reply to  Kris Rhodes
2 years ago

Before you get involved in any hiring or retention decisions you should go through some HR training. Why are you even discussing religious beliefs?Report

J. Bogart
Reply to  J. Bogart
2 years ago

In response to Lin (at 1:07):
Why exactly are you collecting, let alone considering, religious affiliations? Consideration and use of the information for employment decisions is, in almost all instances, violation of employment laws. It has no relevance to the job qualifications.
“Religion is an imperfect indicator of scientific fitness–it’s not reliable and therefore not directly relevant–but it’s also not nothing. There may be some /possible/ relevance which we ordinarily wouldn’t consider (because it’s an imperfect signal), but in extraordinary cases where a tie-breaker is needed, it no longer seem unreasonable to use religion as a criterion here (again, ethically speaking).”
Care to quantify the relevance? Care to explain why illegal conduct is better than just flipping a coin?Report

Patrick Lin
Reply to  J. Bogart
2 years ago

I thought I made it clear in several places that I was not talking about employment law, but only ethics. Right, as it is now, the law prohibits questions about religion, marital status, etc.

I also made it clear that we were talking about an impossible scenario, where two candidates are equal in all respects but religion. And assuming that we don’t want to flip a coin (though there’s a good argument for this), the only remaining criterion to rank-order the two candidates must be on the only difference stipulated between them. But it would never get this far in the real world (which is probably a good thing).Report

J. Bogart
Reply to  Patrick Lin
2 years ago

I have no idea what you mean by ‘ethics’ in this context. The quetion remains why you would think that religious belief would in this context provide an ethically defensible basis for choice. And if religion, why not sex or race or sexual orientation or political affiliation or marital status.Report

Patrick Lin
Reply to  Patrick Lin
2 years ago

Sorry, I thought that was obvious. Religion seems to have a much higher rate of anti-evolution and anti-science views than sex/gender, race/ethnicity, (most) political affiliations, marital status, or other categories we’ve been talking about. Certainly there’s anti-science views in all of these demographics, but what’s unique about religion is that it also explains the causal link between the affiliation and skepticism about evolution/science, i.e., the views are prescribed by (some popular interpretations of) religion.

On focusing on ethics only, I mean to divorce the conversation on existing law. You’re probably aware that there’s sometimes/often a relationship or correlation between law and ethics, but not always; sometimes, they’re contradictory. So, these two areas are severable in order to better scope the conversation, e.g., to bracket a convo about whether existing employment laws and case are ethical or properly adjudicated. I don’t think we can assume those laws (or any laws) are the final word on what is right.Report

J. Bogart
Reply to  Patrick Lin
2 years ago

The example is selection between persons with equal qualifications, i.e., both have advanced degrees in biology with equal publication and pedigree records, etc. Hence you need to show that such qualified religious persons (e.g., Baptists) are in any salient way more likely to. hold “anti-scientific” views that interfere with their work as biologists. The general population of religious believers is not relevant here.
That law and ethics are not identical is also irrelevant, unless you are claiming that there is a divergence here, in the employment context, which would be a roundabout way of saying that discrimination on the basis of religion, etc., is ethically preferable.Report

Patrick Lin
Reply to  Patrick Lin
2 years ago

Yes, discrimination based on religion can sometimes be ethically justified, if it’s relevant. I’ve already said that. See my earlier example of hiring a speechwriter for a Catholic cardinal: it seems highly relevant if this speechwriter were Buddhist, Muslim, atheist, Pastafarian, or whatever. And anyone can understand why Catholics would be favored, and reasonably so. Same goes for not hiring a Satanist to teach at a Christian school, and other such cases.

Is this really controversial, as a matter of ethics (as opposed to law)?Report

J. Bogart
Reply to  Patrick Lin
2 years ago

So you have given up trying to explain why it is ethically acceptable to discriminate on the basis of religion in hiring for a university biology job. And you have given up trying to justify engaging in illegal conduct rather than just flipping a coin to make a hire between equally qualified people. The discussion was not about speechwriters, or teaching in a religious school.Report

Patrick Lin
Reply to  Patrick Lin
2 years ago

I’ve already explained those points in the preceding. Let me pause here to give you a chance to catch up on reading what has already been discussed, in case you’re not just trolling me or arguing in bad faith. Am happy to re-engage if you have something to contribute here.Report

Kolja Keller
Kolja Keller
Reply to  Patrick Lin
2 years ago

Patrick, I’m wondering about two other dis-analogies between the speech-writer/teacher case and the biology case.

First, if someone is not Catholic but Buddhist, Satanist, or Pastafarian, it is deductively entailed that they will disagree with important beliefs that neeed to be communicated in the speeches of a cardinal. In case of someone being “right leaning” or “religiously affiliated” with a more traditional denomination, you only have an inductive connection to creationist belief.

And suppose you disqualify a candidate who is not a creationist only because they are part of a class that has more creationists. That seems straightforwardly unjust. Ethically, that seems similar to police profiling when you stop and frisk people that share characteristics with people who are most often arrested and convicted in that area (though there is the complicating issue of how the rate of incarceration and conviction by race is itself generated by systemic racism).

Moreover, if you are interviewing job candidates, you can very easily screen off whatever evidence you might have from political/religious affiliation by just asking job candidates “Do you believe in evolution?” or something similar. I don’t know if US employment case law ever dealt with this, and whether it counts as a way to illegally ask about religion, but I think you could make a decent case that asking this question is relevant to the job, and by asking it you’re avoiding having to speculate from much less reliable information. So if you want to avoid hiring creationists, you should ask this question instead of trying to infer anything from religious affiliation.

Secondly, where some religions have part of their religious doctrine that sincerity of belief is important, the same need not be the case for a biologist. In some of her papers on transmission principles for epistemic justification in the epistemology of testimony Jennifer Lackey has this interesting case of the creationist school teacher who, herself, is a creationist, but teaches what the biology textbook says about evolution. In that context the question is whether the students end up with justified beliefs about evolution, but unless you’re a transmission theorist that worries about a closet-creationist undermining the epistemic justification of students when teaching evolutionary theory, I don’t see that even *being* a creationist needs to be a disqualifying criterion for being a biology professor, so long as the candidate somehow adopts some cognitive machinery to separate what they teach and what they believe. For example, they might consistently talk about everything under an “according to evolution” operator in professional settings. Fundamentally, I don’t think a secular employer has any business of policing what their employees *believe*, but only how their employees *act*.

This is different for religious employers. For example, it would be inconsistent with the religious requirements for the position of pastor for many churches to have an atheist stand up front and give a sermon under an “according to Christianity” modifier. But it isn’t essential to being a good biology professor that you actually believe what you teach and research.

I was trying to think of secular employment that might also have belief requirements as part of the job. The one thing that comes to mind was national security jobs. There is a vested interest in not having double-agents join, say, the CIA, so the CIA in their job interviews has a vested interest in making sure their hires really are “patriots in their heart” and not secretly Russian sympathizers. If you’re more of a fan of big scale political confrontations maybe you don’t want a “creationist mole” in the biology department for fear of what damage that could do in the “political battle between science and religion”. I can see the appeal in that, but I am not a fan of that kind of ‘us vs. them’ approach to politics and life in a liberal democracy, so I don’t think that *should* be a motivation (I understand I didn’t argue for that last point and just stated it, but this post is long enough).Report

J. Bogart
Reply to  Patrick Lin
2 years ago

It may be that there is no further value in discussion. But a last try. That religious qualifications sometimes apply has no relevance to the situation of interest — hiring a biologist at a university. By assumption, the candidates are qualified, which means both are good biologists and capable teachers. You have said that it is ethically permissible to choose the non-religious person because religious people are more prone to anti-scientific views. But you are not hiring from a general population, only from a small population of qualified persons. The inference you draw to support your discrimination is erroneous. It ignores how the population form which you choose was created.
Similarly, you have not offered any explanation for why, if there no difference between the candidates in terms of qualifications, one would not do something like flip a coin, i.e., employ a selection method that you already know is illegal. So, to make it quite clear for you, why would choosing an illegal standard be better than a random choice?
There are in fact a variety of jobs that require special belief commitments, because the job is to advance particular beliefs. Working for political parties, political appointments, come immediately to mind.Report

Patrick Lin
Reply to  Patrick Lin
2 years ago

Hi Kolja, I think I agree with your analysis, on a quick look.

But I wasn’t drawing an analogy between hiring a speechwriter and a biologist. I was using the speechwriter case to demonstrate that sometimes “discrimination” on religious grounds can sometimes be justifiable. Again, I’m distinguishing this from what the law actually permits, which may have broader, less critical judgments or otherwise diverge from ethics.

My response was to Kris Rhodes @ July 29, 2019 at 10:12 am, not anything about the original DailyNous post; so it was in the context of a very specific and narrow scenario where 2 people are equally qualified in all respects but one (religion): in that case, could religion be a tie-breaker? I was suggesting that it’s not always unethical (because not always irrelevant) to consider religion in such (impossible) scenarios. And this could work either for or against the religious candidate; it’s not always anti-religious bias. (Freedom of religion seems to generally be a good thing.)

Agree that the deduction vs. induction distinction is very important here. That’s why using someone’s religion against them is usually wrong, where it’s not directly relevant: you’re generally making an inference of a questionable confidence-level. That’s why I scoped my contribution to the particular, narrow scenario with extraordinary conditions.

But if you needed to make a hiring decision, and if we assume we’re not going to flip a coin (a big assumption, but that’s part of the narrow scenario), then it doesn’t seem unreasonable to look at the only thing you got: the inference.

Some inferences are stronger or weaker than others. Maybe it’s a weak inference that if P is a member of a certain religion, then P is more likely than a random person (or specifically, more likely than candidate Q who is equally qualified but not religious) to have anti-science views that would interfere with P’s job duties. But even that weak inference seems stronger than an inference that an atheist would hold anti-science views.

This is different from police profiling because police don’t /have/ to arrest or hassle anyone (putting aside illegal/unethical quotas), unlike a hiring manager who must fill a position. So I wouldn’t presume that anything I’ve said can apply to normal police scenarios. Racial profiling is generally bad…though not always bad, where race/ethnicity is relevant.Report

Patrick Lin
Reply to  Patrick Lin
2 years ago

Kolja, on your question about belief requirements for secular jobs, here’s an example (sorta):

In a recent job ad (which was subsequently deleted) for doctors for ICE concentration camps, candidates are asked to demonstrate that they’re “philosophically committed to the objectives of this facility”…!

https://thehill.com/policy/healthcare/454592-controversial-posting-for-doctor-at-migrant-detention-facility-yanked-fromReport

Avalonian
2 years ago

This discussion is going to be so predictable. Everyone will agree that there is *a* line which, when crossed, justifies discrimination and hostility on the basis of political belief. For some, that will be full-blown Naziism or support for slavery. For others, it will be Gender Critical feminism or support for neoliberal deregulation or whatever. One’s position on this whole thing is going to be entirely determined by whether one thinks certain colleagues have crossed that line from “reasonable but wrong” over to “despicable”. This is why we need to return to a harm principle as a desperately needed neutral arbiter… if someone’s voicing of a position in your department is likely to harm another person or put them in some kind of danger, then sure, don’t hire them. And this could very well mean not hiring people who (for example) vocally support Trump’s referring to black cities as being “infested”… if you really believe that “infestation” is the best metaphor there, then you are very likely to do or say something that might be seriously hurtful to black colleagues or students. So yeah… I ‘aint hiring you.

But this, I take it, is not the normal case. The normal case is, well… Spencer Case (sorry Spencer, but you and folks like you are really what this is about, and I only mention you by name because you’ve written on this and because I’ve personally witnessed the hostility directed towards you). I honestly can’t see how anyone like Spencer violates a harm principle, unless the notion of “potential harm” is stretched so thinly as to capture pretty much all of us. But what this study shows is something that most of us already knew, which is that people like this are exceedingly unlikely to be hired at a huge range of institutions, and that this is so because of their political beliefs. We all need to decide whether this is really who we want to be: a discipline that simply excludes people, not on the basis of their violating some widely acceptable standard or because they are bad philosophers or teachers, but just because we and some of our friends are united in thinking them despicable.Report

Philodemus
Philodemus
Reply to  Avalonian
2 years ago

Agreed. One of the problems, as you already suggested, is that the harm principle will ultimately be useless because people have stretched the notion of “harm” so much. There are people in this discipline who think that using the word “crazy” is harmful to the mentally ill, who think that defending certain views about the metaphysics of gender is harmful to trans folks, etc.Report

grad student
grad student
Reply to  Philodemus
2 years ago

It can be harmful to espouse certain views of the metaphysics of gender, *if* they are combined with the premise that the metaphysics must have trans-exclusionary political implications. If that’s the line of thinking you’re referring to, it’s definitely not an unwarranted extension of the harm principle.Report

Spencer
Spencer
Reply to  Avalonian
2 years ago

I’m going to spend the rest of the day basking in the warm feeling I got when I saw my non-Nazihood affirmed in these comments.Report

Thrasymachus
Thrasymachus
Reply to  Avalonian
2 years ago

The “harm principle”, as you present it, is not a “neutral arbiter” but a license for limitless discrimination, and a ready pretext for proponents of popular viewpoints to silence dissent. All criticism, by its nature, has the tendency to cause psychological or emotional distress in those being criticized. Hence, if we allow discrimination against a philosopher on the grounds that her views have the potential to cause psychological or emotional harm, all of us become legitimate targets. For example, Kathleen Stock, just by virtue of her notoriety, has probably caused more psychological distress in her life than many quiet Nazi sympathizers. So anyone who wished to deplatform her could cite your “harm principle” as grounds for doing so.

Extra-mural speech should play no role in hiring, retention, or promotion decisions, with an exception for types of speech not protected by the first amendment (true threats, harassment, blackmail, etc.). Assessments of teaching and research, moreover, should strive to be as content-neutral as possible. This is, from what I understand, the AAUP’s position on speech, and it seems to me it is also the only position that will adequately safeguard academic freedom. Any weaker principle than this can and will be used as a political weapon.Report

Avalonian
Reply to  Thrasymachus
2 years ago

Yeah, so we should try to restrict the relevant definition of significant or serious harm so that it isn’t so inclusive and so that it at least captures the most serious cases. We should try to use widely shared intuitions about well-being to isolate the most obvious and uncontroversial cases of harm and work outwards to a conception that can form a somewhat broad consensus. I.e. we should do the very thing we are actually trained to do.

If your alternative is really to require each of us to ignore racist rants when hiring someone, well… sorry. I’m not doing that, and I don’t even think it’s psychologically possible for most of us to do that.Report

Thrasymachus
Thrasymachus
Reply to  Avalonian
2 years ago

It does not strike me as controversial that Stock’s writings cause a lot of people significant psychological distress. Same with (say) Peter Singer, or Richard Dawkins. In general, I don’t think it makes any sense to care about the magnitude of psychological harm a claim causes; many true, justified, and socially valuable claims cause people a lot of grief.

I have a very hard time seeing what principle you could invoke that would allow you to discriminate against people who go on racist rants, but would not allow trans-activists to discriminate against Stock. The price of academic freedom for people you agree with is academic freedom for people whose views you find objectionable.Report

grad student
grad student
Reply to  Thrasymachus
2 years ago

I have tried, in some of my comments below, to formulate exactly such a principle (though one that would also permit consequences for Stock, which in my view are quite urgently needed). I think the key lies in singling out a special kind of “being made uncomfortable by speech”. The views of Dawkins or Singer might make me feel uncomfortable insofar as it becomes an open question what I should do or believe going forward. “Wow, I didn’t think it was a big deal to eat meat, but now I’m not so sure…” “Hmm, maybe my belief in God is misplaced, let me look into this…” Call this existential discomfort.

This is not the only way for speech to make us uncomfortable! If I’m a POC having a philosophical discussion with a white colleague, and my white colleague uses a racial slur or makes a racist joke or something, that’s not existential discomfort. That’s, “wow, this colleague has turned out to hate me for something about myself which I cannot control. Who else is going to turn out to be like this? Will anyone stand up for me? Do I belong here? Am I safe here?” etc. This is not the kind of discomfort which philosophy is supposed to produce in us!

When you misgender a trans person, mock them for not “passing”, tell them they are mentally ill or deluded because they are trans… you are not producing legitimate existential discomfort, you are producing discomfort of the same kind that the POC philosopher experiences in the face of racial slurs.

I can’t believe I have to say this, but we should not tolerate that kind of behavior in philosophy! Firing and exclusion from the field are both totally legitimate and sometimes warranted consequences for such behavior!Report

grad student
grad student
Reply to  Thrasymachus
2 years ago

Consider two cases. Case 1: You say to me, “Modal realism is an obviously silly view.” I, a modal realist, am deeply distressed by this. Case 2: A tenured male professor says publicly, say on twitter or at a conference, “Women are essentially less suited for philosophy than men.”

In Case 1, you’ve offended me – and I do think it’s probably right for me to be a little offended! – but you haven’t plausibly done harm. In Case 2, you’ve obviously done pretty serious harm. The further you get towards the middle, the more conflict there will be about how the harm principle should be formulated and how it should rule, but that in itself is no reason to think it’s totally misguided to think in terms of harm here.

Kathleen Stock has mockingly speculated about grad students’ mental health (as a response to moderate and well-deserved twitter snark), and happily stood by her allies as they misgender trans interlocutors, mock their appearance, and promote conspiracy theories about trans people. If you don’t see that Stock’s speech falls on the side of Case 2 and not Case 1, then you are either not paying attention or willfully misrepresenting things.Report

Arthur Greeves
Arthur Greeves
Reply to  grad student
2 years ago

“In Case 2, you’ve obviously done pretty serious harm.”

Whether you’ve done harm surely depends on circumstances beyond your control. More important is that you’ve said something false, and that you have a right to be corrected. I’d prefer that people correct you rather than silence you — especially since silencing you waters the gardens of prejudice and misogyny.Report

grad student
grad student
Reply to  Arthur Greeves
2 years ago

I think it’s fine for someone who says something like “Women are inherently less suited to philosophy” to experience serious professional consequences.

Also, I’m not sure what it means that the circumstances causing the remark to be harmful are beyond the control of the speaker. You can do harm even if your “heart is in the right place” – it’s not about the speaker, but the thing said.Report

Thrasymachus
Thrasymachus
Reply to  grad student
2 years ago

You say you think it’s fine for a philosopher who disparages women’s philosophical abilities to face “serious professional consequences”, on the grounds that this sort of comment causes “pretty serious harm”. What do you say about a philosopher who makes one of the following claims?

1. “The Israel lobby has too much influence in American politics.”
2. “The life of a human fetus has no moral value.”
3. “Many immigrants from the middle east hold backwards views about women and gay people.”
4. “The average republican is hypocritical, racist, and deeply deluded.”
5. “There are too many white men in academia.”
6. “TERFs are hateful, reactionary bigots.”
7. “Christianity is a collection of ridiculous superstitions.”
8. “Infants with certain types of profound disabilities should be euthanized.”

Should a philosopher who expresses any of these views also experience “serious professional consequences”? If it is just a matter of the amount of psychological distress, all of these remarks have the potential to cause harm comparable to the comment about women’s philosophical abilities you suggested. But I don’t think the magnitude of harm is what matters most to you; I suspect you view some opinions as verboten and others as acceptable regardless of how much damage they cause. That is, opinions which you view and true as congenial to your political goals are okay whether or not they are harmful, while opinions you see as false or detrimental to your political goals should be prohibited even if the harms they cause are small and fleeting.Report

grad student
grad student
Reply to  Thrasymachus
2 years ago

I’m not sure exactly how best to formulate a good harm principle for philosophical discourse; obviously, it’s a really hard question. I think, though, it has to do with who else is participating in the conversation, who else is in the epistemic community. I know you pose 4 and 7 to me because you think they’re “gotchas”, but I would argue that they *are* harmful, and that instances of them should get a negative reaction. You can’t throw around negative generalizations about groups whose members are part of your epistemic community. Fetuses and infants are not part of any epistemic community, so a harm principle formulated along these lines would not pose a problem for 2 or 8. There is no such negative generalization about a group contained in 1 or 5, so they are not harmful. I suspect that 3, like 4 and 7, is often harmful because of the pragmatics (i.e., such statements are often meant to suggest bigoted conclusions about immigrants), but taken literally the claim is of course true.

That only leaves 6, and I’m not sure what to think about that. I do usually think that the lack of any real motivation for the TERF point of view leaves only transphobia/bigotry, whether conscious or not. But I also think – as do most of the trans-inclusionary philosophers I’ve read and talked to – that it is in principle possible to formulate at least some trans-exclusionary views without being bigoted. It’s just that the two are rarely, if ever, separate. Maybe it depends on what one takes the extension of “TERF” to be.Report

Justin Kalef
Justin Kalef
Reply to  Thrasymachus
2 years ago

Hang on, grad student. What sort of harm principle are you using here?

It’s true that fetuses and infants can’t (currently) read philosophers’ work on abortion and infanticide, and hence can’t be ‘harmed’ in the very extended sense of reading something that hurts their feelings. It’s also true, for that matter, that slaves who are raised and kept in illiteracy by force will not (currently) read philosophers who argue that the practice of keeping them in that condition is perfectly fine, even though reading that would, if it were possible, hurt their feelings.

But why is this the measure of harm you’re using? Wouldn’t the far greater ostensible harm be the support for the putatively immoral institution in the minds of those who do read that defense? Can anyone really believe that the harm of having one’s feelings hurt regularly outweighs the harm of being killed or kept in slavery?

But if you reject that, then I don’t see how you mean to respond to the force of the arguments here. EIther we work out, in advance of doing the philosophical work, which ethical positions are right and which are wrong, or else we see the ‘harm’ caused by people having their feelings hurt if they choose to read philosophy as outweighed by the good of having a reasonable way of sorting out those disputes, etc.Report

grad student
grad student
Reply to  Thrasymachus
2 years ago

I’m not sure what you’re getting at here. Currently, philosophical discourse includes women, POC, LGBT people, and so on. (I take it as axiomatic that this is a good thing.) What I’m suggesting – and I’ve been figuring out how to express it as I go, so it’s likely I’ve just been unclear – is that there are some views whose expression will unavoidably alienate women, POC, LGBT people, etc. as groups. Setting aside philosophical views, there are also a lot of ways of speaking – turns of phrase, jokes, etc. – that will unavoidably alienate. The question is how to make sure that we’re not alienating disadvantaged groups within philosophy, without also overstepping in our exclusion of some views or forms of speech. But when a view does unequivocally alienate minority/disadvantaged participants, that view should not be open for philosophical discussion. That includes views like “Hey, maybe slavery is morally okay after all”, or “Women aren’t suited for philosophy – discuss”.Report

grad student
grad student
Reply to  Thrasymachus
2 years ago

I’ve gone upthread a bit to refresh my memory and can now clarify further. The Avalonian calls for a properly fleshed-out harm principle to distinguish rightful discrimination from thought policing. I agree. They suggest “puts people in danger” as a candidate. I think this is probably too weak. I propose something like “will unavoidably alienate disadvantaged participants in philosophical discourse, not qua individuals but qua members of a disadvantaged group”.

How do we establish what will unavoidably alienate? Testimony from members of disadvantaged groups. If, for instance, an overwhelming majority of women philosophers are saying “yeah, prima facie X looks like a reasonable view, but in reality it’s definitely misogynistic,” we should listen to them.Report

Thrasymachus
Thrasymachus
Reply to  Thrasymachus
2 years ago

Previously you were defending the principle that “negative generalizations about groups whose members are part of your epistemic community should result in professional sanctions.” You seem to, wisely, have abandoned this principle. Now you are proposing a new principle: “comments which will unavoidably alienate disadvantaged participants in philosophical discourse (qua members of a disadvantaged group) should result in professional sanctions.”

Here are four problems with this new principle:

1. There is little consensus on who the disadvantaged groups are. Many republicans believe that Christians, white people, and men are disadvantaged in today’s society (and fetuses slated for termination the most disadvantaged of all). Many gender-critical feminists think of themselves as being persecuted, and see transwomen as men, and therefore privileged. What procedure do you suggest we use for determining which groups are genuinely disadvantaged and therefore eligible for special protections?

2. It is not clear why comments which are deeply offensive but won’t “alienate disadvantaged participants in philosophical discourse” should be given a free pass. Does this mean it’s okay to make incredibly insulting comments about white people qua white people (who you presumably do not count as disadvantaged), or about Andaman Islanders (who do not participate in philosophical discourse)? What about profoundly intellectually disabled people, who are not able to participate in philosophical discourse due to features of their biology? This new principle also entails that it’s okay to refer to Christianity as a collection of ridiculous superstitions or to Republicans as deluded racists — does this mean you are revising your earlier verdict about sentences (4) and (7)?

3. This will make some subjects impossible to discuss. Plausibly, both jewish people and Palestinians are disadvantaged minorities in the US, and just about any viewpoint on the Israel-Palestine conflict is likely to be seen as racially insensitive by some jewish people or some Palestinians. So, just to be on the safe side, should we go ahead and sanction any philosopher who ventures an opinion about Israel, pro or contra?

4. Some comments that will alienate disadvantaged participants in philosophical discourse may turn out to be true, and worth knowing. Suppose psychologists collect decisive evidence that women are, on average, more neurotic than men, or that homosexuality is caused by pathogens in utero. Do you think we should be forbidden to discuss these results, that they should be permanently suppressed?Report

grad student
grad student
Reply to  Thrasymachus
2 years ago

Thrasymachus – I think of the former as a decent first pass on the second. A lot of what harms disadvantaged communities will end up being negative generalizations about them.

1) I think empirical evidence will generally settle this. The history of white oppression of POC, of general oppression of LGBT people, of male oppression of women, etc. is so abundantly clear from history, as well as from contemporary data on stuff like incarceration rates, pay gap, and so on, that I honestly don’t know how much of a conversation I could even have with someone who doesn’t buy that POC are disadvantaged relative to whites, or whatever. I’m pretty happy to exclude people who don’t believe POC aren’t disadvantaged relative to whites, especially since that is plausibly part of the cost of including POC in our discipline. From what does philosophical insight benefit more: the inclusion of long-suppressed POC voices, or the inclusion of out-and-out racists?

As for trans women (not “transwomen”, which is a dog-whistle), the “gender-critical” folks have never been able to offer genuine, robust, systematic evidence of threats posed by trans women against cis women or anyone else, because there is none. This is part of why their view is in the minority. There is plenty of reason to think that trans women face many of the same sorts of oppression that cis women face, as well as the general social oppression directed at gender non-conforming people more generally (on which you can see, most recently, the work of Robin Dembroff and Kate Manne). So frankly I think there’s no way to regard trans women as the oppressors except as a cover for bigotry. Luke Roelofs wrote a short essay making the case quite clearly.

2) Frankly no, I don’t think it’s okay to make awful comments about white people qua white people. Obviously it is not the same phenomenon, since white people are not a disadvantaged group and not in any danger of being pushed out of academia or our discipline. The special harm of saying horrible things about disadvantaged communities is that they are already insanely under-represented in philosophy, and academia more generally. Not only is it inhumane to exclude their voices when we could easily change our behavior to be more welcoming; it has also *already* inhibited the quality of philosophical imagination and debate, in precisely the same way it does to exclude all conservative voices, for instance.

So no, it’s not the same thing, but I still don’t think it’s okay. It is shitty to say, “Christianity is just a bunch of silly superstitions” or “all Republicans are deluded racists”. Any statement like this strips your interlocutors of their humanity and replaces it with a caricature based on a group to which they belong. That’s never okay.

3) “just about any viewpoint on the Israel-Palestine conflict is likely to be seen as racially insensitive by some jewish people or some Palestinians”

I actually don’t buy this. For instance, opinion among Jewish people is hugely divided over the question of the state of Israel and its policies and actions. So I don’t think there are any grounds for characterizing most opinions about Israel as racially insensitive towards Jewish people. Unless your position is that some claimed badness on Israel’s part is inherently connected to Jewishness, or something. That wouldn’t be okay, per my suggested harm principle.

4) I think it depends on whether the claim undermines the right of the group in question to participate as full equals, undermines their sincere & more or less unified testimony about their own experience, etc. No empirical claim on its own, including either of the examples you offered, could ground such a conclusion. If you took the claim as grounds for such a conclusion, and that was part of your view, then yes, that would be worthy of condemnation.

There’s a very robust field of study on the neuroscience of sex differences, for instance, and the legitimacy of this field is due in no small part to the fact that the scientists participating in it rarely use its results to advocate discrimination against women. The same was not historically true for the study of racial differences, and accordingly the study of racial differences was much more controversial.Report

Thrasymachus
Thrasymachus
Reply to  Thrasymachus
2 years ago

1) You say that “empirical evidence will generally settle” which are the disadvantaged groups and which are not. As examples of empirical considerations that might be important, you mention “incarceration rates” and the “pay gap”. But consider:

–Men have a higher incarceration rate than women, by about an order of magnitude.

–Asian-Americans have higher incomes than whites, and lower incarceration rates.

–Jewish Americans have higher incomes than gentiles (I suspect they also have lower incarceration rates, but I don’t have data on that handy).

Does knowing this lead you to conclude that men are members of a disadvantaged group (and therefore entitled to special protections), or that Asian-Americans and jewish people are not? I expect it doesn’t. At minimum, though, it should underscore that the raw empirical evidence isn’t doing the real work here. What is doing the work here is the function or algorithm you employ that takes empirical evidence as input and yields, as output, verdicts about which groups are and aren’t disadvantaged. You have chosen a function with one set of weightings and parameters, but others might pick a different function, with different results. But why should we use your function, rather than some other function, as the basis for administering professional sanctions to people who make offensive comments? Does it really make sense for people’s careers to hang on something so idiosyncratic and so far beyond the reach of empirical evidence? Is it possible that reasonable people can disagree about what groups count as disadvantaged?

2) You say that “the special harm of saying horrible things about disadvantaged communities is that they are already insanely under-represented in philosophy, and academia more generally.” As it happens, though, the fit between “disadvantaged communities” and groups “under-represented in philosophy, and academia more generally” is not as good as you imply. Jewish people and Asian-Americans are over-represented in academia, relative to their share of the US population. So are gay men and lesbians. Across all disciplines, women now earn a majority of PhDs, and make up about half of all faculty and half of all tenure-track hires. Does this mean that Asian-Americans, jewish people, queer people, and women no longer count as disadvantaged groups in academia, in your book? What about conservatives and Christians, who genuinely are under-represented in academia? And, once again: are your answers to these questions really so clear-cut that you think it’s appropriate to make them the basis of a regime of censorship, where people who disagree with you could potentially lose their jobs for doing so?

4) You write that “no empirical claim on its own, including either of the examples you offered, could ground such a conclusion.” If I understand you correctly, you are suggesting that all empirical claims should remain open topics of discussion, and that academics should not face professional sanctions for making offensive remarks so long as those remarks are restricted to empirical matters. Have you thought through the consequences of this position? Whether there are racial differences in intelligence is undoubtedly an empirical question — does this mean you are okay with academics who assert that there are? What about academics who promote racist conspiracy theories? Even the example of a forbidden view you gave which set off this discussion — “women are inherently less suited to philosophy” — strikes me as largely an empirical claim. There are really only two options here: either you rule certain areas of empirical inquiry off-limits, and permanently suppress whatever knowledge they might produce, or you allow scientific racists and sexists to conduct their research, at the cost of potentially alienating members of disadvantaged groups. I don’t see a way of avoiding these trade-offs.Report

Arthur Greeves
Arthur Greeves
Reply to  grad student
2 years ago

I certainly wasn’t talking about the heart of the speaker! I was talking about whether anyone experienced hurt. When people say false and insulting things about people like me, I don’t characteristically experience hurt in response to it. I would simply make a judgment about that person (internally, if not externally) and then let it roll off me. Why internally respond as if their opinion mattered?

Now, I’m not saying that such a response is normatively required (like, say, the Stoics would). I’m saying that it is common, perhaps even psychologically healthy. A person might attempt to hurt a woman by saying that women are bad at philosophy, but nevertheless fail to hurt any woman, since women are often pretty well inured to this sort of foolishness.Report

grad student
grad student
Reply to  Arthur Greeves
2 years ago

Oh, I see what you’re saying. Thanks for clarifying.

I mean, I’m sympathetic to your way of dealing with slights, but the question is how we want to structure our discipline. If I’m a woman, someone at a conference says “Women are less suited to philosophy,” and no one speaks up because the best thing is just to be Stoical and let it roll off, doesn’t that send an awful message to me about my place in philosophy? (That’s rhetorical – it certainly does send an awful message.)Report

Arthur Greeves
Arthur Greeves
Reply to  Arthur Greeves
2 years ago

Sure, but I don’t think it sends an awful message if people either vocally dismiss or argue against the sentiment expressed. There are other options than taking offense (though I don’t object to someone taking offense in that situation, except in my more Stoic moods).Report

grad student
grad student
Reply to  Arthur Greeves
2 years ago

I was arguing for the appropriateness of vocal dismissal, so it sounds like we’re at least partially in agreement. I do think that losing out on a job is also an appropriate consequence, though I don’t have a firm view on how bad the speech has to be to warrant that.Report

Justin Kalef
Justin Kalef
Reply to  grad student
2 years ago

What about this third case, grad student?

A philosopher writes, and teaches her students, that having an abortion is like getting a haircut or having an appendectomy, because the embryo has no moral worth. Some people in the course, or reading the article, are deeply hurt by this because they derailed their careers in the face of an unplanned pregnancy, and this gives their lives the lie. Also, if embryos do have moral worth, then that view has caused harm to them as well.

Or, how about this fourth case: a philosopher argues that there is nothing wrong with factory farming, and tweets about that often.

Or, how about this fifth case: a philosopher argues that sweatshop labor is humane (which will harm and rightly upset many people if it is not) or that it’s inhumane (which will harm and rightly upset many people if it is actually an important means by which people in poor areas can gain opportunities to create wealth).

If you want to interpret the harm principle as a basis for acting against people like Kathleen Stock, or restricting their views, then it seems that you have two main options:

1) Figure out in advance of applying the principle which moral views are correct, and moreover make the reasoning so clear that the people who apply that principle will know which ideas cause the real harm. But that will involve doing the philosophical analysis first, and that won’t be possible if you exclude people like Stock, or some conservatives, from the very conversation in which that philosophical analysis is to be done.

2) Just shut down all of applied ethics and, moreover, prevent all philosophers from defending or even expressing any views on current issues.

Wouldn’t it be much more productive just to stop trying to shame and bully people out of the philosophical discussion, or use preferential hiring or selection against them, because we don’t agree with them? Especially since, after all, this is philosophy?Report

grad student
grad student
Reply to  Justin Kalef
2 years ago

I suggested above that the harm principle has to do with epistemic communities. Harm, in this context, isn’t about potential indirect real-world consequences of a philosophical view, but rather about the effects of speech on one’s interlocutors. If I’m right about that, then that clears away some of your objections. Neither embryos nor animals are part of our epistemic community, so they cannot be harmed by philosophical statements.

I also think you may be misunderstanding my point about Stock. The problem with her speech is not that it expresses a philosophical view which causes some people to feel hurt; the problem is that her speech is just directly hateful. I said above that it may well be possible, at least in principle, to formulate a trans-exclusionary view without doing harm (though I suspect the resulting view would be extremely hard to defend). Same goes for the cases you present here. It’s fine to argue that an embryo has no moral worth (or does), but it wouldn’t be fine to mock or criticize one of your students for opting not to abort (or to abort).Report

Justin Kalef
Justin Kalef
Reply to  grad student
2 years ago

grad student, you write:

“I suggested above that the harm principle has to do with epistemic communities. Harm, in this context, isn’t about potential indirect real-world consequences of a philosophical view, but rather about the effects of speech on one’s interlocutors. If I’m right about that, then that clears away some of your objections.”

Well, sure, IF you’re right about that… but why should anyone accept that version of the harm principle?

During the Nazi era in Germany, there was a professor — call him Martin — who repeatedly and publicly declared that Jews were not moral patients and therefore that Germany should not be held back by any humane considerations in its attempt to solve ‘the Jewish Question’ and bring about a healthy, Aryan Germany. Martin’s status as a philosopher, let us imagine, led large portions of the German intellectual elite to wink at a policy of anti-Jewish genocide. But, due to Nazi policies, nobody in Martin’s philosophical community, including his students, was Jewish. However, Martin did have one student, Hans, who had a Jewish great-grandparent and was therefore quite offended by an anti-Jewish comment Martin made. This comment made Hans quite uncomfortable, and he even reconsidered whether he wanted to be a philosopher as a result of it.

For the sake of argument, let’s also imagine that, at the time, the Jews have all been interred in concentration camps and have no way to learn about Martin’s comments.

Which of Martin’s two actions caused the greater harm: his persuasive and effective support of an inhumane attitude toward the Jews, or his making Hans feel quite unwelcome by his comment?

On your version of the harm principle, it seems, it’s the latter. But that seems to be a clear reductio of that version.Report

grad student
grad student
Reply to  Justin Kalef
2 years ago

Two things. One, I agree that it shouldn’t be a question of who is actively, currently participating in philosophical discourse, for whatever contingent reasons. Even if, for contingent reasons, no Jewish people are allowed to participate in philosophy, they are still members of our epistemic community insofar as it is *only* because of such contingent reasons that they are not currently participating in philosophy. Cats and embryos are *in principle* incapable of participating in philosophy, so they are not a part of our epistemic community. (This might be normatively loaded; the relevant sense of “epistemic community” here may just be “all the people who *ought to* be able participate in philosophy”. But I take it as uncontroversial that all humans who are in principle capable of philosophical thought should be able to participate in philosophical discussion.)

Second, I agree that Martin’s support of inhumanity is far worse simpliciter than his making Hans feel unwelcome. But I’m not talking about bad simpliciter, I’m talking about bad for philosophical discourse. I’m granting the premise that some philosophical views might contribute to real-world harms without it being okay to silence them. My point is that, even if we totally bracket the real-world effects of expressing view X, there’s still the question of the effects of expressing view X on our colleagues. The latter can still be a basis for prohibiting discussion of view X.Report

Justin Kalef
Justin Kalef
Reply to  Justin Kalef
2 years ago

Hi, grad student.

This last explanation makes your view seem much more reasonable to me. Now, it’s clear that you accept several different real and potential harms, but only happen to be focusing on a limited number.

In that case, I think that putting the harm principle back into the context in which Mill originally intended it is helpful. What would be the best policy: to allow inquiry to continue at the risk of causing discomfort to those who are part of the community of inquirers, or to prevent it at the risk of the integrity of the discipline (and public discourse), which would bring untold harms upon all, plus very real harms incurred by those outside the epistemic community.

To take the Kathleen Stock case, the actual and potential harms seem to be as follows:

1) Allow her and others to speak: you allow some people the discomfort at having their gender identity called into question.

2) Prevent her and others from speaking: by forbidding a discussion of what she claims are real harms caused to women, and to children who (she says) are not provided with sufficient options as they question their gender identity, you risk all those harms; you cause Stock and others harm by labeling their sincere views as unacceptable; and you set a precedent that philosophical and broader public discussions should be decided in advance by the moral and political sympathies of those who manage to dominate and shame.

I don’t mind granting you, for the sake of argument, a broader interpretation of ‘harm’ according to which one suffers a harm if one feels offended by the implications of what someone else says. But then, we have to balance that harm against all the others, and I don’t yet see the case for thinking that the harm to the epistemic community is more weighty.Report

grad student
grad student
Reply to  Justin Kalef
2 years ago

“What would be the best policy: to allow inquiry to continue at the risk of causing discomfort to those who are part of the community of inquirers, or to prevent it at the risk of the integrity of the discipline (and public discourse), which would bring untold harms upon all, plus very real harms incurred by those outside the epistemic community.”

Here’s my point, in a nutshell: Over-exclusion is bad, for the reason you suggest; but, over-inclusion is also bad, because paradoxically it leads to exclusion of its own. Put crudely: What’s worse, excluding disadvantaged people (because hateful speech forces them out of the discipline), or excluding conservatives? I agree that neither is good, and I think it’s possible to strike the balance in a way that prevents alienating our disadvantaged colleagues while minimally excluding conservative viewpoints. But philosophers, and academics more generally, have historically been really awful at paying attention to the way the other kind of exclusion – the one affecting disadvantaged people – works. So it bears repeating, and given the current demographic breakdown of our field it’s obvious the message still hasn’t sunk in, especially among those with the most power.

“I don’t mind granting you, for the sake of argument, a broader interpretation of ‘harm’ according to which one suffers a harm if one feels offended by the implications of what someone else says.”

Actually, I’m not trying to argue for a harm principle quite that b road. I think a robust distinction can be drawn between, as I put it, “speech that is *necessarily* alienating to a whole group” and “speech that merely happens to offend me”.Report

grad student
grad student
Reply to  Justin Kalef
2 years ago

Oh, sorry, I missed the part about Stock. I think her speech has gone well beyond the point of merely “making people uncomfortable about their gender identity”. Lots and lots and lots of work has been done about gender and gender identity, and all of it has the potential to stir up what I called “existential discomfort” in people about their gender or gender identity. But the way Stock has engaged with her interlocutors, including trans people, and the way she’s gone after a grad student for measured criticism of her view, pushes her WAY over the line from “setting out a view which upsets some people, but in a maximally respectful and compassionate way that takes into account trans voices” to “wantonly disregarding and disrespecting trans colleagues”.

Again, I don’t take my suggested harm principle to rule out all discussions of gender, or even all formulations of trans-exclusionary views or views with trans-exclusionary upshots. The way Stock has gone about this is the wrong way, and certainly not the only way.Report

Avalonian
Reply to  Justin Kalef
2 years ago

So I was initially concerned that we would do nothing but spin our wheels in the mud, because views we are antecedently inclined to reject would just get ruled “unreasonable” or “despicable” by fiat according to our moral proclivities. Notice that now, the concept “harmful” is in danger of playing exactly the same role, as a concept which rationalizes, post hoc, the exclusion of views we are already inclined to exclude.

This is why we desperately need to go beyond the mere listing of particular academic-speech cases and intuitions about harm in those cases. We need to step back and try to develop a shared conception of “serious harm” from outside the speech wars, or the principle will continue to be as useless as a principle which says “we may discriminate against despicable views but not against reasonable ones”.

Maybe you think this task is impossible. Well, the only real alternative, so far as I can see, is a kind of Foucauldian interpretation of all this: there is nothing here but institutional power, people with power will discriminate against views they don’t like, and there is no hope for a broad consensus concerning when they ought to refrain from doing so. “Free speech” and “academic freedom” will be empty concepts which only serve to justify the status quo in a particular institutional setting. Maybe that’s just how it is.Report

Justin Kalef
Justin Kalef
Reply to  Justin Kalef
2 years ago

Avalonian, I think the Foucault-inspired view you mention, in which there is (and must ever be) nothing underlying any discourse but the mere exercise of institutional power, and in which what passes for rationality can never be anything more than a sham meant to veil that power, is one of the most depressing and noxious views out there.

It is also a false one: reason has the power to bring us above the level of violent, petty conflicts. But it has the potential to become descriptively correct if enough people buy into it and take a cynical, dismissive attitude toward rationality, and jettison their principles as fraudulent. It is difficult to think of anything more antiphilosophical.

Unfortunately, this view (like similarly damaging ones from Marcuse and others) has begun to seep not only into the thinking of intelligent laypeople, but even into some core areas of mainstream philosophy. I wonder how much of that lies behind the depressing results of this survey.Report

Molly Gardner
Molly Gardner
Reply to  grad student
2 years ago

“The problem with her speech is not that it expresses a philosophical view which causes some people to feel hurt; the problem is that her speech is just directly hateful.”

I can’t let that go unchallenged. For the record, Stock has never said anything in her published essays or on Twitter that is directly hateful. That is patently false.Report

Justin Kalef
Justin Kalef
Reply to  Molly Gardner
2 years ago

Yes, and it also seems to involve an act of mind-reading, if ‘hateful’ means motivated by hate.Report

grad student
grad student
Reply to  Molly Gardner
2 years ago

Hi Prof. Weinberg. If anyone wants to know why Stock has participated in and is responsible for bigoted and unacceptable speech, they can refer to her twitter feed directly, or to the abundance of screenshots painstakingly compiled by Christa Peterson, a graduate student, and one of Stock’s main targets.Report

Justin Kalef
Justin Kalef
Reply to  Molly Gardner
2 years ago

grad student,

You say, “What’s worse, excluding disadvantaged people (because hateful speech forces them out of the discipline, or…”

So much of this is question-begging language.

I don’t have a dog in the dispute between the gender-critical feminists and the trans activists: I sincerely think there are important points on both sides and am trying to figure out where the truth and the moral balance point lie by watching the discussion. But _both_ sides are claiming to be excluded by the other: the trans activists claim to be excluded because they can’t stand anyone doubting that they are the sex or gender they say they are in every possible way, and the gender-critical feminists claim to be excluded because they are being no-platformed, and so on.

While I’m still agnostic about some of the metaphysical and policy questions on these issues, I don’t see much room for doubt on the issue of people being forced out of the discipline.

If it really were true that people are forced out of the discipline by the mere fact that they object strongly to what is being questioned or said, or by the fact that they belong to a group that finds those things offensive, etc., then all sorts of people can claim to be excluded from the discipline:

– Vegan activists could claim to be excluded from the discipline by the fact that there are others who think it’s acceptable to use animal products and even to eat them at APA sessions.

– Religious people could claim to be excluded because, to them, they are essentially non-physical souls living temporarily in a physical body, and materialists and atheists *deny their very existence* by claiming that they (as immaterial souls) are a fiction.

You could expand this list much further. In any dispute on a big issue, some people will be so upset by what the other side thinks that they won’t want to continue to discuss things. If everyone did that, then there would be no philosophical conversations about any of those issues, and they would be resolved non-philosophically and irrationally, which would not be good.

It’s one thing for people to say they don’t want to take part in philosophical conversations they find upsetting. But if people say P in a philosophical context, especially if they count their arguments for P (or work that assumes that P) as part of their philosophical research, and then freak out because people argue that not-P or challenge the assumption that P, well, that just isn’t proper philosophical behavior. And if people decide to steer clear of those conversations altogether because they find it too upsetting to hear people question P, but then say that they’re leaving philosophy anyway because it’s too hurtful for them to go to a big conference where they will discuss whether Q while knowing that, somewhere else at the conference, there are people who don’t believe that P, well, that’s just ridiculous and we shouldn’t pander to that by expressing pity for such people within the discipline. We need to do better than that. If both sides acted that way, we’d never rationally assess any of the issues and decisions would be made on the basis of who gets pity from the most powerful people. That just isn’t philosophy.

People aren’t forcibly excluded from philosophy by the presence of disagreement on points they take to be fundamental. They are forcibly excluded from it by people who won’t hire them, won’t publish them, won’t invite them to present at conferences, and campaign to have them removed from the profession. To say otherwise is, quite simply, sophistry.

You say that the case of Stock must be treated differently because her published views are ‘hateful’. But you haven’t substantiated that claim (referring people to Twitter feeds without citing any instances is not mustering support), and it should be clear that ‘hateful’ is a loaded and subjective term that just invites an inconsistent application..Report

grad student
grad student
Reply to  Molly Gardner
2 years ago

Hi Prof. Kalef,

Thank you for the respectful engagement! But I think we’ve reached the bottom of where we disagree. You say:

“If it really were true that people are forced out of the discipline by the mere fact that they object strongly to what is being questioned or said…”
“But if people say P in a philosophical context… and then freak out because people argue that not-P or challenge the assumption that P, well, that just isn’t proper philosophical behavior.”
“People aren’t forcibly excluded from philosophy by the presence of disagreement on points they take to be fundamental.”

I agree that we have to be really careful about when we’re going to no-platform a view, and that it should be a last resort. I do not even think that all trans-exclusionary views necessarily deserve no-platforming.

But I also think it is definitely true that the presence of hateful ideas can constitute an unwelcoming environment. And I do think there is a way to draw a principled distinction between “is essentially hateful” and “merely happens to upset or offend me”. You seem to be agreeing with Thrasymachus that there should be essentially no limits whatsoever on philosophical discussion, but I think there is pretty obviously *no* merit to platforming arguments for the intellectual superiority of whites over blacks or men over women, for instance, when such arguments will certainly contribute to or create a bad environment for black and woman participants in philosophy, of whom there are already nowhere near enough. The hard question is where exactly to draw the line, but I believe strongly that it can’t be “nowhere”.Report

65H43Y
65H43Y
Reply to  Molly Gardner
2 years ago

Also there’s this assumption that harmful views and hateful views are coextensive. That requires an argument but I have never seen one.Report

Avalonian
Reply to  Molly Gardner
2 years ago

And if anyone is paying attention, here “hateful” is yet another concept designed to post-hoc rationalize exclusion! It requires no knowledge of the actual mental states of the person writing, you don’t need to speak to them or know them, you can just read some tweets, decide that they must be “hateful”, and then use the word to justify excluding them from the discipline in various ways. This can’t be the way to do this.Report

Molly Gardner
Molly Gardner
Reply to  Molly Gardner
2 years ago

Just to clarify: I am not appealing to my own subjective sense of what counts as hate speech, and I am not claiming to have read anyone’s mind. Twitter applies “objective” standards for hate speech, and they ban users who they judge to have engaged in it. Their bar for “hate speech” is absurdly low–you can consult Sam Barber’s Twitter thread for documentation of the kinds of comments that get you banned or suspended–but even by their low standards, they have never determined Dr. Stock to have engaged in hate speech. So again, the claim that she engages in “directly hateful” speech on Twitter is patently false.Report

Hey Nonny Mouse
Hey Nonny Mouse
Reply to  grad student
2 years ago

Isn’t arguing for any false moral or political opinion potentially harmful?Report

Kathleen Stock
Kathleen Stock
Reply to  Hey Nonny Mouse
2 years ago

Sorry, I’m having trouble with my browser and can’t seem to reply to grad student directly, but I just wanted – probably pointlessly – to take issue with the claim that Peterson is ‘one of my main targets’. (This is not to ignore the wider and more important discussion about balancing harms, but it seems to be well taken care of by others). Anyway, that is simply false. I realise that in the eyes of some, I’ve assumed monstrous proportions, such that what might look like ordinary enough, at most irritable tweets or pronouncements, when made by others, seem to blatantly scream of some hinterland of hatred and animosity when attached to my name. But really, from memory, I think I’ve engaged with CP a handful of times, and (I think) always reactively in response to some prior jibe or mischaracterisation or mockery. (The fact that she has a habit of changing her twitter handle to refer to things I’ve said more generally, or things that are connected to me, is also part of the story too, I think). If anyone can be arsed to do a comparison of the number of times she’s tweeted about me, explicitly or obliquely, versus the number of times I’ve tweeted about her, explicitly or obliquely, the former would far outweigh the latter. For most of the history of my tweeting about sex and gender, she’s blocked me so I couldn’t see it (and I don’t have a second account – life’s too short!) – she’s only recently unblocked me. Also – I know this is hard for some people to understand – I’m mostly not thinking about philosophers when I tweet! I’m in a huge public discussion in the UK with many stakeholders. I’m talking to lawyers, clinicians, people working in prisons, lobbying groups, those working in shelters and hostels, journalists, etc, not to mention academics from a huge number of fields.. This idea that I spend my life thinking about, and a fortiori, ‘targeting’ junior philosophers is honestly a rather self-obsessed fiction. A useful one no doubt, since to those who don’t follow me on twitter or read what I write closely I’m sure it is taken on trust. But it’s false. I have answered in an irritated fashion a few times to grad students – and you would too, believe me, if you were subjected to the constant needling I get below the line (which incidentally has escalated recently). It’s like death by a thousand paper cuts. But mostly I tune it out.Report

Kathleen Stock
Kathleen Stock
Reply to  Kathleen Stock
2 years ago

And just to add – to anticipate the snark – when CP was blocking me, I still saw that she was tweeting about me wherever someone then engaged with it in defence of me – you can see it from the handles of the people tagged.Report

grad student
grad student
Reply to  Kathleen Stock
2 years ago

I’m sorry to say that it’s never okay for a professor to respond to snark from a grad student by mockingly speculating about their mental health. And certainly you’ve not bothered to say anything about your colleagues who have piled on, taking their attacks to be on your behalf. A sincere apology would probably go a long way toward alleviating that impression of you.Report

Justin Kalef
Justin Kalef
Reply to  Kathleen Stock
2 years ago

grad student, have you ever seen what happens to people who apologize to these mobs today? The admission of guilt, even if only made half-sincerely for the purpose of making amends, is repeated ever after as clear evidence that the person is an admitted wrongdoer.

I’m all for making apologies to people, groups, and even the general public in most cases. But during a social panic, when agitators with extreme views are running around tearing others down in the service of some unquestionable social ideal, an apology tends to be taken as a sign of weakness by the mob, who will demand more and more.

If you think this is inaccurate, please point to one case of someone who has apologized for an ostensible offense against social justice in the past six or seven years and thereby been forgiven by the ring leaders. I just can’t think of a single case.Report

Arthur Greeves
Arthur Greeves
Reply to  Kathleen Stock
2 years ago

Let me say something you probably already know, Dr. Stock: your actions bear a lot of responsibility right now, so it is important to choose them carefully. A lot of people in the profession agree with many (though not necessarily all) of the points you are making, and we’re hoping to gradually be more open about that. But we also look at Leiter’s indecency lately and we worry that prominent supporters of gender critical views will “ruin it for everybody” (as they say in families with misbehaving children).

You’re more careful, but I’m not always sure if you’re careful enough. Aggressive rhetoric works well for a certain type of feminism, but I don’t think it works here. There are enough people in the profession that want open discussion of these issues that patience and firmness will be effective. Please don’t overextend yourself in a way that makes it harder to express that patience, even to people who may in your estimation deserve everything that comes to them.

Take this note in a spirit of a suggestion that totally might be way off base. But do consider it.Report

Oliver Traldi
Oliver Traldi
Reply to  Hey Nonny Mouse
2 years ago

What’s more, arguing for many true moral and political conclusions is potentially harmful as well!Report

Chris Surprenant
Chris Surprenant
2 years ago

I’m shocked. /sReport

Nicolas Delon
Nicolas Delon
2 years ago

I may be missing something, bit regarding (2): the fact that a minority reports feeling more hostility than a majority does ought not to be very surprising, whether their political ideology is left or right. I guess you could say the hostility comes prior to and help to explain the disproportionate representation of left/right, but since we don’t know that, (2) is not a particularly interesting finding.Report

Heath White
Heath White
2 years ago

Suppose we set aside methodological worries for a minute and take the survey at face value: Moderate-to-conservative members of the profession are in a minority; they experience hostility from their colleagues as a result of their views; they are reluctant to defend their views publicly due to fear of bringing that hostility down on themselves in some form; they are right to fear this because their left-leaning colleagues are willing to discriminate against them and indeed feel justified in doing so.

Would that be a serious problem for the profession? My view: yes. I’d be interested to hear the other side.Report

Kenny Easwaran
Reply to  Heath White
2 years ago

I’m not sure that we *can* set aside “methodological worries” here. I’m definitely interested in hearing other sides on topics that I’m interested in, particularly if there’s something interesting and coherent for them to say. But for most interesting philosophical questions, there aren’t exactly two sides, and even if there are, coding them as “left” or “right” politically often obscures more than it reveals.Report

Jay
Jay
2 years ago

When discrimination creeps there is no room for reasoning and healthy debates It’s no longer Philosophy.Report

Kenny Easwaran
Reply to  Jay
2 years ago

Surely discrimination in favor of truth and against falsehood, and in favor of right and against wrong, is the core of philosophy? The question is whether any of the political disputes line up with these ones.Report

Pre-tenure
Pre-tenure
2 years ago

“This is striking, because given the pervasiveness of explicit commitments to open-mindedness, and inclusiveness among philosophers, philosophy departments, and organizations, one would expect the opposite.”

Actually, if commitments to open-mindedness and inclusiveness are more highly correlated to “left-leaning” positions and individuals, then the outcomes claimed above (which do, granted, seem methodologically limited), would be exactly what one would expect. In other words, if you are committed to open-mindedness and inclusivity and the job-candidates, speakers, authors most often also promoting open-mindedness and inclusivity are left-leaning, then you would justifiably show positive bias to left-leaning individuals. Psychologist Jonathan Haidt’s book The Righteous Mind gives some reason to think this correlation does in fact exist.Report

Your Friendly, Neighborhood Marxist
Your Friendly, Neighborhood Marxist
2 years ago

I feel like the comments here, and the paper as well, miss the most obvious conclusion: left-leaning positions are superior to right-leaning ones.Report

Daniel
Daniel

This comment may have been intending as trolling, but on the assumption that it’s wasn’t, how is that conclusion supported by the study? Is it just the result that more philosophers lean left than right, combined with the background assumption that philosophers are reliable in their political judgments? Or does the stuff about willingness to discriminate also come into the picture? Is the idea that philosophers would only be willing to discriminate if the discrimination were warranted, so learning that philosophers are willing to discriminate against right-wingers provides evidence that discrimination against right-wingers is warranted? This isn’t meant to sound snarky or anything, I’m just not seeing how to connect the dots.Report

Justin Kalef
Justin Kalef

yfnMarxist, has it really been your experience of philosophy, over the last decade, that those on the political left and the political right have been equally welcome to present their views and that the philosophical community has open-mindedly considered the best arguments and objections on both sides before coming to a conclusion? That would be needed for your explanation of the phenomenon to be the best one.

I’m on the political left, but I must say I’ve been dismayed to see things go very much in the opposite direction, though the tide may be slowly turning back again.Report

Your Friendly, Neighborhood Marxist
Your Friendly, Neighborhood Marxist
Reply to  Justin Kalef
2 years ago

To be honest I was just going for the cheap laugh. But Tim Maudlin argues that philosophical progress is signalled by convergence (https://blogs.scientificamerican.com/cross-check/philosophy-has-made-plenty-of-progress/). Insofar as philosophers lean left, that suggests convergence, which suggests progress in the right direction.Report

Justin Kalef
Justin Kalef

yfnMarxist:

Convergence can have many causes.

On the story the evidence we’ve seen much of in philosophy (and academia more generally) these past few years seem to suggest, what’s happened is that higher education has become more and more hostile toward those who don’t accept a rather extreme (when compared with the rest of the population) set of views. We see, in the study in the original post, clear evidence that many of these people are openly hostile to those to their right. At this point, many people are even using their philosophy courses as platforms for indoctrination into a new leftist political ideology (as I repeatedly see, for instance, in a Facebook group I belong to dedicated to teaching philosophy). There is good evidence that many have openly done this for some time. It would be difficult to imagine all that failing to have an effect on the beliefs of those who choose to go on in philosophy. This, quite apart from any moral facts about the rightness or otherwise of the views in question, easily explains the growing convergence.

Another causal story — the one you suggest — seems to entail that philosophers continue to examine these moral and political issues in an entirely disinterested fashion, actively welcoming contributions by what begins as a wide spectrum of thinkers, only closing in on a set of ideological commitments (which just so happen to be identical with the ideological commitments expressed by non-philosophers dominating all other parts of academia, including most administrators, etc.) when the philosophical arguments warrant doing that.

I just don’t see any support at all for the second causal story.Report

David Wallace
David Wallace
Reply to  Justin Kalef
2 years ago

I’m always a bit perplexed by these accounts of people using their UG teaching to indoctrinate students into an ideology. I don’t actually know how I’d even start doing that, without the class laughing at me.
I mean, I wouldn’t do it anyway, because it’s screamingly obvious that it would a grossly immoral violation of my professional responsibilities, but I am curious sometimes as to what’s actually involved…Report

Hey Nonny Mouse
Hey Nonny Mouse

I think that the political opinions I hold are superior to the political opinions I don’t hold. But that’s no justification for me to discriminate against philosophers with different political opinions.Report

Nicolas Delon
Nicolas Delon
Reply to  Hey Nonny Mouse
2 years ago

Let’s say ‘select’ instead of ‘discriminate’, and let’s assume political opinions and philosophical views can overlap (sometimes significantly). Is it never appropriate to select a philosopher based on their political opinions when these overlap with a particular philosophical stance that you don’t want to see represented in your department. I mean, some jobs in recent years were not evidently meant for libertarians. The line between philosophical and political ideology in that case is blurry at best. Is that wrong for a department to want to hire a libertarian and therefore to not select, say, marxists? Or, say you hire in global justice and want someone with a pro-immigration egalitarian stance (set aside the libertarians who espouse such views and assume candidates would lean on the left). Neither of these realistic scenarios seem shocking to me. I’m genuinely trying to understand where to draw the line for a basis on which *not* to select for or against someone.Report

Adam Omelianchuk
Adam Omelianchuk
2 years ago

“I’m going to spend the rest of the day basking in the warm feeling I got when I saw my non-Nazihood affirmed in these comments.”
–Spencer Case

Best comment on DN this summer.Report

Tristan J. Rogers
2 years ago

Good on Prof. Weinberg for posting this, as I know there is skepticism about this issue in the profession, which itself seems to be a symptom of the problem identified by this study.Report

Hey Nonny Mouse
Hey Nonny Mouse
Reply to  Tristan J. Rogers
2 years ago

I’d like to second this, particularly in light of the fact the Prof. Weinberg has expressed skepticism in the past that signficant discrimination exists. A willingness to consider arguments for views we don’t accept is just what the profession needs! Kudos to Justin.Report

Space Oddity
Space Oddity
2 years ago

Despite myself being on the Marxist left, I do find this a serious problem in American academia especially, and I’m glad to see research being done on it. I’ve felt the need to be strangely public about my left-wing views because American philosophers don’t otherwise believe that someone who went to a mid-ranked Midwestern public school could be left-wing (surely somehow I am moderate or secretly right-wing — otherwise how did I go to public schools in the Midwest rather than private high schools in California and then an Ivy?). I’ve ended up feeling that there was almost nothing I could do to persuade coastal private schoolers in America that, yes, I am left-wing, without simply lying about where I was from. (I pretend to set aside the fact that, viewed in their true colors by global standards, those very people are themselves classically right-wing in virtue of their class condescension and assumptions about people from non-rich zip codes. I would speculate (unsurprisingly) that much of this has to do with the overrepresentation of people from the top of the class hierarchy in the profession, and the fact that being liberal (but not, I would suggest, left) is a status marker for some white people.)Report

Louis
Reply to  Space Oddity
2 years ago

Given, to take just one example, the important role played by the Univ. of Wisconsin/Madison in the history of the U.S. academic (and non-academic) Left, I don’t see how anyone minimally conversant with the history of U.S. academia in the 20th century could assume that having attended a public university in the Midwest (irrespective of its ranking) is a sign that one is not “on the left.” If there are indeed some philosophers who assume that, they need to revisit their assumptions.Report

A98B76
A98B76
2 years ago

I’m sorry, but the survey on which this entire discussion is based is unreliable, for a very simple reason: the link to the survey sent over the liverpool list did nothing to prevent people from filling out the survey more than once. Since we know that self-identified conservatives in philosophy believe they are discriminated against, and know from previous experience that they game such surveys (even Brian Leiter complains about such gaming of his various surveys), it is a very reasonable hypothesis that self-identified political conservatives filled out this survey multiple times, pretending to be liberals, so that they could ‘demonstrate’ a willingness to discriminate against conservatives. People lie to survey takers all the time anyway: at least design a survey mechanism that can’t be gamed this simply.Report

Christopher Gauker
Christopher Gauker
2 years ago

It is simply not legitimate to draw conclusions about the target population from a survey on a hot topic in which the participants select themselves. There is obviously good reason to doubt that the sample is representative. The topic is worthy of discussion, but this paper makes no worthy contribution. (A98B76, the possibility of taking the survey more than once is far from the main problem.)Report

Recent grad student
Recent grad student
2 years ago

Plenty of the methodological points made in this thread may well be reasonable. I have no technical expertise in this field, so I won’t comment on them.

But one quick observation: If a study using basically these methods came out that VINDICATED philosophers’ views/priors, would these philosophers spend the same amount of time/effort trying to pick holes in that study? In other words, is this study getting more scrutiny than, say, a study that finds evidence of implicit bias/discrimination against POCs in philosophy departments?

If this study IS being singled out for special scrutiny, that suggests some kind of bias is at play. Philosophers are trained to argue, and they will no doubt be able to find good reasons to question ANY empirical finding of this sort. But if they are unwilling to apply that same level of scrutiny to empirical work they are inclined to agree with, does that mean we should take their criticisms of this article with a grain of salt?Report

Philippe Lemoine
2 years ago

Recent grad student in the previous comment nailed it. For the past 10 years, there has been a whole industry of papers, books and conferences, not to mention blog posts, based on extrapolating from a few extremely weak studies on e. g. implicit bias and stereotype threat to draw wide-ranging conclusions about the underrepresentation of women in philosophy, among other things. Even if the underlying science had been robust, which it wasn’t, those conclusions would not have been justified. Yet, except for a handful of people who, until quite recently, were mostly crying in the wilderness and usually did so anonymously, I don’t recall many people raising the obvious problems with those claims. On the contrary, in many circles, they were more or less treated as established facts. Whatever scrutiny those claims were submitted to, it certainly didn’t prevent the aforementioned industry to flourish, nor did it prevent many people to build their careers on it. So it’s pretty telling that, when a study, which has problems like any study but is certainly no worse than the studies about implicit bias and stereotype threat philosophers have been blabbering about for more than 10 years, comes out suggesting that people in the field are discriminating against their colleagues for political reasons, philosophers immediately recover their critical faculties, which had hitherto been on a prolonged holiday.Report

A98B76
A98B76
Reply to  Philippe Lemoine
2 years ago

And you, by parity of reasoning, suddenly lose your critical faculties when it comes to this survey?Report

Philippe Lemoine
Reply to  A98B76
2 years ago

Nowhere in my comment do I say anything that implies it’s a bad thing to point out the methodological limitations of this study. It’s not my fault if you’re ascribing to me a view I never expressed.Report

Oliver Traldi
Oliver Traldi
Reply to  A98B76
2 years ago

Ah yes, the “parity” between a single DailyNous thread and over a decade of constant discussion, boycotts of conferences, cringing apologies, breathless attention paid to theories based around the research in question, impugning of the motives and character of critics, etc.Report

Thrasymachus
Thrasymachus
Reply to  Oliver Traldi
2 years ago

>a single DailyNous thread

http://dailynous.com/2014/12/22/lack-of-political-diversity-a-problem-2/
“Lack of Political Diversity: A Problem?”
By Justin Weinberg. December 22, 2014 at 10:37 am

http://dailynous.com/2015/08/26/political-bias-in-philosophy/
“Political Bias in Philosophy”
By Justin Weinberg. August 26, 2015 at 4:17 pm

http://dailynous.com/2017/09/19/response-conservative-guest-post-philippe-lemoine/
“Response From A Conservative (guest post by Philippe Lemoine)”
By Justin Weinberg. September 19, 2017 at 4:52 pm

http://dailynous.com/2017/09/18/political-uniformity-religion-philosophy/
“Political Uniformity and Religion in Philosophy”
By Justin Weinberg. September 18, 2017 at 9:08 am

http://dailynous.com/2019/02/13/professors-penalize-conservative-students/
“Do Professors Penalize Conservative Students?”
By Justin Weinberg. February 13, 2019 at 12:21 amReport

comeOnNow
comeOnNow
Reply to  Philippe Lemoine
2 years ago

I’m not a fan of the empirical stud*ies* on implicit bias and stereotype threat. But in that case, we are talking about a large body of psychological studies, carried over by many psychologists in labs around the world over decades. It’s no surprise that many philosophers interacted with that debate (again, in my judgment, a little too uncritically). So I think comparing the reaction to that literature to the reaction here is a little funny. Now, if you want to make a career out of the painful suffering of conservatives in the hands of philosophers, you might need to persuade a dozen more psychology labs to study this urgent form of oppression (because, HELP! SEND HELP!)Report

Philippe Lemoine
Reply to  comeOnNow
2 years ago

As I explicitly noted in my comment, even if the science on which philosophers who drew wide-ranging conclusions from studies on implicit bias and stereotype threat had been robust, those conclusions would not have been justified.

For instance, in the case of implicit bias, the first meta-analysis of the relationship between the IAT and various outcomes (https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/19586237) goes back to 2009. Although there is a lot to be said about this meta-analysis, which was rightly criticized by other social psychologists soon after its publication, it still showed that the effect sizes were very small. Yet this didn’t prevent many philosophers from ascribing to implicit bias quasi-magical powers for years after that. Indeed, even today when everyone should know better, many of them still do. The truth is that the claims philosophers made about the alleged consequences of implicit bias for more than a decade, and that some continue to make, were never justified by the psychological literature. Thank God philosophers don’t read it!

In the case of stereotype threat, it’s even worse, since usually philosophers were not even describing correctly the studies they used to draw wide-ranging conclusions. (To be fair, as Sackett et al. pointed out in 2004, they were not the only ones: https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/14736315.) Thus, even if this literature had replicated, we can hardly say that philosophers were relying on a large psychological literature. Most of them had clearly not read that literature. At least, I hope they had not, since otherwise it speaks poorly to their ability to understand scientific papers. Even if the results of studies on stereotype threat had been correctly described, which they weren’t, and if those studies had replicated, which they didn’t, there was a huge leap between those results and the kind of conclusions philosophers drew from them.

On the other hand, while the Peters et al. study is, to my knowledge, the first of its kind in philosophy, it can be seen as a replication of the study Inbar and Lammers published in 2012 about social psychology (https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/26168506), replicated in 2016 by Honeycutt and Freberg (https://journals.sagepub.com/doi/abs/10.1177/1948550616667617). Of course, those studies have limitations (some of which have been noted here), but they are consistent with a large and robust literature on politically motivated bias in general.

The connection between that literature and the underrepresentation of conservatives in academia is no more indirect than the connection between e. g. the literature on stereotype threat and the underrepresentation of women in philosophy. (The difference is that, unlike the latter, the former replicates.) So it’s a bit misleading to present it as an isolated study to contrast people who use it to draw wide-ranging conclusions about the underrepresentation of conservatives in philosophy with those who used the literature on stereotype threat and implicit bias to make similarly wide-ranging claims about the underrepresentation of women and minorities in academia.

Finally, even if I were inclined to make a career out of “the painful suffering of conservatives in the hands of philosophers”, I probably shouldn’t count on psychology labs to provide me with bullshit studies about anti-conservative discrimination (something they are more than happy to do in the case of discrimination against pretty much anyone else), because as the papers mentioned above suggest and as a familiarity with the social-psychological literature on political ideology amply confirms (see https://www.cambridge.org/core/journals/behavioral-and-brain-sciences/article/political-diversity-will-improve-social-psychological-science-1/A54AD4878AED1AFC8BA6AF54A890149F for some examples, but there is plenty more where that came from), social psychologists are no less prone to anti-conservative bias than philosophers…Report

comeOnNow
comeOnNow
Reply to  Philippe Lemoine
2 years ago

First, I was way too snarky yesterday. Apologies for that!
Second, your point is well taken.

(Also, good luck on the job market if you’re going to pursue an academic career! I don’t dare writing under my own name and I’m on the “right” side of these issues. I respect you for doing that. I hope people read your file just thinking about its academic merits.)Report

Philippe Lemoine
Reply to  comeOnNow
2 years ago

Thanks, and no worries, a little bit of snark never killed anyone!Report

Nicolas Delon
Nicolas Delon
Reply to  Philippe Lemoine
2 years ago

It is stunning how the response to methodological worries is a mocking tu quoque rather than a serious attempt to address the concerns on their own merits. What political tribalism?Report

CriticOfDailyNous
CriticOfDailyNous
2 years ago

Daily Nous itself is a factor contributing to the discrimination and hostility directed against conservatives. I’m surprised you posted this without explicitly considering this possibility.Report

Nicolas Delon
Nicolas Delon
Reply to  CriticOfDailyNous
2 years ago

Then you should find solace in the disproportionate upvotes that comments friendly to the study (and, I suspect, your views) receive on this thread (and generally on this blog). You’re clearly not alone, folks!Report

Jonathan Kendrick
Jonathan Kendrick
2 years ago

This entire study strikes me as profoundly silly. While I don’t think that Trumpism, xenophobia and misogyny thinly-disguised as a coherent political philosophy, is really worthy of serious philosophical engagement, I do think we should engage with those who are in favor of, say, limited government and free markets. However, the study lumps both Trump, and Adam Smith together under the same nebulous heading of “right.”Report

Hey Nonny Mouse
Hey Nonny Mouse
Reply to  Jonathan Kendrick
2 years ago

Are you suggesting that it would be ok to discriminate against a philosopher because they vote for Trump?Report

Jonathan Kendrick
Jonathan Kendrick
Reply to  Hey Nonny Mouse
2 years ago

I clearly didn’t say that. I think that the sort of apish trolling which Trump (and, for that matter, people like Boris Johnson and Marine Le Pen) pass off as conservatism is philosophically uninteresting, in that many policies are born, not out of serious reflection about values, but out of a desire to “own the libs.” (As a Marxist, I think traditional conservatives are wrong too, but at least there is an interesting debate to be had there.) However, even if Trump, and the New Right are pushing ideas that are vacuous, silly, and harmful, it doesn’t follow that no Trump voter could have interesting, well-reasoned philosophical views.Report

Regina Rini
Regina Rini
2 years ago

A question about the sample. Apparently 38% of participants were grad students, 5% post docs and another 7 % ‘other’. That means at least 50% of the sample are people who would not routinely have a role in hiring, grant proposal decisions, or most journal reviewing. That makes me wonder about the ‘willingness to discriminate ‘ items on those actions. I didn’t see anywhere in the paper breaking down wtd responses by rank. It would be interesting to know what proportion of the apparent effect is driven by people who are not actually making those decisons.Report

Philodorus
Philodorus
Reply to  Regina Rini
2 years ago

This is a good point, especially since (anecdotally) I’d think grad students are going to be more likely to discriminate than full professors or whatever. I fiddled with the supplementary data, here: https://osf.io/qd5fy/?view_only=aced37bbef6b44478c2f744920423187 and here’s what i found (although I’m not an expert or anything, so I could be bungling something).

1. Non-faculty as a group (i.e. post docs, grad students, undergrads, and other) have higher willingness to discriminate on every metric than faculty as a group (everybody else, i.e. full professor, associate professor, assistance professor, assistant lecturer/teaching assistant). That applies to every question, about both conservatives and liberals.

2. Excluding non-faculty reduces the difference between willingness to discriminate against conservatives and against liberals. That is, non-faculty, in addition to being more likely to be willing to discriminate period, also showed a larger difference than faculty in their willingness to discriminate against conservatives vs liberals.

3. Excluding non-faculty does not eliminate the difference between willingness to discriminate against conservatives and liberals. That is, faculty are still more likely to be willing to discriminate against a conservative than against a liberal. The average difference in WTD scores against conservatives and against liberals among everyone was ~.55. The average difference among faculty was just ~.42.

4. Similar things apply for the questions about whether discrimination is justified: non-faculty were more likely to say it was justified both against conservatives and against liberals, and the gap between their opinions on conservatives and on liberals was slightly larger than it was for faculty.

So I think you’re right that some of the effect is due to people who don’t matter (right now) for hiring/grant/referee decisions, but I guess if a difference in WTD of .55 was enough to make somebody wring their hands or whatever, they’re probably still be doing it with a difference of .42.Report

Uwe Peters
Uwe Peters
2 years ago

Hi all,

thanks so much for your feedback on the paper, and especially to Justin for discussing it here!

I wanted to come in earlier but was hiking in Poland until recently. There are too many comments now to respond, but let me just say a few words on two clusters of methodological worries (maybe Andreas wants to add things too).

[1] Re. terms too crude: (i) We actually highlight the issue in various places in the paper ourselves and offer some responses to it: when designing the survey we decided to check what political scientists say on the usefulness (or uselessness) of ‘left/right’ for an international survey. Political scientists found there is an overlap, internationally, when it comes to the meaning of these terms, and they take the terms to be useful for international comparisons (see p. 5f, 22f). That’s a big part of why we employed them too. If you look at the relevant studies, claims such as ‘we have *no* idea’ of whether people have the same sort of thing in mind when reading (politically) ‘left/right’ just seem false (see the paper for relevant references). (ii) Lots of terms have significantly different meanings across people but are still useful, e.g., because of Wittgensteinian ‘family resemblance’. Some argue that the same holds for ‘left/right’ across countries (see Cochrane 2015). We tend to agree. (iii) Even if there are various differences in meaning between, e.g., the US and Europe, our sample was mostly from Europe (residence; 67.1%), which further increases the likelihood of conceptual overlap. (iv) If respondents had taken ‘right’ to mean, say, ‘radically right-wing’ (e.g., ‘Nazi’), then in the absence of an ideological bias, they should have read ‘left’ as ‘radically left-wing’ (maybe ‘Stalinist’?) too. And I think overall, respondents’ willingness to discriminate against left and right should then have been balanced. But it wasn’t, which suggests that there was a bias at play, and that even if we can’t tell whether respondents read ‘right’ as ‘radically right-wing’, the results are still informative. I agree though (as everyone in the team) that the left-right distinction is simple and vague. But as we say in the paper, it seems to us that ideology is a complex phenomenon; exploring it with a coarse-grained, standard method (e.g., the left-right distinction) is *one* way – among others – of making progress with respect to elucidating it.

[2] Re. response rate, representativeness, games: The methods we used in the survey are pretty common in the social sciences. The worries about response rate, representativity and the like, aren’t misguided but are almost impossible to avoid in attitude surveys, and thus apply to almost all of the published work in this field. Also, we can’t know for sure that our survey has not been ‘gamed’, but we certainly have not seen any signs that it was gamed. More importantly, our findings with regard to the ideological distribution in philosophy are well in line with the results of related, previous studies, anecdotal evidence, and informal surveys (including Justin’s data) etc. Unless we assume that gaming is pervasive (which isn’t very plausible), I think the coherence between our data and these other findings itself suggests that the survey tracked real differences re. ideological bias/hostility etc., and that our sample isn’t especially unrepresentative. So given that there is some overlap in the meaning of the terms ‘political left’ and ‘right’ internationally, and that our results align with other related data, I think the paper’s findings should worry us a bit.

Regina and Philodorus, great points. (I think Skitka (2012) makes a similar one against Inbar and Lammers (2012).) We haven’t done the WTD-rank breakdown yet. We’ll do some further analyses on this. Send me an email if you like, and I’ll be in touch with the results. But I agree with Philodorus’ point toward the end, and more generally, even if most respondents aren’t (e.g., yet) decision-makers in the situations we presented them with, I think their WTD in those possible scenarios is still telling with respect to the ideological climate among philosophy students/non-faculty.Report

Jonathan Kendrick
Jonathan Kendrick
Reply to  Uwe Peters
2 years ago

“If respondents had taken ‘right’ to mean, say, ‘radically right-wing’ (e.g., ‘Nazi’), then in the absence of an ideological bias, they should have read ‘left’ as ‘radically left-wing’ (maybe ‘Stalinist’?) too.”

I find this response somewhat naive. In our current political moment, there is a marked asymmetry between the far-right and the far-left. The far-right in the U.S. and Europe is, in fact, populated with a fair number of Nazis, and people who are Nazi-adjacent (e.g., AfD, National Front, Freedom Party, Lega Nord, etc.) In contrast, the far-left in the U.S. and Europe isn’t even populated with communists, much less Stalinists, but rather with your standard socialist types like Melenchon, Sanders, and Corbyn.Report

Cees van Leeuwen
Cees van Leeuwen
2 years ago

As the editor of Philosophical Psychology, the journal which is publishing this paper, I have recently become aware of the current controversy. I have to dispute the claim that the paper is methodologically flawed. Of course, no empirical method is perfect; online surveys in particular are susceptible to problems like representativeness of the sample, response rates, etc. How one thinks of these shortcomings should be weighed against the available alternatives. That surveys are commonplace (as the first author states in their defense of the paper) may signify the infeasibility of alternatives.

So unless one thinks that online surveys should not be held at all (which some seem to imply), the questions should be, how well was this one conducted and how careful have the authors been avoiding overgeneralization?” With respect to the first, the authors follow closely an independently published study (Honeycutt & Freberg, 2017); the current study was preregistered and data are available online. Participants were invited through a common and widely used mailing list.

While there is generally no correlation between response rate and validity, response rates are low. Authors show awareness of these and other methodological limitations, such as “Lack of Gradients, and “Ambiguous Concepts”, and discuss them at length. All this, according to my judgment and that of the reviewers, amounts to best practice in the field (whether defined as social psychology, political psychology, or experimental philosophy). Moreover, authors are careful not to overgeneralize their claims. For instance, in the abstract, they state: “We found that survey participants clearly leaned left (75 %) …” There is no implication that 75 % of the population leans left. Here and elsewhere in the text they have clearly avoided such pitfalls, which renders some of the above objections moot. I recommend everyone to read the original paper as it offers food for thought, whether you agree with its conclusions or not.Report

Spencer
Spencer
2 years ago

I do belatedly, having basked more extensively than planned, want to make one point in response to the objection that perhaps conservative views and arguments are just objectively worse, potentially justifying discrimination. The thing is that philosophers often see rival philosophical views as absurd, not just political views, but metaphysical and epistemological views. Should we be willing to discriminate based on disagreements of this kind? I think probably not.

I would be interested to know to what extent philosophers would in fact discriminate based on these things. My hunch is that many probably would, but to a lesser extent than they would discriminate based on politics, because people tend to be more emotional and less objective about politics. But I don’t think that empirical work has been done. If it has, someone please point it out. Absent such research, we don’t know how much willingness to discriminate is political per se, as opposed to just being a reflection of a general tendency to favor those people we agree with.Report

Nicolas Delon
Nicolas Delon
Reply to  Spencer
2 years ago

That’s a plausible hypothesis. The existing literature most relevant to this may be research on political and moral polarization. Some recent examples (in relation to social media):

– Brady et al. (2017), Emotion shapes the diffusion of moralized content in social networks
https://www.pnas.org/content/114/28/7313

– Van Bavel and Pereira (2018), The Partisan Brain: An Identity-Based Model of Political Belief
https://www.cell.com/trends/cognitive-sciences/fulltext/S1364-6613(18)30017-2

And of course there’s work by Cass Sunstein. See his most recent ‘How Change Happens’, his forthcoming ‘Conformity’, and older work e.g., https://chicagounbound.uchicago.edu/law_and_economics/542/

Another possible factor at play is that the forming of moral and political opinions appears to require less expertise than, say, epistemology or metaphysics (the subject matter itself is no less complex, but it *appears* to be so). Everyone has an opinion about taxes, war, climate change, minimum wage, healthcare, and whatnot. Not everyone has a clear-cut opinion about coherentism, actualism or the ontology of holes (I, for one, am not confident I do). It thus lends itself to polarization much more easily than complex topics that—you’re correct—involve less affect. And because polarization and discrimination reinforce each other, the same factors are likely at play (just my hunch).Report

Spencer
Spencer
Reply to  Nicolas Delon
2 years ago

Of course, if you are one of the few people who has invested a career in studying the ontology of holes, your affective investment might be very substantial. I have strong feelings about meta ethical questions almost no one cares about.Report

Daniel
Daniel
Reply to  Nicolas Delon
2 years ago

David Lewis wrote a fun paper that presupposes that we don’t discriminate against people with absurd, false philosophical views (e.g., modal realism), and tries to offer a rational reconstruction of the practice, as the upshot of a kind of social contract. “Mill and Milquetoast.” Google will take you to a pdf, if you’re interested.Report

Michael Dickson
Michael Dickson
2 years ago

“In our current political moment, there is a marked asymmetry between the far-right and the far-left. The far-right in the U.S. and Europe is, in fact, populated with a fair number of Nazis, and people who are Nazi-adjacent (e.g., AfD, National Front, Freedom Party, Lega Nord, etc.) In contrast, the far-left in the U.S. and Europe isn’t even populated with communists, much less Stalinists, but rather with your standard socialist types like Melenchon, Sanders, and Corbyn.”

The problem with ‘the political spectrum’, in a nutshell. It’s a myth (albeit one with the potential for self-fulfillment), and an ugly one at that.

As long as people are willing to place ‘right-leaning’ folks on a spectrum that somehow points to Nazis at one end, the possibility of dialogue (much less mutual respect) is quashed. Decent ‘right-leaning’ people that I know (and of course it is hardly a univocal term) do not view their position in that manner. They do not merely find Nazism abhorant; they see it as fundamentally opposed to their basic foundational beliefs. There is no path from their position to Nazism.

The same goes. of course, mutatis mutandis, for ‘left-leaning’ folks.Report