Trade Publishers: You Need To Fact-Check Philosophy, Too


As you all know, Kant’s moral philosophy includes the idea of universalization. 

But did you also know that “this means that before we do something, we should ask ourselves if the act we are about to perform will be good for everyone involved”? No, of course you didn’t. Because it is not true. And not just not true. It’s not true in the way that, say, “vegans are vegetarians who also eat animals” is not true.

Why do I mention this? Because of this:

This is an excerpt from the book, When You Kant Figure It Out, Ask a Philosopher, written by Marie Robert, translated from its original French by Meg Richardson,* and published by an imprint of Little, Brown and Company. The excerpt was posted at LitHub.

How does this kind of basic error get past the editorial team at a major publishing company? How does this kind of basic error about Kant get published in a book that has “Kant” in the title?

I haven’t looked through the book, so I don’t know whether Robert corrects or clarifies these remarks elsewhere in it. Assuming she didn’t, this is a rather egregious error. Little, Brown and Company should be embarrassed.

More importantly, they and other major commercial publishing firms should recognize that the need for fact-checking extends to the realm of philosophy. Not all philosophical claims are the kind that can be fact-checked, but some are, and having philosophers employed or on call to consult with may help prevent the publication of basic and misleading errors such as this one.

*The original version of this post neglected to mention that the book and excerpt was translated from its original French into English. (11/17/19)

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Caligula's Goat
Caligula's Goat
1 year ago

It’s not that I don’t agree with you, Justin, about shaming Little Brown for missing such a basic basic mistake. What I wonder is how you aren’t also, simultaneously, intending to shame the books author, a young (33) woman for whom this appears to be her first book and whose only credentials, that I could find, appear to be that she has an instagram account (@philosophyissexy), lacks a graduate degree in philosophy, and teaches Montessori. You’ve often, in the past, tried to be protective of women, young scholars, and minorities in the field so I’m wondering, in this case, if you could show the moral math that led you to think it’s okay to do this to someone.

I should note, at the outset, that: 1) I’m serious about this question – this is not a troll question; 2) I agree with you that both the publisher and author should be held up as bad examples of good philosophical practice but I’ve also, historically, not been impressed by the arguments against publicly critiquing young (i.e. mid 20s – mid 30s) philosophers for their bad work. Report

A*
A*
Reply to  Caligula's Goat
1 year ago

“… this is not a troll question”

Yes it is.Report

Caligula's Goat
Caligula's Goat
Reply to  A*
1 year ago

“No, it’s not.” I’ve been posting on DN for literally years in good faith. Report

A*
A*
Reply to  Caligula's Goat
1 year ago

You (a) note that the book’s author does not appear to have any philosophical credentials, (b) note that Justin has a policy of not punching down when young philosophers make mistakes, and (c) challenge him to reconcile (a) and (b).

Thing is, the answer’s super obvious. The point of (a) is to stop people of any age *w/o* basic competence from promulgating really basic errors in their ignorance. The point of (b) is to make our field hospital for people *w/* basic competence who are understandably still finding their way. Ain’t no tension there.

So you’re asking an obvious question that (predictably) invites a fight about “protecting” young scholars–an issue you know to be a flashpoint. I appreciate your past good faith. But this is a functionally a troll move, whether you intend it as one or not.Report

A*
A*
Reply to  A*
1 year ago

Oh … just saw that the author is a PhD student. That complicates things. Still, there’s a pretty clear difference b/w calling out basic, boiling-water type mistakes and the sort of punching down Justin typically objects to. Eliding that difference to invite a fight about “protecting” young scholars is still a troll move.
Report

Caligula's Goat
Caligula's Goat
Reply to  A*
1 year ago

That this graduate student can now be known as that person called out by Justin Weinberg for making “boiling-water” water mistakes in a book she published that was edited by her brother…is punching down. Impossible to see how it isn’t given who Justin is and given who Marie is.

Maybe you agree with me and think that, in this case, it’s *justified.* I certainly think so. But then the question is, why is it okay in this case? When some of us criticized the MAP post, for example, for relying on egregiously bad methodology for its data, some came to their defense not by defending the data but by defending their vulnerable status as grad students and minorities. It’s Justin’s blog so he can, as always, do whatever he likes but I appreciate that he has, in the past, been okay with being held to account (something Leiter has never done). This isn’t trolling and, in fact, the quick appeal to trolling, the quick appeal to reasons that are obvious (but unstated), are things I’d expect on that other blog and not here. Report

A*
A*
Reply to  Caligula's Goat
1 year ago

If I could undo my last post I would–the fact that the author is a PhD student complicates things more than I acknowledged. Apologies on that front.

But your first post–when you thought the author was an outsider to academic philosophy–is still a troll move for the reasons cited above. You kind of gettiered your way into a reasonable point.Report

LF
LF
Reply to  Caligula's Goat
1 year ago

Can someone explain wtf ‘punching down’ means?Report

Caligula's Goat
Caligula's Goat
Reply to  A*
1 year ago

Hi A*, I’ll explain my reasoning because I really did not intend to “troll” Justin with my initial post (trolling at least as I understand it, requires intending to cause disruption or sow chaos for its own sake – happy to be corrected). I listed the author’s credentials for two reasons:

1. I (really and truly) thought that perhaps Justin felt okay with publicly shaming the author on the basis that he did not think it responsible for an publisher to publish a philosophy book, even a pop philosophy book, written by someone without the right credentials. It’s true that her being a graduate student complicates things – though not on the basis of that initial concern. One motivation for listing those credentials then was an attempt at reconstructing, on Justin’s behalf, one reason why ridicule might be merited.

2. I myself think that someone like #1 is defeasibly true. Obviously, mere credentials aren’t important but only philosophers should publish books on philosophy and, while being a philosopher doesn’t require a PhD or even a formal education (see most of the “canonical” figures), it does require a history of sustained and serious engagement with philosophical ideas – which the author may or may not have. So another motivation was to see if others thought that something like #1 might be true.

There is, of course, the wider discussion, mentioned at the end of my OP about whether it is ever appropriate to critique younger philosophers that I think Justin’s post participates in and hence that it is fair game to ask questions about. Report

A skeptic
A skeptic
Reply to  Caligula's Goat
1 year ago

“When I use the phrase ‘punching down’, it means just what I say it does: neither more nor less.”

-Humpty DumptyReport

M
M
Reply to  A skeptic
1 year ago

“punching down” means PUNCHING DOWN.
– Paul HorwichReport

Amr
Amr
Reply to  Caligula's Goat
1 year ago

“…whose only credentials, that I could find, appear to be that she has an instagram account (@philosophyissexy)…”
It doesn’t look like you *really* looked though. A quick google search lets us know she actually has a B.A. and an M.A. in philosophy, and is currently a PhD student in philosophy.
I refuse to comment on the rest of what you’ve written, because we’re not supposed to feed etc.Report

Caligula's Goat
Caligula's Goat
Reply to  Amr
1 year ago

Fair enough Amr. But I’m not sure how your additional information modifies my question. In some ways…it seems to make the situation even more awkward since she’s a young, vulnerable, graduate student being called out for writing bad Kant in a book. Report

Led
Led
Reply to  Caligula's Goat
1 year ago

Let’s do adult authors the credit of assuming that they can handle some public criticism of their public, published, populace-facing work. Good gravy. Report

David's Humerus
David's Humerus
Reply to  Caligula's Goat
1 year ago

It seems to me that there is a pretty straightforward reply to your question, CG. Authors are going to make mistakes sometimes , and it is an editor’s job to spot them and fix them (or to have reviewers who can spot them and fix them). Assuming this isn’t a translation error, then it looks like Robert made a mistake. What kind of mistake? I don’t know. Maybe she just picked a phrase that doesn’t convey what she intended it to convey and then missed it in subsequent readings because when we know what we meant to say, it’s hard for us to notice that we actually said something else. This is a known authorial blindspot, and she needn’t be embarrassed by it because the whole point of the editorial process is to catch mistakes that an author is not in an optimal position to spot on their own. And since that is the whole point of the editorial process, it is the editorial team that should be embarrassed.Report

Nicole
Nicole
Reply to  David's Humerus
1 year ago

I totally agree with David.

Plus, the whole glass-houses thing. Only the people who’ve never publicly said or written an error of any kind have any business finding Marie’s error “shameful.” And even they should be more charitable.

For everyone else, it’s just a sympathetic chuckle of “oh boy! BTDT!” and an opportunity to decide to do better for ourselves and anyone whose work we edit in the future.Report

Marilyn Piety
Reply to  Caligula's Goat
1 year ago

I once read a book on legal ethics that was also horribly wrong on Kant. The author was trying to explain how it was possible to reconcile the fact that an attorney could have a professional responsibility to try to convince a jury that a witness was lying that the attorney happened to know was telling the truth with his or her duty not to participate in the perpetration of a fraud upon the court. The author invoked Kant but said while at the level of individual behavior, Kant was a deontolgist, at the level of moral rules, he was a pragmatist (meaning that while the rule that attorneys could actually try to mislead juries in their clients’ interests might not serve justice in individual instances, it would in general). I kid you NOT! How did that ever get by the publisher. I’ll tell you. Publishers don’t know enough about the various subjects on which they publish books to be able reliably to pick competent referees. They often just go by who seems popular in a particular field, or by someone they happen to know. It’s sad, but I’ve seen some incredibly bad stuff come out of Oxford and Cambridge, not to mention lower-tiered publishers.
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Caligula's Goat
Caligula's Goat
Reply to  Justin Weinberg
1 year ago

Absolutely respect this Justin. Thanks for taking the time to respond. Report

Tomas Bighetti
Tomas Bighetti
1 year ago

What nonjargony language would you propose instead, in a book addressed to people who have zero training in philosophy, and hence are not familiar with the philosophical concept ofnthe universal? To make it extra challenging, you cannot exceed the same number of characters she uses. Report

Amr
Amr
1 year ago

I see that the book was originally published in French and subsequently translated into a bunch of other languages. Then we wonder: why hasn’t the original editor (at Flammarion) screen for basic mistakes? The answer to this question may lie somewhere in the vicinity of this (from the author’s Wikipedia page):
“Son frère Guillaume Robert est directeur littéraire chez Flammarion et son éditeur.”Report

Neil Levy
Neil Levy
1 year ago

I wondered whether this might be a translation error, rather than an error by the author, and checked the French on Amazon.fr. It’s not a translation error: Robert writes “En somme, avant d’executer quelque chose, il faut se demander si notre acte sera bonne pour tous.” But then I noticed an ambiguity in the French: to say something “sera bonne pour tous” might mean “will have the best consequences for all” or it might mean “is recommendable for all”. I think this same ambiguity is present in the English, though I couldn’t see until I read the French. So I think it is a mistake to think she’s made a crass error: she’s guilty of nothing more than some misleading phrasing.

I wrote three trade books at a similar stage of my career. I am too scared to look at them now. I doubt they’re free of worse problems.Report

Sergio Tenenbaum
Sergio Tenenbaum
Reply to  Neil Levy
1 year ago

No matter how much I squint, I can’t see an acceptable reading of “good for everyone involved”. The French doesn’t seem to have “involved” and perhaps there’s more room there for some hyper charitable reading.Report

Neil Levy
Neil Levy
Reply to  Sergio Tenenbaum
1 year ago

I don’t think this is a hyper charitable reading. It’s a bit of a gestalt shift: once you see that sometimes we do use “good for” in this way, you can’t unsee it. “Involved” doesn’t help, which is perhaps why I had to read the French to see it.Report

Alan White
Alan White
Reply to  Neil Levy
1 year ago

Neil’s point is excellent here, even if one doesn’t more strongly invoke Quinean indeterminacy of translation.Report

Kris Rhodes
Kris Rhodes
Reply to  Sergio Tenenbaum
1 year ago

So then it’s a translation error right? The original doesn’t mean good for all involved.Report

Neil Levy
Neil Levy
Reply to  Justin Weinberg
1 year ago

Good for sceptics…. Think about this kind of common locution:

“an infusion of chamomile Is considered good for all ailments.”*

It’s not saying that chamomile will in fact cure all ailments, much less that my taking such an infusion would cure your problem. Rather, it’s saying that taking such an infusion is a universalisable response to illness.

*(This information provided for educational purposes only and does not take account of your individual circumstances. Consult your physician if symptoms persist).

Report

Sergio Tenenbaum
Sergio Tenenbaum
Reply to  Neil Levy
1 year ago

Neil, I appreciate the effort here, but the chamomile case convinces me that there is really no acceptable reading. This is just an instance of the confusion (there is no path from the use of “good for” that allows you to generalize from, say, “tylenol is good for headaches” to “tylenol is actually good for all aches” to interpreting the original sentence as an acceptable reading of FUL ).

On the other hand, I’ll definitely try chamomile for my pulled muscle!

There are indeed a number of people who interpret Kant as a consequentialist or collapsing into consequentialism. I deeply disagree with them but they do not make this kind of mistake when reading FUL.

Having said all that , I do agree that there’s not much point in picking on this author or this book. Popular books often say bizarre things about various philosophers, and many other disciplines (open any book on homeopathy and you’ll find very interesting things about quantum entanglement). Checking quotes might be good; anything beyond that seems to me in the realm of editorial judgment (which, depending on the book . plausibility of the interpretation of a certain philosopher will be at best a minor consideration). Report

Sergio Tenenbaum
Sergio Tenenbaum
Reply to  Sergio Tenenbaum
1 year ago

Neil I just saw you make a similar point below, so I guess we roughly agree on the upshot… Report

Nicolas Delon
Nicolas Delon
Reply to  Justin Weinberg
1 year ago

I’m with Neil here. The phrasing is no doubt ambiguous but that’s likely poor phrasing—and the whole excerpt is par for the course, frankly. “Bon pour quelqu’un” can mean a number of things in French, and when it characterizes an act, it’s typically to mean “moral”, “virtuous”, “permissible”, rather than “beneficial.” She’s being imprecise, hand-wavy, in a probably not very good pop philosophy book meant to be read on the beach by people who will not read any more philosophy. They’ll forget what they’ve read about Kant before too long anyway. They’ll remember something like ‘reason good, passion bad’ (look at the whole excerpt). Sure, that’s unfortunate, but I’ve seen worse among professional philosophers publishers in respectable peer-reviewed journals.

Also, as others have pointed out, interpretations of Kant as a closet consequentialist are not unheard of (although I doubt that’s what she means), and it’s not like Kant was exactly the most lucid, unequivocal writer around. Report

Kate Norlock
Kate Norlock
Reply to  Justin Weinberg
1 year ago

Surprised to see you so swiftly set aside Neil’s excellent points about the ambiguity of the original French sentence, Justin. How does “the French is ambiguous” seem like a real long-shot?
This whole story looks like a rush to judgment that was predicated on assuming the English translation was exactly what the author originally wrote. It is not. How is it not obvious that you were hasty, and wrong insofar as you were hasty?Report

Nicolas Delon
Nicolas Delon
Reply to  Justin Weinberg
1 year ago

Justin, your initial criticism didn’t even mention that the book was translated, which naturally led us to assume your criticism was aimed at Robert (and the publisher). Why Robert? Because the OP is literally about what she allegedly wrote. No one is denying that your criticism is also aimed at the publisher, but there’s no denying either that you should at least qualify your initial statement.

It’s okay. Even professional philosophy blogs can make mistakes. We’re here to fact-check!Report

JCM
JCM
1 year ago

This is true and I am for hire.Report

Neil Levy
Neil Levy
1 year ago

Regardless of whether you agree with me that Robert did not make a bad error or not, the title of this post is misleading. Saying that publishers need to fact-check philosophy *too* implies that they fact-check non-philosophy. They do not (except for checking for liability issues when the book concerns a living figure). In the wake of a number of recent embarrassing incidents, like Naomi Wolf’s misinterpretation of some 19th century legal jargon, this has been much discussed (the irony is Wolf had her book fact-checked by someone she had good reason to regard as an expert). As a matter of fact, fact-checking is the author’s responsibility, not the publishers.

https://www.npr.org/2019/06/08/730898366/checking-facts-in-nonfiction

https://www.vox.com/culture/2019/1/15/18182634/jill-abramson-merchants-of-truth-fact-checking-controversyReport

Rollo Burgess
Rollo Burgess
1 year ago

I’m not really sure that a ‘charitable reading’ is warranted, this quote seems basically to make Kant a consequentialist, so unless this book contains a groundbreaking argument that this is in fact so, then it’s just wrong. (I don’t know, as I haven’t read it, and most likely won’t as there are hundreds of books about Kant that I haven’t read and that I would read first before getting round to this one).

More generally, I don’t see how any nonsense about ‘punching down’ is applicable; if someone publishes a book about a subject they hold themselves up as an expert and it is appropriate to treat them as such. Report

callum
callum
1 year ago

The french is ambiguous. Report

Kris Rhodes
Kris Rhodes
Reply to  callum
1 year ago

Exactly, I’m a little confused on why there’s even an issue anymore as it seems clear the French is ambiguous and allows for a perfectly acceptable reading. It seems like we have here a translation error probably due to the translator not knowing Kant.Report

driftinCowboy
driftinCowboy
1 year ago

Kudos to Marie Robert for having the courage to produce a trade book at such an early stage in her career.Report

Sam Duncan
Sam Duncan
1 year ago

I think calling Robert out for this is pretty jerky in two ways: 1. I agree with Nicolas Delon and some other posters that while this isn’t right it’s not as stupid as it’s being made out to be. The first part isn’t as clear as it could be but is unobjectionable. The second’s the offending bit and while it’s wrong as it is; I can squint and see what she was trying to get at. 2. She’s an early career scholar and it’s a popular book. God help us all if someone started taping our lectures and putting what we say in explaining Kant (or Aristotle or Mill) up on the web to be ridiculed by the public or if they did the same thing to the first paper we published. And God help us all if someone started calling us out for things we wrote, even things we published, in grad school. Look I take it that this is probably a mistake or oversight but I do think one of the ways Daily Nous is better than Leiter’s Blog is that you usually don’t bully or positively revel in hierarchy and status. This is of course isn’t Leiter level stomping on the weak but that’s faint praise indeed and I do usually expect better here. What’s gained by picking on this author and this book? I’m sure you can find errors in more prominent books by more prominent authors. (If not may I suggest Russell’s A History of Western Philosophy? The ways Robert gets Kant wrong pale in comparison with some of the stuff Russell said about him and pretty much everything he said about Kant).
One more substantive point: At what point does fact checking become just blocking someone’s interpretation? This passage here is on the error side I suppose and at the least it needs to be clarified. But I’m quite certain that trendy constructivist readings of Kant that make everything turn on hypothetical consent are wrong. But I couldn’t blot out an explanation of Kant in these terms on a fact check could I? At the very least I shouldn’t. I do think the editing failed the writer here but my point is editors are in a tough spot too in deciding what’s a difference in interpretation and what’s a mistake in fact.Report

Nicolas Delon
Nicolas Delon
Reply to  Sam Duncan
1 year ago

Thank God Nietzsche didn’t get his Kant fact-checked. Report

Kate Norlock
Kate Norlock
Reply to  Justin Weinberg
1 year ago

Is that why you’re ignoring the fact that the original French is ambiguous, because you are taking umbrage at accusations of punching down? So you’re just doubling down on how right you are?
Fwiw, your original post is hasty, predicated on assumptions that you should reconsider. Not all of us think you’re doing objectionable things to authors. Some of us just think you’re behaving in a way oddly resistant to the evidence that you have overstated the case for tweeting and blogging about how outrageous the statement is, now that you have been advised it is a translation and likely a poor one.Report

Sam Duncan
Sam Duncan
Reply to  Justin Weinberg
1 year ago

My claim was that your behavior was jerky and of course one can behave like a jerk and one can even be a jerk without that being one’s aim. In fact, in the few instances I’ve had to call students for being jerks (never in those exact terms mind you) their defense has always been that that’s not what they intended and me and whoever they were being a jerk too is just overly sensitive. It’s not one’s aim that justifies the description but the fact that one’s not showing due regard for others.
To my mind putting an error in anyone’s book out on the internet to be mocked is cruel behavior and needs some pretty good justification. If this were say some libertarian making basic mistakes of economic or historical fact as they are wont to do (i.e. the minimum wage is shown to kill jobs, the commons were a disaster) to support their pet policies that would be one thing. That sort of stuff is pernicious in that it does have the potential to do harm by supporting bad policy. So calling it out has a useful social function. If it were say some notoriously nasty member of the profession it might even be justifiable to just give him a taste of his own medicine. That would be petty but not beyond the pale. But I fail to see any reason that this is important enough to put it up there for public ridicule. One more point: Could you imagine putting this up if the book were some prominent member of the profession? Even if it were one by a popular press? There are a few philosophers it’s trendy to dump on so I suppose I can see this if it were say Roger Scruton but if a mistake or I would say misstatement of this sort found it’s way into a book by say David Chalmers or Timothy Williamson I don’t think in a million years that you’d put it up here as an example of sloppiness. And it’s not as though basic errors of fact don’t make it into books by elite presses. I haven’t actually seen any in Chalmers or Williamson’s stuff (I’m just picking those guys randomly as big names) but just last year I found an error of fact that three minutes worth of Googling would set right in a recent philosophy release by Oxford. (No I’m not going to name the book or author. That would be pretty jerky after all without better reasons than I have). So with that in mind whatever your intentions it seems to me the academic hierarchy is at least part of the reason you singled out this particular book by this particular author.Report

Justin Kalef
Justin Kalef
Reply to  Sam Duncan
1 year ago

In reply to Sam Duncan:

There are interesting issues here. On the one hand, if we don’t hold each other to standards of accuracy, etc., we put the credibility of the discipline at risk. Actually, if we adopt an ‘anything goes’ attitude whenever standing on disciplinary standards and demanding rigor or precision might lead to someone’s embarrassment, I’m not sure what basis we’d have of continuing to expect taxpayers and others to foot the bill for our work and studies. The whole point of what we do, after all, is to critically assess views and arguments and help others do the same work. On the other hand, I agree that we should not gratuitously cause others humiliation or other discomfort. The conversation about where to draw the line seems worth having.

I have yet to see, though, a plausible model for drawing that line. It’s admittedly very difficult, but little of the discussion seems to reflect that. Instead, principles tend to be trotted out, or implied, with an air of confidence when there are big questions to be raised about them. So permit me, please, to speak critically by example of a few things you say in your public criticism of Justin Weinberg for publicly criticizing someone else, just as others still might come and publicly criticize me here.

1) “To my mind putting an error in anyone’s book out on the internet to be mocked is cruel behavior and needs some pretty good justification.”

But notice, please, that that wording is rather loaded. It seems to imply that the person noting the error on the internet is doing so with the _intention_ of prompting others to mock the book and its writer. But any time one points out an error in public, the person who has apparently made the error can be mocked; and those who are unhappy with this actual or anticipated mockery will be apt to read those intentions into the pointing out of the error. If that reading licences them to accuse the person who pointed to the error as ‘cruel’, then things will get pretty chaotic and acrimonious pretty quickly.

2) “If this were say some libertarian making basic mistakes of economic or historical fact as they are wont to do (i.e. the minimum wage is shown to kill jobs, the commons were a disaster) to support their pet policies that would be one thing. That sort of stuff is pernicious in that it does have the potential to do harm by supporting bad policy.”

I’m sure that _you_ feel that libertarian views and arguments on minimum wage are “basic mistakes of economic or historical fact”, and that the policies they support are bad. But libertarians could say the same thing, presumably, about your own views and arguments on that issue. So what principle are you proposing? Is it “Anyone may criticize any view he or she takes to be pernicious and poorly thought through”? Or is it “Libertarians can and should be publicly criticized, but not those with ‘better’ views”?

3) “If it were say some notoriously nasty member of the profession it might even be justifiable to just give him a taste of his own medicine.”

How is one to determine which members of the profession are sufficiently nasty? Do we each determine this subjectively? Probably not, since you use the word ‘notoriously’. That suggests that the criterion depends at least in part on popular opinion. But whose opinion? The opinion of the profession as a whole? The opinion of the most powerful people in the profession? How does one determine whether the subject of one’s intended correction meets the criterion?
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Sam Duncan
Sam Duncan
Reply to  Justin Kalef
1 year ago

If your rejoinder is “If I were really trying to be jerk this would be way worse, therefore I’m not a jerk” then that still rests on an assumed premise of “One is only being a jerk if one intends to be” which is of course exactly what I denied. But let’s just take a step back. The whole tone of this original post was just snarky and derisive. You can try to cloak it in scholarly seriousness but that doesn’t wash since as you admit you didn’t bother to read the book or even the relevant sections. The intention of mockery seems pretty clear to me but even if it wasn’t you’re hardly doing any sort of due diligence or careful consideration of the work or its claims. She may well explain Kant in ways that clear this up and I’d bet you a pretty hefty chunk of change she does. Given all that accusing this publisher and author of sloppiness and lack of concern for basic facts is pretty clear case of criticizing the mote in someone else’s eye and ignoring the beam in your own. As you well know all of us simplify philosophers in our lectures, especially on the first gloss, and then generally qualify and fill that in to give a better picture. For instance, I think reducing the categorical imperative to hypothetical consent is wrong, but even I usually start by explaining it in those terms that since that’s a decent way to get something like the basic idea into terms they can understand. So we’d all look like fools if someone cherrypicked some offending line from lecture and presented in isolation. This is pretty much the same thing.
One final point and I’ll leave this alone: I get so tired of philosopher’s falling back on that tired “rigor” line anyone suggests we treat people a bit more decently or charitably. Even if rigor is a virtue (and I’m not so sure it is given that Kierkegaard, Zhuangzi, and arguably Plato didn’t seem to put a lot of stock in it) it’s not the only intellectual virtue relevant to philosophy. Intellectual charity seems as important if not more so. This performance certainly doesn’t show any of that. Also, I’d wager the more than justified impression that people have that academic philosophers are jerks and bullies is a way bigger threat to our continued taxpayer support than is say the perception that we lack “rigor” (whatever that’s supposed to be anyway).Report

Justin Kalef
Justin Kalef
Reply to  Sam Duncan
1 year ago

Hi, Sam. Was this meant to be a response to me? Or did you inadvertently click reply on my post? I really can’t tell. I didn’t say anything at all in defense of the original post, nor did I say (or think) anything like “If I were really trying to be jerk this would be way worse, therefore I’m not a jerk.’ Were you responding to someone else?Report

Sam Duncan
Sam Duncan
1 year ago

Sorry I meant what Russell said about Hegel. Where’s my fact checker when I need him?Report

WiseGuy
WiseGuy
Reply to  Sam Duncan
1 year ago

oh but also what he said about Kant! And well, what he said about the entire medieval philosophy. Why does anyone take that Russell book seriously??

(Answer: WHITE PEOPLE!)Report

Jean
Jean
1 year ago

Actually, the book looks kinda fun. Chapter One, Spinoza Goes to Ikea. https://www.littlebrownspark.com/titles/marie-robert/when-you-kant-figure-it-out-ask-a-philosopher/9780316492522/#module-whats-inside . How terrible would it be if the author exposed people to varieties of philosophical thinking in an amusing way and misled them about a few basic facts about who said what? To academic philosophers it’s ghastly but given the purpose of the book, maybe not so terribly bad. p.s. I am neither the author nor her publicist.Report

Grad Student
Grad Student
1 year ago

As someone who researches Kant, this post strikes me as really unfair to Robert.

First, if we were to purge every interpretation of Kant that was egregiously wrong in this way, I’d wager that about 90% of the literature, including the most famous and widely cited literature, would vanish. There are people on this very forum whom I have recently seen write things about Kant that I thought were deeply misguided despite my respecting other work they have done on the subject.

Second, we need to seriously ask if the proposed higher standard of editorial review would be a good thing. I find all of the appalling errors and misinterpretations concerning Kant’s moral philosophy to be infuriating, but I’m still glad that literature exist. I wouldn’t want a publisher adjudicating what I can or cannot assert about Kant’s moral theory. Good editing is awesome, and publishers have a right to not publish a given author’s work if it doesn’t meet their in-house standards, but an editor shouldn’t intervene in a debate or serve as gatekeeper in the way Justin seems to envision.

Third, and as other have pointed out, this is obviously just a pop book that’s trying to get people interested in the subject. Do we really need to hold Robert to higher standards than we held HJ Paton to?

Fourth, and importantly, there’s a clear way to read Robert’s assertion that is not obviously wrong about the CI: if “good for everyone involved” is taken to mean something like “promotes their freedom” or “is consistent with their innate right,” then the right action will be the one that takes each person seriously as an end in herself. If we value the importance of each person as an end in herself, and so similarly treat the ends she in turn sets as important in virtue of their being the ends of a rational being equal in status to our own, then we will be caring about what is good for her (and every other). Certainly we needn’t adopt her ends as our own, but we must respect and promote them in certain ways. We must consider her good as a rational agent consistent with our own.

Perhaps this is a very contentious view. But it’s not obviously wrong. The real problem is that Robert’s claims are highly ambiguous between straightforwardly incorrect readings (e.g., “We just need to maximize the satisfaction of everyone’s desires” or “We just need to follow the golden rule”) and tendentious though still plausible readings. Again, I don’t think it is within the purview of editorial discretion to adjudicate such debates, even if this were a specialist book, which it isn’t.

Quite frankly I was shocked that Justin would post such an uncharitable, malicious attack on a woman scholar simply for writing what is obviously a fun-loving popular piece meant to attract those who might otherwise never care about philosophy. I don’t love books with this aim. In fact, I tend to dislike them quite a bit. But I sure as heck wouldn’t publicly shame someone for writing such a book. And I definitely wouldn’t publicly shame a woman scholar who is apparently a grad student after I repeatedly and publicly claimed that punching down in this way was inappropriate.

So how does a book about Kant allow for such claims to be published? There’s an obvious answer here: when the title is only using Kant’s name to make a tired and cringe-inducing pun. It’s just not all that important to concern ourselves with every detail of Kant scholarship in that case.Report

Nicole
Nicole
1 year ago

Well, Justin, looking at some of these comments, I think we see part of why Leiter just doesn’t allow comments 90% of the time. The irony in some posts about being charitable while condemning you rather harshly is pretty stark.

In any case, I don’t quite understand the impulse to shield even a grad student from any and all criticism. While we may make certain allowances for error or missteps by inexperienced persons, grad students are no longer children and really should be respected enough to point out errors. It’s rude and paternalistic to infantilize them.

Or (worse) the suggestions that we ought not try to hold the profession to certain standards. That, to me, presents a more egregious error than any misstatement (through translation or otherwise) of Kant’s ethics ever could be.

It seems clear to me that it is possible and actually usually the case in the profession at large to civilly comment on and critique each other’s work. Report

Nicolas Delon
Nicolas Delon
Reply to  Nicole
1 year ago

I’m confused, Nicole, and can’t quite square this comment with your previous comment above.Report

Nicole
Nicole
Reply to  Nicolas Delon
1 year ago

There’s a difference between recognizing the necessity of critique as well as challenging yourself/the entire profession to self-betterment, and finding mistakes to be shameful or worthy of shaming.

I think we can do the former with a good degree of humor and humility and generally positive attitudes.Report

Nicolas Delon
Nicolas Delon
Reply to  Nicole
1 year ago

I see. Thanks for the clarification!Report